Caring = Relationships
BUT MOST CHURCHES…
Don’t act relationally (as a collective body) with the community…
Relationships with a church have become conditional. They are contingent on you stepping into the church building. Then they’ll get to know you. Those on the outside only get a brief glimpse of the church from:
- Occasional outreach or community service events
- Signs in front of the church building
Each of these is transactional in nature. Few churches have prolonged relational contact with the community in the form of:
- Year-round programs (on and off campus) for non-members
- Ongoing involvement in local ministries and causes
- Regular presence at community meetings or events
- Working closely with non-member families to help them through tough situations
Unfortunately, there are many people who won’t dare to darken the door of a church. They’ve tried church, had a bad experience, and wouldn’t step back into one if their lives depended on it (and they may). Transactional interactions aren’t going to bring them back. Transactions won’t convince them we care.
We’ve got to go to them. Churches need to build relationships with the community. But most don’t, because they no longer see the community as their “customer”. Relationship building takes time – and churches assume they can’t afford to invest all that time, energy and money in those who don’t go to their church. Most don’t see the community as the “customer” to reach at all cost. Instead, their attention has turned to members and attenders – attracting, serving and retaining them at all cost. The dramatic shift over the past century in staff time and dollars from external to internal is testament to this new definition of the “customer”.
…AND ON TOP OF THAT CHURCHES OFTEN
Draw individuals away from relationships with the unchurched…
Churches know that getting members to form closer bonds, like joining small groups, will make them more likely to stay. Small groups create a circle of friends who do life together. They’re “sticky”. But a new circle of church friends and more involvement in church chores and activities can also have a “warehousing effect”. That means spending less time with those outside the church – and fewer chances to influence others in the community for Christ.
Jesus spent plenty of time with his disciples and in the temple, but knew the sick were the ones who needed a physician.
…AND THEN THEY
Don’t equip and mobilize members adequately to “be the church”.
In hundreds of churches we’ve observed a direct correlation between discipleship and local missions. When churches pull away from community engagement they ratchet back discipleship as well. When churches ramp up “care” they realize they’d better prepare folks to “share”.
The redefinition of the church’s “customer”, handing over the lead role in compassion to charities and the government, has meant less need (in churches’ minds) for discipleship. Rigorous Bible study and 1-on-1 discipleship have been replaced by small groups, often run by untrained members facilitating as best they can. Most small groups evolve into fellowship gatherings with light teaching and prayer for the issues each person is facing. That’s all fantastic and necessary, but it’s not discipleship.
In the absence of discipleship, too often churches promote the “lite” version of evangelism – invite people to church and let the “professionals” handle it from there. That convenient, comfortable take on evangelism runs in direct conflict with the “members ARE the church” anthem.
So how can we show the community (our “customer”) we care?
Imagine being a church that…
- would be sorely missed if it closed its doors, leaving a spiritual, compassion and social gap in the community that could not be easily filled
- is widely recognized as having a sincere, ongoing concern for the hopeless and hurting in the community – not one that just takes care of its own
- is looked to by local leaders for comfort, advice and support whenever trouble hits the community
How many more people would want to be part of a church like that? How much more generous would members be with a church that was having that kind of impact for Christ? How many more folks would care what we know because they know we care?
It’s possible to be that kind of church, but not if you enable a “consumer” mentality – not if you’re hesitant to challenge members to take time to be discipled, to disciple, and to serve others.
It’s your turn…
Surveys show that non-Christians believe churches are more about judgment than justice, condemnation than compassion, self-righteousness than selflessness, and hypocrisy than humility. What do you think churches should do to change that perception? Is it possible that the community realizes it should be the church’s “customer”, and is left to wonder why the church won’t take time to build relationships with those outside its “4 walls”?