This is the last post in our series about issues – why redefining the members’ role from the “church” to the “customer” is the root cause for the Church’s decline in America. After today’s post we’ll dedicate the rest of our time to discussing solutions – the keys to improving your church’s growth, impact, and perception.
Customers are served, not challenged
What if a company told its customers, “If you want to buy our products or use our services, you’ll need to spend several hours a week…
- studying our corporate manual
- sharing that information with your contacts, and
- helping them get started using our products and services”
Sounds insane, right? Those are customers we’re talking about – the company is supposed to serve them, not the other way around. How long would that company stay in business?
On the other hand, companies have no reservations challenging employees. Employees take orders. Managers expect them to perform. Employees are accountable, mostly for helping find new customers and keeping customers happy.
Are your members and regular attenders more like customers or employees? Our primary argument for the root cause for the Church’s decline is that members ARE your church – if so, they are “insiders”. They are much more like employees than “customers”. Yet we treat them like “outsiders”. Possibly the most convincing evidence that the modern American church no longer sees members as the Church but treats them as “customers” is our fear of challenging them.
Challenge…to do what?
Look back at how we started this blog post. Let’s rephrase and insert “church” for “company”…
What if a church told its members, “If you want to be a part of this church, you’ll need to spend several hours a week…
- being discipled
- discipling others, and
- showing those around you what it’s like to live a life on fire for Christ”
Doesn’t sound quite as crazy, does it? Actually, sounds downright reasonable. You could even argue that churches have a biblical mandate to challenge members to live out those 3 requirements of all Christians – it’s the Great Commission. Imagine the impact on the world around us if churches had that kind of courage!
So why don’t they? The simple answer – because most churches have redefined the role of members. We’re afraid that if we ask “customers” to be and do what God wants them to be and do we may lose them to the church down the road – the one that will cater to them and not push them to do much of anything.
Churches won’t take the risk of challenging until they decide to once again view members as the church. The church won’t regain the voice it had in society until it once again views the community as its customer. As long as we have the model flipped, we won’t dare challenge members to the extent that we should for fear they’ll take their “business” elsewhere.
But at what point is it worth taking a chance? 93% of our churches aren’t growing. Churches and Christians are widely seen as more judgmental than compassionate. How bad does it have to get before we risk truly challenging members to keep on being the church after they leave the building? When does the fear of not fulfilling God’s vision for our church overcome our fear of losing members?
Unfortunately, many members also are content with the status quo. They wouldn’t want to see their church get too big. If the church is a nice place to hang out and isn’t rocking my boat, why would I want it to change? Who “moved my cheese”? Why would I want revitalization if it’s going to mean:
- Less focus on meeting my needs
- Not having the same seat or parking spot
- Perceived loss of influence and standing in the church
- A shakeup in worship or leadership styles
- New people I don’t know and may not like
We saw the same thing in business – employees were wary of consultants like me roaming the hallways. Consultants mean change!
We started by taking risks – what happened?
As long as there’s a church down the street catering to members, the fear of challenging them will still exist. So who is going to get the ball rolling? Who will start holding members accountable to a higher standard – to fulfill their intended role as the living, breathing church? The most successful companies are those that do the best job of training and incentivizing their employees (“insiders”) to sell to customers (“outsiders”). Think of the leverage that will be created for the Kingdom when we train and push all these “insiders” (members) to minister to “outsiders” (the community).
Think back to when your church first planted in the community. You:
- Studied what was going on and worked hard to reach people
- Got involved locally to put your church on the map
- Focused on serving that community vs. building an institution
- Stood by your principles and weren’t afraid if someone left as a result
- Had a lot less to lose because you were just getting started
- Needed people to be advocates and play a big role or you’d never make it
Then suddenly one day, there was more at stake…more bills…a reputation and expectations to maintain. The demands of operating a church became more significant.
That’s around the time that leadership’s demands on members and regular attenders started diminishing. That’s when the temptation increased to offer “cheaper grace” – no obligations, just options – belief without material life change. That’s when the focus shifted internally – toward running something, toward attracting and retaining – in other words, treating members as “customers”.
It’s your turn…
Have you seen churches hesitating to challenge members and regular attenders? Are the ways churches challenge members today too oriented toward serving the church rather than being discipled, discipling others, and serving the church’s true customers (the community)? How would society view churches and Christians differently if we pushed members much harder to BE the Church?