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Why Churches are Afraid to Challenge Members

Why Churches are Afraid to Challenge Members

Blog Post 10 - Challenge-Risk (iStock_000012620826_Small)1

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.

Fear factor

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?


8 Responses

  1. Another excellent article. Probably the best piece I have read on this topic. What a great challenge and call to action that every church around the world should be excited to embrace and engage their bodies. Well done Brother!

  2. God’s ways are not our ways and our ways are not God’s ways. This is a convicting argument that the church should seek God 1st, search His Word and operate the church according to His clear directives rather than operating the church to tickle the ears of the members for fear of losing them. Thank you, Jim, for sharing the truth effectively and in love. May this truth resonate with church leaders to leverage revival!

  3. The question of “who are we really serving” as a church, is a good one. We are selfish by nature and all want to be served. So, it is the power of the Holy Spirit that draws us to serve Him out of a heart of gratitude. Perhaps it’s better to have a small church of people fired up to serve, then a mega church filled with people looking for someone else to bear their cross. Yes, very thought provoking!

  4. Great article Jim. Speaking from my experience at the church I attend as a member, I’ve seen much change over 19 years. And, I’ve seen many people come and go.

    The approach our church takes to achieve your point of challenging its members is by offering them countless opportunities to serve and go on mission trips, as well as get involved in small groups. It’s never a challenge. It’s loving encouragement to grow and serve. It works because we send dozens of mission teams to places from Tampa to Asia and Africa and in between. Each week it takes more than 400 volunteers to put on weekend services.

    Our pastor is on fire for growth, not for growth purposes, but because 70% of the surrounding community is unchurched, and that keeps him awake at night.

  5. Thanks, Jim, for your blog!
    So many reading your blog will say, “that describes my congregation”.
    So many will ask, “how do our congregation get out of this hole/pattern and practice?”
    It could take two-three years to disciple members from customers to learners (disciples) who follow/practice the teachings of Jesus Christ.
    Blessings on you and the team of MTN!

  6. As a pastor for over twenty years I can say that this kind of approach you espouse will certainly lead to a lot of heartbreak for the pastor and a lot of questions from his elder board.

    However, I have been challenging members for a long time to be true disciples, to take the focus off of themselves and stay down to the business of knowing and serving Christ. Frankly my church has not grown much. In fact I have lost many members as I refuse to budge or cave on the Biblical idea that we are called of Christ to serve. ”

    Yet that has not been the biggest turnoff to my members. The biggest turnoff for the ones who have left is my unwillingness to allow the church to become a customer service institution, catering to preferences, and giving passes based on individual income.

    There are many days where I wonder if I am doing the right job or if I should quiet down and collect that easy paycheck and let he sheep stray where they will!

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Root cause for the Church's decline & its path to Revitalization

“Any organization not focused on its customers, or focused on the wrong customers, cannot succeed.” – Jim Morgan