Why Won’t They Come to Our Church?

design-38We visit lots of churches. Part of my ministry responsibility is to be on site at a different church every week, sometimes multiple churches. I have yet to visit one church that has enough people attending. In most churches, there is a desire to reach more people, invite new people to engage, and increase in the number of people being influenced and impacted.

Why won’t more people come to churches like these?

We are not in control of who attends church services. We can’t make, nor would we want to make someone come against their will. But we certainly try to make the place inviting. We prepare our buildings, we plan services and events with guests in mind. We pray and ask God to make our church compelling to others. But the truth is, it is a rare occurrence when a guest comes, stays, and engages in the life of the church.

Some will respond to this query by saying that we are not called by God to grow churches. This is absolutely true. However, God utilizes the church to help make disciples. Growing a church is a very important part of fulfilling the Great Commission to make disciples of all people (Matthew 28:19-20).

Think about this:

Many churches are simply ill equipped to handle new people. Parking is a problem. There is little room in the church for people to sit comfortably. Restroom space is inadequate. While these things may not bother regular attenders, they absolutely bother guests.

Other churches have no nursery facilities or their children’s areas are old and in poor condition. Teen rooms that share space with the furnace are, believe it or not, a bad idea. These types of building issues will repel new attenders.

Sometimes we have rituals, use language and behave in ways that make no sense to anyone but us. While there is nothing wrong with these practices, per se, an explanation to new comers may be helpful. We sometimes forget that what we have been doing our entire lives may be new to people who didn’t grow up like we did.

A little more sensitive, but just as prevalent are attitudes and mindsets that will hinder the addition of new people in our churches. Mono-cultural churches (churches made up of one people group, nationality or skin color) will have a difficult time reaching people from other cultures. Whether or not we are aware of it, we develop habits and style that are not inclusive. Music, clothing styles, even methods of worship are many times, culture specific. If we are unaware of, or unwilling to address the need for adaptation, we will reach very few people who are different from us. If we are not equipped to minister to people different from us, God probably won’t send them. But if we get ourselves ready, God will send them.

Many years ago, I had an older family member say to me, “we just don’t have many colored people attending our church.” She said this innocently. But the statement revealed the reason for their dilemma.

Some folks wonder why their church is not multicultural and/or multi-generational. If it’s: 1) “those people”, 2) “we want a few, not too many”, or, 3) “as long as we don’t have to change anything”, you can stop your wondering. God probably won’t send them. These attitudes reflect a philosophy that lets others know, they are not welcome in your church.

Why would God send people He loves to a church that doesn’t love them, or is ill prepared to minister to them, or won’t make adjustments in order to welcome them? He’ll more than likely send them to a church that will warmly and sincerely adopt them into the family.

One final consideration: getting people to attend church who do not like church is a real trick. Think about it. We are trying to talk them into doing things they have no interest in doing. We preach repentance. We teach contrition. Sacrifice, service, giving money, becoming accountable to others, being responsible for others… are not very compelling to people who are enjoying their sinful lifestyle. So let’s not beat ourselves up if “sinners” don’t line up at the door. There are lots of Christians that prefer to stay away for much the same reason – they prefer life independent from their faith family.

Let’s keep in mind that the Church belongs to Christ. He died for the church. While we love our church and are fiercely loyal to our church, we do not own the church. If we try to control who attends, whether in a positive or negative way, we will give an account to God.

While our church is not for everyone (meaning some fit in better in other atmospheres), everyone must be welcome.

If we really want new people to come, we may need to consider:

  • Adjusting methods without compromising the Message.
  • Sacrificing our preferences for something that may be more effective in reaching new people.
  • Making sure our facilities, programs, ministries and events scream, “we want you here!” to new attenders.
  • Being strategic and intentional in making our churches welcoming to people different from us.
  • Being personally engaged in inviting and accompanying new people to the church.
  • Engaging new people in helping to make your church more welcoming to more new people.
  • Celebrating big time when new people actually attend!

I hope we can be more purposeful and strategic in winning more people to our churches, but more importantly, to the Lord.

It’s Time to Simplify Church Planting

designMy church planting friends may think that I’ve regressed about 30 years. I have not. Possibly, I am looking ahead a few years into the future of effective church planting.

I am increasingly concerned with how complicated church planting has become. I’m afraid that, in our efforts to systematize the starting of new churches, we have eliminated a lot of would-be planters and new churches.

