For most of the last century, we have had an open door policy to the church. Specifically, we open the doors and people come in. We call it the “y’all come” method. For centuries, we have told people what time our services start, as assume at some point they will realize they need to be in church. We put things in the yellow pages, in the newspaper and on the internet and hope that some lost person will one day wake up and think “I should go to church”.
The problem is, this isn’t working as well as it use too. We see that in Europe, people don’t even think about church on Sunday. In the US, it use to be that kids stayed in church after high school. Now they drop out, and the age they are coming back is getting older and older. Use to be a few years of college, they’d be back. Then it was once they graduated college. Then it became when they got married and starting having kids. Now I am not sure that they are coming in at all. The reality of the matter is, opening the doors doesn’t quite cut it anymore. As the generations progress, they are thinking less and less about the church to be bale to help them or provide answers. They are just not turning to us for help.
That should provoke us to all question why. Why are they not turning to us for answers? Why are they not seeking the wisdom of the church? Why are they not looking to the Bible? I have a feeling if you ask them, they will say a couple things. First off, they may say something about the church being filled with hypocrites. My response to that is, so is the Democratic party. If they are honest, they will probably say something like “I just don’t think the church has anything relevant to my life”. There are lots of non-churched people out there who think all we do is condemn people and read from an ancient book that is full of rules and regulations that don’t really have any value to them. Lets face it, most of the media coverage of the church as of late hasn’t been glowing or flattering. We have Fred Phelps, some guy burning the Qur’an, and someone telling us the world was going to end. It hasn’t been a huge draw for those outside the church to come running to our open doors. We are not going to change the liberal media, so what is a church to do?
Maybe it’s time to change the strategy a little.
1. Not everything has to be AT the church. I will give you all a few minutes to compose yourself. You do realize that you don’t have the Ark of the Covenant in your building right? It’s not “God’s House”. That was the temple, and it’s gone now. You can worship anywhere you gather. Maybe it’s time to have some stuff off site. Have some Bible Studies at a coffee shop, or a community room. Have Back Yard Bible Clubs, do something in your local school (since we all know how pagan and evil the public schools are). Try a block party, a pool party, crawfish boil, catfish fry, bbq a pig. The point is, try something out there where the people are.
2. Not everything has to be led by the Pastor. Pastors are important, they train and equip the saints for the work of the church. That means the people in the church do the work of the church. Maybe your folks need to go out and teach Bible Studies in the community. Maybe it’s time to look at having some alternative sites for worship (multi-site works for a lot of churches). That may mean raising up leaders from within the church and giving them some responsibility and ministry. I have heard a pastor say “I can’t trust anyone else to do ministry, they may mess up and a visitor may see it”. The whole point of this post is that most of us aren’t getting a flood of visitors anymore. People are visiting less and less, so send people out more and more. That will mean that Pastors aren’t always center stage. It shouldn’t be about us anyway.
3. Not every event is a time for preaching. That is not to say that there isn’t a time and place for preaching, but somehow we have starting preaching everywhere. Don’t preach at a block party. Don’t preach at showers (pastor’s shouldn’t even be there). Equip your people to share one on one, to disciple and to do the work in their relationships. There are some great helps and resources out there (I wrote one myself, let me know if you are interested). Preach on Sunday Mornings, Sunday Evenings or Wednesday nights, whatever your schedule is, but give some opportunities for your people to do the sharing.
4. Think outside the box. The church isn’t real good at innovation. I have said it before, the only thing we have changed in the last 100 years is the music style, and that started a full out war. We are slow to adapt. The church is just starting to get on board with the internet, and social media has up and left us in the dust. We are still using projectors while people are looking at everything on their smart phones. We could re-vitalize the hymnal if we just offered it as an app.
5. Be Active in the Community. People want to belong, they want to connect and they are finding connections outside the church. Community is now multi-layered. There are communities in communities in communities. For example, in the city I live in, there are several institutions of higher education. Those institutions have departments, which are broken down even more. You’ll find a community of 5 or 6 inside a community of 15 to 20 in a community inside a community of 40 to 60 and so on. It’s not enough to just reach the first level of community, you need to get down to the 3rd, 4th or 5th levels. The only way to do that is encourage your people to get involved, meet people and build relationships. It’s more than attending a meeting, although that is a start. They need to get to know lost people and get connected. Christians need to be involved in the life of the community again, for too long we have created a Christian sub-culture and have removed ourselves. This is not the pattern of the 1st century church, this is not how Christianity began or how it spreads. It’s how we die and disappear.
This is not an exhaustive list, nor is it the 5 things you must do to save your church. This is just a glimpse of what we are going to have to discuss and take seriously if we don’t want to see the American Church become a relic like it has in other parts of the world. We are failing to meet people where they are, and show them how we are relevant to their lives. They don’t think there is anything in the Bible worth reading or anything in the church worth listening too. Perhaps that is because we have spent so much time talking that we have failed to listen. We have spent so much time dictating terms and conditions that we haven’t realized that no one is listening to us anymore.
If you are having success reaching your community, I would like to hear your thoughts. If you haven’t reached anyone in your community in years, I am curious as to what you are trying. Share your thoughts and incites and share what is or isn’t working.