In an earlier post, I started responding to five questions posed by a special GA committee exploring the nature of the church in the 21st Century. This time, I’ll tackle Question 2:
>What characteristics will draw the great diversity (racial ethnic, age, gender, etc.) of our country into our community of faith in the 21st century?
I think the need to answer this question is revealed in two words in the question itself… “draw… into”
For as long as I’ve been going to churches of any stripe, which is most of my life, the assumption has been that the stuff that happens in the building, if properly marketed, will attract people to come and be part of our church. I can’t speak to how well that worked prior to my being aware of marketing, but certainly for the last couple of decades… not well. There is just no way for churches to compete in a world of high-octane marketing, especially in places where church plants “competing” for market space seem ubiquitous – in schools and store fronts everywhere you turn. And most of them are part of networks supplying whiz-bang graphic design and marketing plans.
No, it’s not about marketing. And building won’t make them come. Or repainting and refurbing old buildings.
In Fund Development (my day job) we say that people give to a cause as a result of a relationship. In other words, people will offer token amounts based on information about a worthy cause. But they become true investors when they know the people who are doing the work that their funding will support. I think the same is true of investing our time at a place of worship… It’s not the church building or programs or worship style or any other tweaks that will draw in target audiences. Real people meeting and getting to know real people and inviting them to be part of something that they truly believe in and draw great personal meaning from… that’s what draws people in.
The way to draw people in to the church is to erase the boundaries around the church that seem to keep members from going outside. First, acknowledge who you are… take a real honest look at how old, how theologically, economically and ethnically homogenous or diverse your congregation is. And then take a look at the neighborhood, city, or whatever geographic area is around you through tools like Mission Insite or census reports. Chances are pretty good that you are less diverse than your surroundings. Especially if you have folks who drive in.
Next- go out and meet people. It is by being active in schools, neighborhood watches, civic organizations and local events that we get a handle on what issues are causing tension, conflict and pain in our communities. And where we can meet people who are NOT like us – if we are willing to step out and do so.
But don’t just meet people. Get to know them. For real. It is by being involved in people’s lives that we come to understand where God might be at work in them already, where we might come alongside and invite them into a community that can help start, renew or strengthen a relationship with God. And if they know you, they just might want to give of themselves in that community alongside you.