Think about it:

Sign up for two years of training, travel to conferences, meet regularly with your coach/mentor. Submit to multiple personality assessments. Raise $30,000 – $50,000 (cash). Build and train a launch team. Engage in the latest social media marketing campaign. Do a direct mail blitz. Rent a local school or theater. Have preview services. Start a church.

There are only a few people who can realistically comply with all of these requirements. Do we really believe that they are the only ones who should start new churches? I think not. I personally know guys who want to start a church but they are waiting for everything to line up. If we wait for everything to be just right, we’ll never start.

I am a proponent of building a solid infrastructure before launching a church. I have no beef with the very successful church planting organizations around the country. My concern is that some would-be planters are stuck because they think they can’t plant unless they are immersed in the process with one of these organizations. I think we have inadvertently overcomplicated the process of starting churches.

Eventually, the current church planting pot of gold will run out. All of the school auditoriums in town will be rented. Facebook ads will no longer be effective. I think it’s time to reconsider our approach. While stats prove that a strategic system increases the odds of success, I am not convinced that everyone fits into the mold.

I want to encourage any aspiring church planters who read this. Don’t allow the status quo to hold you back. “Best practices” are awesome but God is not limited to what is considered conventional thinking.

If you want to plant a church, try this:

Pray like crazy. Make sure God is calling you. Start meeting with people. In coffee shops, in your home, just come together for prayer or Bible study. You don’t need permission to get together with friends. If the group grows and the need becomes evident, you can start a church. Successful church planting is simply evangelism and discipleship that results in the need for a new church. Rather than starting a church so you can reach people, reach people so you can start a church.

Don’t worry if you don’t have a 6 digit budget. You don’t need a fog machine. No one has ever come to salvation in Christ because of the amazing countdown video your creative team produced.

Simplify.

I believe that in the future, the big production churches will suffer. People are looking for authenticity and relationships. That can’t be manufactured.

Just love people. If you can love enough people, you can start a church.

It’s time to simplify church planting.

The problem isn’t those who’ve never heard of Jesus. The problem is those who refuse to tell them.

An age-old theological conundrum is: What happens to the people that die who have never heard the Good News of Jesus?  Does God hold them responsible for something they have not heard? We know that those who reject Jesus will not spend eternity in heaven (Acts 4:12 “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”). But will God send people to hell if they lived in a place where the Gospel has never been preached?

Without diving into a theological debate, we can rest in the fact that God is just and loving. He will do whatever is righteous and fair with these people.

Considering our cultural context, I think there is a more pertinent issue at hand:

The problem isn’t those who’ve never heard of Jesus. The problem is those who refuse to tell them.

I wonder what God will do with those of us who refuse to tell people about Jesus. What about those who are called to go to the parts of the world that have never been reached? What will God do with them (us)?

While we can’t say what God will do with those who have never heard, we should be concerned if He has asked us to tell them, and we refuse to do so.

cross retouched

apparently, it’s not harvest time

I heard a country song the other day by Luke Bryan called Harvest Time. The theme of the song is the hard work that farmers do this time of year. Everything else stops while these guys and gals work like crazy to gather whatever is in the field. The top priority is getting all the crops in. The bridge of the song says: At a quarter ’til 2 I kick off my boots in the laundry room. We’ll start it all over tomorrow at noon ’til it’s all done, until we’re all done.

Can you image a farmer who, at harvest time says, “who cares?”

My whole life, I have heard people in the church talk about harvest time – as a spiritual metaphor. The crops are the people who need Christ and we are supposed to be the “farmers” that bring them to Him. The idea comes from what Jesus said, “…wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest.” John 4:35 (NLT)

We sing the songs, hear the sermons and even name some of our churches something connected with the idea of “Harvest”.

Well, I’m not buying it. We don’t believe it. Most Christians I know do not believe that this is harvest time. We do not believe that our time to work for God is short or that there are a lot of people who need Jesus. In fact, it appears that there is very little urgency by most American Christians to gather any crops (souls) for God’s kingdom. If we believe it is harvest time, we would adopt Luke Bryan’s approach and work hard until the job is done. We would do whatever it takes to get the job done. As it is, we may as well be saying, “who cares?”.

I guess that’s why Jesus said, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” (Luke 10:2 NLT) I am praying for laborers, but I want to do more laboring in the field.