Sure that’s a good idea. That would solve a lot. The truth is that we put up with a lot of mediocre or even bad. But if we get better will that be the game changer we need?
Yes we need to get better. We let the church property get “shop worn” needing a good clean and paint or replace with new to get rid of that old musty smell. We put up with the crackling and intermittently working sound systems. “Oh well” we say. We often forget or unthinkingly ignore returning texts, emails and phone calls. Church communication is irregular at best. There may be no website or an old one that may have content that stopped being updated in 2012. Maybe it doesn’t even have an address or contact number or service time. Yes the church’s digital presence needs attention! People who are hurting are overlooked or that visit or phone call or networking the body of Christ to support them is not done. As pastors we might cut corners in sermon or Bible study preparation and say we were busy. Sometimes that’s true. Pastoral emergencies do happen. But not every week. As church leaders we put up with poorly run programs and working with volunteers. Some dominant volunteers are bad apples and chase off people. Yes we need to get better.
Then over time we get conditioned to accept this mediocrity. We don’t notice the problems anymore. Nevertheless, these and similar oversights are made and they have their effect. People sense that the pastor or church leaders are just not very serious at what they do. While we may have been conditioned over time not to notice problems, the new or outside observer does. As a consequence some people don’t want to be a part of what you do or how you do it. They may have been hurt or offended by those who perpetuate some of these problems. They may have encountered real issues when they wanted to volunteer or make a donation. Their peak behind the curtain revealed some real issues. Then they sense there is no urgency to improve. They may not come back or they may drift away. Yes we need to up our game. Sometimes that’s exactly our problem. We need to get better. Sometimes much better or much much better! But saying we need to get better also sets up the excuse for not doing things differently.
But most of the time when we say we need to get better, we’re not thinking about the things mentioned above. We don’t notice those. Instead we cast blame saying we need a better service or music or worship space or sign, then people would come back. If we just had a better, younger, more vibrant or stronger leader/ pastor, people would come back. But don’t hold your breath. With this kind of thinking and leadership excuse you are just setting yourself up for more disappointment. Those are not solutions. In fact, if you actually could do some of these things and they don’t work, you will just be looking at someone or something else to blame. The better response is to come to the obvious and real conclusion that it isn’t about getting better at doing these things. It is really about doing something different.
Take a minute and make a list of those things you and your church have been pointing fingers at and blaming for your problems. Go ahead, we’ll wait.
Now, how many of those things are related to making the “church” or the Sunday service more attractive, appealing or drawing people in? Most if not all of them if we are honest.
I’m sorry to break it to you but the vast majority of the population is not looking for a church no matter what music, pastor or program you have. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Sure there are the few people who actually are looking for a church. But they are a small sub set and getting smaller. Then for those who do have a spiritual hunger there’s lots of online content out there. And we will never compete with the great production value and preaching that can be found online. So we might as well admit that playing the “get better” game really isn’t a valid excuse.
But what we can do is endeavor to do something different. How is your church blessing the people who live across the street or on the next block or within a three mile radius? How are you improving that community? No online preacher or church can compete with you in that. You are the only ones who are real flesh and blood people who can express real tangible love to those people.
But it takes time and effort and thinking differently. Instead of straining with every thought and muscle and dollar in the offering plate to get people to “come here” we need to strain with everything we have to go and get to know and listen and care about people “out there!”
Take a walk. Perhaps a prayer walk. Start with the pastor and one or two others. Notice people. Go to the neighborhood association meetings. Talk to people. Learn their names. Listen to their story. Do NOT wear your church t-shirt or hand out flyers. Get to know them. It is not a one-off conversation but the beginning of a relationship. Learn about their hopes and dreams and hurts and struggles. Ask them how you can partner together to make that concern better. Then be the church and get busy. It may be homelessness, food challenges, help with day care, homework, absent fathers needing mentors or any one of any number of things. Partner with other non-profits.
The blessed surprise is that along the way, those people will experience love and hope. You will be the ones blessed to deliver it. You will likely have conversations about what you believe. You will probably offer to pray for them and their deep seated fears and challenges. Then the follow up conversations will be about how God is answering those prayers. They may go to church. It may even be your church. So you had better be ready for guests, just like you would get your home ready for visitors. (See the list at the beginning above.)
The other unexpected and overwhelming surprise is that as this activity slowly ramps up and the stories are told and members support and are involved in this blessing people, then they will be blessed. They will experience a sense that they are a tool in God’s hands. They will see God use even them. They will worship a little more often, sing a little more loudly and pray a little more fervently. They will hunger a little bit more for the sacrament and they will tell the story to one or more members. They will invite their children to help and mentor them. They will invite their co-worker or neighbor who has not church home to help in doping a good thing for others. Without knowing it they will grow in their faith and your church will probably as well.
Bit by bit as the congregation turns to be more externally focussed, there will be less criticism and more joy, less casting of blame and more praise to God. Less what’s in it for me and more partnership and loving others. Less about us and more about them. Isn’t that what the Lord requires of us? We are to be salt and light to a dark world.
It isn’t about doing something better. It’s a lot more about doing something different - something to bless others.
Rev. Scott Gress is believes in Growing People for Ministry by focussing on leadership, discipleship and teamwork. Contact Scott if you are interested in him working with you or your church. A free 30 minutes sample session is available to explore how you might work best together. The Coaching Leader Podcast is also available on iTunes and his YouTube page. You can contact Scott through email email@example.com or his blog page scottgress.com or at 561-542-4472
"Growing People for Ministry" Leadership + Discipleship + Teamwork
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