Part 2 (of 2)
What would a company do if it were experiencing…
- Negative growth?
- High customer turnover?
- A worsening reputation among non-customers?
- Little impact in its community?
- Declining sales from failing to properly train and equip employees to pursue target customers?
- Compliance issues from not following operational best practices?
- Diminishing influence on market trends?
Any one of those issues would seriously jeopardize the viability of the company. A business facing all of them would be confronted with two clear choices: impending bankruptcy or radical change.
Review the list again. Doesn’t it describe fairly well the status of the Church today in America? The Church is struggling today in terms of growth, impact, influence and public perception. Most large churches are admittedly revolving doors while less than 10% of small churches are growing. Members of most churches are not adequately discipled to become effective evangelists within their circles of influence, settling for inviting people to church and leaving that responsibility to the “professionals”. Churches are no longer on the front lines of compassion in America, running occasional outreach events rather than following Jesus’ example of demonstrating His love before telling them who He is. Invite, Involve and Invest has become both the predominant church growth model and the rallying cry of the internally focused church.
Why the Resistance to Change?
Let’s revisit our nearly insolvent corporation. What factors could possibly keep it from making drastic changes to its business model and operations before going under? There are many: internal politics, the old guard contending “this is the way we’ve always done things”, insufficient competition in the market, or general complacency of employees simply content to perform just well enough to keep theirs jobs.
Not all, but some of those apply to churches today. In many cases, older members fight any attempts to disrupt the status quo. Most members and visitors see “church” as a place rather than as themselves – and therefore are more attune to their expectations of their church rather than to the Lord’s expectations of them between Sundays. Modern conventions and trends in the American Church seem well-entrenched. Asking pastors, staff and members to revisit longstanding priorities and consider significant course correction toward a more Biblical definition of “church” and “intended customers” is daunting for a number of reasons:
- Consultants, Books and Articles nearly all agree that better leadership is the answer. Few recognize the fundamental reallocation of time, energy and dollars over the past 100 years from discipleship and local missions to attracting and retaining members. Instead of questioning the “business model” itself, they simply recommend incremental changes within the current framework. However, just as that company won’t be saved by better leadership methods, as long as a pastor tries to build an institution more than build disciples – catering rather than challenging – improving his leadership style at best will only grow that one church at the expense of the larger body of Christ.
- The Big are Getting Bigger – Pastors of smaller churches point to countless examples of megachurches that have successfully followed prevailing church growth models. Name-dropping of pastoral “celebrities” is so prevalent today that conferences have made them their main attraction. Of course, the implication is that “if your church is still small, you’re not doing as good of a job as that pastor is”. That mentality only serves to further ingrain the misconception that pastors, not members, are the embodiment of “church”.
- The Pain of Reallocating Budget, Reassigning Roles and Resetting Expectations – Redefining “church” and its “target customer” would involve redistributing power, knowledge and responsibility from pastors to members, flattening that church’s organizational chart. Intensive discipleship means investing much more time in members so that they can be effective in their new role as the living, breathing church. In addition, returning to a prevalent role in addressing community issues – living out Jesus’ model of leading with compassion to open the door to sharing the gospel – would require a serious rethinking of where dollars are spent.
- This is “Risky” Business – No church wants to be the first out of the gate. Leading the way in challenging members to accept greater responsibilities risks losing many of them to churches down the road that will happily cater to them. Nearly every church I’ve attended over the past 20 years has followed a similar, choreographed prescription for conducting church services, small groups and allocating expenses. “Church in a Box” is increasingly common, allowing pastors to mimic “successful” churches in every aspect – from music to sermons to administration. Breaking away from the pack is a scary proposition but worth the risk when the Bible clearly defines “church” as a gathering of believers, not as pastors and staff, and offers the Great Commission as a central mandate.
- Lack of Recognition – Most church leaders understand these principles, but don’t feel they fall into these camps, associating all of those issues with other churches and not themselves. Why do Jeff Foxworthy “redneck” jokes get a laugh from everyone in the audience? Because no one thinks the joke is about them. Some of them must be wrong, right? In our experience, the vast majority of churches inadvertently treat members as “customers”, largely ignoring their intended “customer” (the lost in the community where the church is planted).
