As we come up upon Easter I thought this selection was particularly helpful since it highlights something that the early church did and we need to return to doing -- intentional Gospel proclamation outside the walls of the church. The joyous news of Jesus death for our sins and His resurrection from the dead which is promised to all who truly believe.
This selection comes form Dennis Kreiss in an article entitled "If You Build It They Will Come." It is thought-provoking, realistic and encouraging. The full length article is found in Voice Magazine, Nov. / Dec. 2013. Enjoy.
"Your church is not growing. People come but they do not stay. While the church is growing at a record rate in Africa and Asia, churches are stagnating in the United States... Why isn't the church growing? I've heard dozens of answers. "We don't like the music. It's too far to drive. There aren't enough young people. I don't feel at home. You are not friendly enough. You are TOO friendly! You don't have the programs we are looking for. We don't like the way you do business. I'm not being fed. The sermons are too long. The sermons lack practical application. Someone offended me and I left. There must be sin in the church camp. The church is dead..." Everybody has their own ideas about why the church isn't growing.
Church visitors may check you out, but they are picky. When families are "church shopping," before they settle, they want to know what they are going to get. If we don't have the best, the latest, the greatest programs, music, sermons and personalities on the shelf, they often vote with their feet. This consumer mindset is a sad reality.
Now I must admit with a twinge of pain that there's a little bit of truth in the complaints I listed above... I don't preach like Chuck Swindoll or John MacArthur... we can't offer the dizzying variety of programs a mega-church can. The average size church in America is about seventy-five or less in attendance on any given Sunday. Most churches can't compete with big churches.
That may be because many church visitors are consumers who are looking for a church that will serve them and the needs of their family. And that is why transfer growth is so common. To some degree, it's all about consumerism. They come as long as you are meeting their needs and leave as soon as they think their needs are not being met. Consumerism. It reminds me of what Jesus said. Once when the disciples were arguing about how the kingdom would benefit them, Jesus stopped them with this stunning statement: You are looking at it all wrong. "I came not to be served, but to serve and give my life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). The disciples, like so many church attenders today, were looking out for themselves, but Jesus blindsided them with a radical new concept. He said that we are put on this earth to serve God, not to serve ourselves. We are meant to live a life of mission not consumerism.
At a consumer church, the church is seen as a dispenser of goods and services. People come to church to be "fed," to have their needs met through quality programs, and to have the professionals teach them about God. These people "go to church"... but they [fail to] realize that 'we are the church.'
If you want to be pampered I'd suggest a vacation to the Caribbean. If you want a good time with friends, try a club. But if you want to reach the world, that is something altogether different. Jesus calls you to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). These words speak of hardship, long hours, exhausting labor and thankless service. Don't run from suffering. Don't go for the easy life, the comfortable pew, or a church where you can disappear into the crowd. Welcome to the real church, where you pour your life out in ministry and mission. It's not going to be easy, but it is going to be worth it....
If we want to change the church in America, we must change from consumers to missionaries. If we want to save America's churches from decline and death, we must make the Great Commission the great priority instead of the Great Omission. For church growth nothing can take the place of simple evangelism... the church that is reaching out to the unchurched will be the church that is growing. "If you evangelize, they will come." [Yet] evangelism is different from marketing. Many churches have ways of promoting their ministry and giving out information about themselves to others, but they simply have not found an effective means to reach their community with the Gospel message..."
It's a great article, but I will stop there. Because what needs to be pointed out is that the concept of "marketing the church" has actually fed into the disheartening problem of a consumer church. How? It presents the church and the programs and activities it has to offer as the "product" it specializes in -- rather than Jesus, His life-transforming Gospel, and the salvation He calls us to offer to the lost. It's no wonder people keep looking for another church that offers better programs and benefits -- that's what we've made it into by buying into the secular marketing strategy.
How did churches grow in the past, we might ask, before the internet and advertising? The simple response is -- evangelism. They shared the Gospel. In fact, trying to lure believers away from other legitimate bodies of Christ (which is so common now) was frowned upon as "sheep stealing." That stigma has now virtually disappeared as churches purposely seek to attract the sheep moving from pasture to pasture subjectively looking for "greener" grass. And all this takes place while intentional evangelistic outreach to unbelievers is often completely overlooked.
My friends, we have such a awesome message to share. We have such a mighty, wonderful Savior, and such a faithful, gracious God. We have such a powerful Holy Spirit and such a "great salvation" to invite people to share in. Let us not get sidetracked by marketing the church (ie: us and what we do) and keep the focus on Christ (on Him and what He did for us). Then the "marketing" will take care of itself... passed on by word of mouth.
Have a Blessed Holy Week, Pastor Jeff