Last week we defined the “footprint” of a church as the collective impact for Christ of the people within it. The number of members, budget or square footage don’t necessarily determine how wide or deep a church’s reach extends for the Kingdom.
Jesus modeled discipleship and community engagement as an example for His Church to follow. He felt a small number of highly effective disciples would cover much more ground than a slew of casual followers. A larger church does have a greater opportunity for community impact, but will only realize that potential if it applies Jesus’ model of building Powerful disciples and equipping them to demonstrate His love and compassion before telling people who He is. Jesus had the perfect words, yet knew they wouldn’t be enough. No pastor, no matter how eloquent, can “outpreach” Jesus. Smaller churches can make a tremendous difference as well if they remain committed to that path Jesus laid out for expanding their “footprints”.
In our experience working with thousands of churches of all sizes over the past 15 years, we’ve observed that few remain as committed to discipleship and community engagement as they were when they first planted. Once there’s something to lose, the realities of managing the organization and keeping it funded tug at the vision of member and city transformation pastors had when they first opened their doors.
To increase your church’s footprint and take more ground, leading to numerical growth and cultural revitalization, we recommend the following 7 ideas:
- Decentralize – …power, knowledge and responsibility. Empower, equip and train leaders to take ownership of discipleship, outreach and local missions. Turn small groups into neighborhood groups, charged with caring not only for each other but for entire city blocks. Reorganize into Mission Shaped Communities, entrusting lay leaders with the task of mobilizing members to generate collective impact. When pastors truly define members as the Church personified, it won’t hesitate to challenge them to assume those leadership roles. Only distributing power, knowledge and responsibility throughout the congregation will enable a church to fully leverage the power in its pews.
- Deconstruct – …the skyscraper and tear down the warehouse. Stop trying to build A church and build THE Church. Knock down the 4 walls; they aren’t keeping people in, they’re keeping people out. Society perceives an “us” versus “them” attitude on the part of churches as Christians speak more and act (in compassion) less – pushing people away rather than drawing them in. Meanwhile, other religions are taking ground in America, seeing the importance of taking action, infiltrating all facets of society – getting directly involved in neighborhoods, local causes, politics, and service projects. As other religions expand their footprints, Christian churches can’t afford to pull inward, which they do when they become more concerned with retaining than transforming, making church the “end” and not the “means”.
- Disperse – In the skyscraper analogy, 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 drive straight home. Many churches seek to provide a protected environment, apart from the moral decay around it. Christians have even formed a subculture where we’re only exposed to acceptable versions of everything educational or entertaining. When churches engage in compassion activities, most only go into the world on their own terms, doing controlled, supervised service events where members stick close to others from their own church – with limited contact with those they are serving. Yet Jesus and His disciples did not shy away from the world, instead going out to serve and evangelize the hurting and lost at every opportunity. It was dirty, hard work with danger around every turn. They didn’t leave the temple, head home and shut the proverbial garage door behind them.
- Disciple – Leaders should train members as if they truly ARE the church, essentially like the employees of a company. A business would never rely on a 30 minute weekly presentation and 1 hour discussion led by an uncertified volunteer as the full extent of its training program for new hires. Yet that’s what most churches do today, concerned that congregations don’t have an appetite for a greater commitment than that. As a result of not being challenged directly with all that the Great Commission entails, too few become disciples or disciple-makers.
- Depend – …on one another, uniting as the body of Christ to advance the common mission of maximizing community impact. Resolving social ills in a city like hunger and homelessness isn’t a job any one can church can do by itself. In fact, to make meaningful progress, churches will need to band together with those already working in those trenches, including government agencies and secular charities. Each church acting independently doesn’t form a cohesive footprint. How shocked would citizens be to hear that all of the churches in town are working together to eradicate child abuse and neglect? Would that quickly change the prevailing perception that churches are primarily concerned with taking care of their own? Why should the term “Kingdom-minded” ever need to be used to describe a church willing to work with other churches when that should be our natural state? Instead we see competition over a shrinking pool of frequent churchgoers – the opposite of unity, resulting in a contracting overall “footprint”.
- Deploy – …troops to fight a “ground war”, not an “air war“. That’s the only way to win America’s “culture war”. Dropping verbal bombs only serves to further alienate those who don’t care what Christians know (because they don’t know we care). Only the Church can mobilize massive troops, with love as their chosen weapon – as opposed to a louder megaphone. Only a united Church that’s spread out over a wide expanse can cover the entire battleground. But that alone won’t get the job done. Pastors will need to do more to enlist soldiers to join this army – challenging members to be the living, breathing church between Sundays, with hearts breaking for the hopeless and helpless.
- Dedicate – Unfortunately, few churches see local missions as a critical function, allocating less than 2% of their budgets to following Jesus’ model of leading with compassion. Community engagement also occupies a very small amount of time at staff meetings. Local missions pastors (if the church has one) are typically the least influential voice at the table. Pastors and staff in charge of media, singles, youth, music, communications, small groups, and finances all have more say in the direction of most churches. Priorities and dollars follow goals. A good indication that a church is building a skyscraper and not maximizing its “footprint” is if it’s closely tracking the number of people in the pews yet not the number of lives changed by those in the pews. As pressures mount to manage and grow, the temptation increases to prioritize “noses and nickels” metrics over member and city transformation.
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 quite a while?