Last week we talked about the first step on the path to church revitalization – a change of heart and mind. But let’s be realistic – the impediments to change are significant. Members, attenders and even lay leaders may head for the exits when the pastor unveils the new strategy – higher expectations, greater accountability, much more focus on serving others than being served. So maybe it’s not in the cards. There’s a good chance most churches will continue largely ignoring their intended “customer”. Few may ever truly challenge members to BE the church in the community. Churches may not go back to following Jesus’ model of nearly always demonstrating His love before telling them who He is.
Runway is getting short…
The view Americans had of churches was much different 20 years ago than it is today, and the drop in opinion seems to be accelerating. The percentage of Americans who attend church regularly is also diminishing. Where will we be 20 years into the future?
Even the divide between the Church and Christian leaders in business, charity work, media and politics is widening. In the past year, I attended two gatherings of Christian conservatives from across the U.S. to strategize about ways to reverse the current course in America away from Biblical values. Nearly identical, broad-consensus conclusions were reached at both events – churches are too busy taking care of their own affairs, whether in survival mode or growth planning, to play a meaningful part in the turnaround of American culture.
How do we restore the lost confidence and improve the poor perception? We can’t plant churches fast enough to atone for a model that defines the wrong “customer”. It’s like trying to sell more widgets when you’re losing money on each one – as they say, you can’t make it up on volume. If each new church is unwilling to risk upsetting the apple cart – doing all that viewing members as the church and the community as the “customer” entails – then we can’t make it up on volume. Each new (internally-focused) church will only perpetuate the prevailing view that the church cares more for itself and for its own than for those outside the “4 walls”.
You would think that planting more churches would increase the Church’s footprint. However, most churches in America today don’t take up much ground. They look and feel more like skyscrapers – skyscrapers:
- are tall, but have a small footprint – they go up, not out
- gather a lot of people together into a small space
- house workers whose goal is to help their organizations grow
- provide a nice office environment, far removed from the dirt and poverty just outside the ground floor
- try to attract tenants and keep them as long as they can
- measure success by the size of the building and number of tenants
- block the view of neighboring buildings and scenery
At the end of the workday, employees go down the elevator, walk briskly past the homeless in the park downtown, get in their cars and head for home.
See any similarities to churches today?…and the skyscraper metaphor doesn’t apply only to large churches. No doubt part of a church’s motive for separating from the world and becoming a “skyscraper” is to provide a protected environment, apart from the moral decline around it. The church building and relationships with fellow members provide that safe haven. Most churches only go into the world on their own terms, doing controlled, supervised events where members stick close to others from their own church and have limited contact with those they are serving. As Christians, we even formed a subculture where we’re only exposed to acceptable versions of everything that’s educational or entertaining.
Yet Jesus and His disciples did not shy away from the world, instead going out to serve and evangelize at every opportunity. It was dirty, hard work with danger around every turn. They didn’t leave the temple, head home and shut the garage behind them – except of course to pray.
The attractional church model is also shrinking the church’s footprint:
- Big churches get bigger while small churches scattered all over town shrink – they simply can’t offer competitive children’s ministries, facilities and programs
- The pie of regular churchgoers is smaller now, yet those remaining are more and more inclined to go to larger churches, so the trend is vertical and not horizontal
- In other words, more and more people are crowding into a smaller space in a few large churches versus spread out over a larger area in many smaller churches
Deconstruct the skyscraper and tear down the warehouse…
So the second step to revitalize the church is simply this – TAKE GROUND!
- Decentralize – “A church dispersed is the only church that works”
- Knock down the “4 walls” – They aren’t keeping people in; they’re keeping people out
- Reallocate – Invest more in “building in” and sending out than in building up
- Unite – Each church acting independently doesn’t form a cohesive footprint
- Serve – Get messy and demonstrate compassion to a hurting and lost community
- Fight a ground “war”, not an “air” war – Only the church can mobilize massive troops, with love as their chosen weapon not a louder megaphone
- Follow Jesus’ model – We can’t “outpreach” Him so let’s precede words with action
It’s interesting that the church persecuted tends to spread out, forming a maze of underground churches, yet the church in freedom and peace tends to build skyscrapers. Other religions also understand the importance of infiltrating all facets of society – getting involved in neighborhoods, local causes, politics, and service. As other religions continue to take ground, Christian churches can’t afford to continue pulling inward.
It’s your turn…
How many more could be reached by the church dispersed? How many would be caught off guard seeing far more love and hope lived out in front of their eyes? How many more would want to check out church for the first time in their lives?