What Could Disruption Look Like?
Pastors and Christians are increasingly censured for speaking Biblical truth in America but it hasn’t risen to the level of persecution faced in many other countries. We haven’t seen enough disruption here yet to force a departure from institution-centric church growth models and overcome embedded resistance to change.
When over 90% of churches aren’t growing, why aren’t more willing to step out on a limb? What will it take for a few brave pastors to throw caution to the wind and build a church in Jesus’ image, characterized by intensive discipleship internally and aggressive compassion and evangelism externally?
New church plants are willing to take risks because they have little to lose. They have to engage in the community and ask a lot of their few members – if they don’t they’ll never get their name out there. Then suddenly one day, there is more at stake – members, bills, a reputation and expectations to meet. The demands of operating a church become more significant. The same is true of entrepreneurs and politicians – they are idealistic and externally focused until the resulting success turns their focus to maintaining what they’ve built, taking their eyes off the “target customers” or “constituency”. That’s why established churches likely will need a wake-up call to reconsider their current direction, which could take the form of:
- Persecution – Christianity in times of peace and comfort tends not to grow as fast as it does in persecution, as was the case for the early church and in China today. That seems ironic until you consider there are no lukewarm Christians where public worship risks your freedom or your life.
- Bottom Up – A recent study showed that close to 7.9 million people are leaving churches each year. When enough “Dones” and “de-churched” stop going to church, pastors will be forced to take a closer look at what went wrong. The mass exodus is caused by a number of factors, but research cites among them dissatisfaction with the depth of messages, sincerity of members, compassion shown to the poor, and other aspects of “organized religion”.
- Left Behind – I’ve attended three events in the past few years with well-known Christian leaders to discuss the deteriorating spiritual and moral foundation of our nation. The consensus at all three was the same: the key to the culture war is for Christians to occupy the “7 Mountaintops” (government, media, religion, education, entertainment, family and business). They felt that churches remain too wrapped up in their own affairs to engage cooperatively with other churches and leaders – at least until they lose so many members that they have little choice.
- “Competition” – Although more applicable to companies than churches, an example of the effects of “competition” is the story of a new “seeker” church that moved in down the road and took a lot of a neighboring church’s “fence sitters” with them – leaving only disciples. Although the affected church shrank temporarily, because it had become healthier, exponential growth resumed quickly.
- Sudden Realization – The clarion call could also be a revelation from the Lord that a church has grown out of touch with the original vision and mission God gave it to reach the community for Christ. When forced to take a step back, it may become clear that somewhere along the line it began preaching to the same folks every Sunday, winning few new converts, having minimal community impact, and not living out the dynamic Biblical reality God intended for every church.
How bad do things need to get to convince pastors that change is necessary? Where will America and the Church be by the time a disruption severe enough occurs to force change?
How is Meet The Need Disruptive?
Meet The Need practices what we preach. We don’t stop at words. We enable actions. Yes, we consult and coach churches on the importance of discipling and deploying members into ministry. But we also provide churches with free tools for pastors to empower their membership to BE the church in their communities. We share a message that most churches probably don’t want to hear, questioning their fundamental modus operandi – and likewise we’ve invested millions of dollars in building tools churches didn’t request – but should want.
Meet The Need could write books about leadership and sell member-centric systems that churches are willing to pay for – and make a lot of money. However, Meet The Need is a non-profit that gives all of that content and software away to ensure money is not an impediment to churches following Jesus’ model of combining acts of kindness with words of hope.
Meet The Need also launched #CastAnEternalVote prior to the election to convince Christians to worry more about who’s in God’s House than the White House. Now we’ve released #GiveAnEternalGift to extend that message into the Christmas season, focusing the attention of Christians on Compassion rather than Consumption.
It’s Your Turn
#GiveAnEternalGift before Christmas Day by:
- Performing an act of kindness for a coworker, neighbor or complete stranger and watch it open the door to sharing the gospel.
- Posting a pic and tell your story on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #GiveAnEternalGift to inspire others.
- Challenging 3 of your friends on Facebook or Twitter to “pay it forward”.