We’ve established that…
- A church is not its staff and buildings – that’s how we define companies, not houses of worship
- Instead, a church is the body of believers
- Jesus, his disciples and the early Church proved by their example that the community was meant to be where the Church should spend the bulk of its time and money – i.e. its “customer”
- If a church’s mindset is to attract and retain, to cater rather than challenge, it is treating members/attenders as “customers” – but the body cannot be both the Church and its “customer”
Churches today invest very little in their actual “customers”
The church was the food bank and homeless shelter for 1900 years. Churches started the hospitals and schools. They were the cultural, social, spiritual, compassionate “center of town”. Churches were integral and integrated, actively engaging and serving the community. Few doubted that the Church cared. Few questioned the Church’s right to speak up on issues of importance to the community or to society in general – in their eyes, it had earned the right to do so.
Today, churches spend much less time and energy on community engagement and service. Pastors and staff are consumed with member/attender-related activities, such as service prep and programs for youth, singles, and small groups. How many staff meeting agendas include issues of concern to the community? How many churches have even one person assigned specifically to engaging and serving the church’s true “customer”? Over the past few decades, churches have even throttled back on equipping and pushing members to be the hands and feet of Christ to the community.
Churches are no longer on the front lines in addressing the social issues in our communities. Rather than committing substantial time and resources to demonstrating God’s love to those hurting and lost around us – our intended “customer” – we:
- Market to them, hoping they show up next Sunday
- Organize occasional service events which do little if anything to resolve social issues
- Fail to give the impression we truly care about what’s going on in the world around us
- Perpetuate the perception that we’re more concerned with taking care of our own
- Rarely get our hands dirty in relational, year-round service to the community
For example, churches are visible in the community over the holiday season, but most retrench back into their “4 walls” in January and February; but those same people the church served are still hungry and homeless when the holidays are over. From the community’s vantage point, the church disappeared, maybe still celebrating how generous it was over the holidays.
In those respects, transactional, infrequent interactions with the community do more harm than good. Wearing church t-shirts and passing our water bottles with the name of the church on them only add fuel to the fire. Society wonders – was the event about “checking the box”, making members feel better for having done something, was it advertising, or was it a sincere loving concern for the welfare of the community?
Some estimate that only 2.5% of the average church’s budget finds its way back into the community. The rest goes back to provide services and programs for those who donated the funds. When the church was the food bank and homeless shelter, the percentage of dollars that was plowed back into the community was far greater – some estimate 40%+. Members tithed knowing much of it would be used to bring more help and hope to their city – alongside covering staff salaries and buildings.
History and case studies show that if you want more generous members, you should become a more generous church. How many churches have ever thought about the church itself being generous? They want members to be generous in giving to the church; but churches should first model the behavior they want members to imitate.
Member giving behavior largely reflects the Church’s giving behavior. It’s not coincidence that the percentage the average church member in America gives is nearly the same as the percentage the average church commits to the community. We’ll see more giving to churches, and more people attending churches, when churches reinvest more generously in their true “customers”.
Most churches also reflect members in their spending habits. Nearly every cent in a church’s budget is spoken for by salaries, mortgage, facilities, operations, marketing, and other expenses. These costs are called “fixed” costs for a reason. Once you’re in, it’s hard to get out. So churches have little left over for its “customer” – the community it’s there to reach. Similarly, the pay checks of most church members are already spent by the time they hit their bank accounts. Although it’s not Biblical, churches often only get a portion of any remaining pennies after all those expenses are covered.
As a result…
The implications of the Church’s misdefinition of its “customer” and resulting de-emphasis on the community are being felt today in terms nearly every significant measure of success – such as growth, impact, influence and perception.
Even many growing churches who think they’re succeeding are not “healthy”. Growth does not always imply health. Size does not always equate to success. Church goers today want excellent programs, facilities, children’s services – larger churches can offer much more on each of those fronts than smaller churches. However, church health is more about effectiveness in making and sending disciples than growth. When Jesus’ following would peak, He’d often preach it down with a challenging message until only a few remained.
It’s your turn…
Are churches today willing to risk challenging members to be the hands and feet of Christ in the community – the Church’s true “customer” – to the point where many would consider leaving?
What would church leaders and members do differently if they fully committed to the philosophy that members are the Church and the hopeless and lost in the community are the “customer”?