Stop bringing people to church, and start sending God’s church to the people.

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Most churches I’ve been to operate from the “attractional church” model – you know, the one where we put on great programs aimed at bringing unchurched people to us, hoping we can then preach them into conversion, and absorb them into the church community. Churches run children’s holiday camps, sports teams, playgroups, parenting programs, marriage courses, ladies’ morning teas, men’s breakfasts, Christmas carol nights and Easter egg hunts, all as bait to reel in unsuspecting “pagans” and convert them. Often, 95% of the people who turn up to the events are already Christians, and the outsiders who come quickly realise they are the “targets” of the whole campaign, and leave feeling quite creepy about the whole experience.

This model of church used to be acceptable. When the local community had a church background and some sense of a “Christian culture”, it was possible to invite them into our buildings and ceremonies and rituals, without completely freaking them out. Today, things have changed. For one thing, our surrounding society has rejected religious Christianity. They no longer see us as harmless, but as sinister and harmful to their own culture and belief systems. Secondly, they are onto us. They can spot a marketing campaign from a mile away. They know when they are being targeted – and they don’t like it.

It’s time for us to stop asking people to come to us, and start going to them. It’s a much better use of our resources. Get your church members to join their local sports club, community playgroup, book club, local council, craft group – whatever appeals to them. But be strategic and intentional. Encourage God’s people to go out in pairs – then they’ve got extra support and encouragement as they show the world what Jesus-followers look like.

Bait-and-switch style evangelistic programs use up a whole lot of resources (people’s time, effort and money) without being terribly effective. Living real life in our neighbourhoods and everyday lives is more biblical, more sustainable, and more logical. Stop trying to trick people into coming to church, and start sending and releasing God’s people to be the church in their communities.

15 thoughts on “Stop bringing people to church, and start sending God’s church to the people.

  1. I always feel like these marketing campaigns are attempting to draw people into church with poor copies of what the world has to offer. Don’t invite your unbelieving friend to Starbuck’s, bring them to the church’s coffee shop (with a cheesy name like “He Brews” or “Holy Grounds”). Don’t join a gym, take the exercise classes at church and bring your lost friends there. For worship, turn down the lights and turn up the music and create the feel of a concert in a club. Have the preacher wear jeans and leave his shirt untucked so he can look cool and more laid back. People see right through this stuff. Why would the lost world want inferior coffee? Why a church gym when they are members at a regular one already? Why get up early Sunday morning for a mediocre performance when they can go clubbing all Saturday night? We have really messed things up. We’ve created a sad game of bait and switch with this “attractional” model that has no basis in the Bible. Give them JESUS. That’s what they need. Invade the culture with the Gospel – as believers let’s go to Starbucks, the gym down the street and wherever else Christ calls us to GO. We are missing the first and most important word of the Great Commission – GO! We have created an entire subculture of religious entertainment that the unbeliever has no desire to be part of and has no reason to trade in what he already likes for it. The only thing we really have to offer that he cannot get anywhere else is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We can’t expect them to come beating down the church doors looking for it. We have to carry it to the highways and byways, to the coffee shops and gyms, to the schools and workplaces, to the clubs and the concerts.

    • I love what you’ve written here, Randy!

      There is a big pressure on pastors to attract young families and new people into their church communities, and it is easy to resort to gimmicks and tricks. Sometimes they are even effective. However, I’d love to see churches move away from performing towards empowering God’s people to be missional within their neighbourhoods.

      Blessings,

      – Kathleen

  2. “Living real life in our neighbourhoods and everyday lives is more biblical, more sustainable, and more logical.”

    Yes! People want to be treated like people, not projects. We all have a desire to be loved and accepted for who we are and not to have someone ‘befriend’ us to change us into who they think we should be. So why do christians think this is what God wants us to do?

    • “People want to be treated like people, not projects.” Absolutely! The danger of evangelical (and missional) thinking is seeing people as targets to be converted, as problems to be solved, rather than people to be loved and accepted.

      I hate it when people try to leverage their friendship with me to sell me products, or covert me to their way of thinking. It makes me realise how often we try to do the same to unbelievers.

      – Kathleen

  3. This is good stuff Kathleen! I wrote a Facebook post recently along the same lines as your thread here. It has to do with the false premise that we must “centralize” the Gospel as opposed to multiplying our efforts. We share your burden of taking the Word into the hearts and homes of communities where day to day life is lived.

    We don’t deny that a lot of good has resulted in ministries that are “mega-style.” But we most certainly need the house to house, person to person, etc. where intimacy in fellowship and growth in discipleship occur more naturally, freely, and spontaneously.

    Good post!

    • Thanks Stephen, sorry to take a while to respond (we were on holidays).

      I appreciate your point that there is benefit from “mega-style” ministries (which needs to be balanced with face-to-face, person-to-person ministry). I personally am thankful for the church in all her many forms, including the mega-churches, which (according to some research) are generally more spiritually healthy than the medium-sized churches.

      Blessings,

      – Kathleen

  4. Completely agree with: “Bait-and-switch style evangelistic programs use up a whole lot of resources (people’s time, effort and money) without being terribly effective”

    Growth does seem to happen, but that might just be people moving from one attraction to the next. The more money and resources the new church has, the better the attraction can be. Maybe we should call this “Disney Church”?

    Amidst all of this, there is lots of talk about Holy Spirit. They’ll say things like, “None of this even matters if Holy Spirit doesn’t anoint it and transform people’s hearts.” Ok, but, if they really believe that, why do they exhaust as much natural resources as possible? Does Holy Spirit transform people’s hearts better with a good looking pastor? With huge speakers? With free donuts?

    I’d like to actually see the “foolish things of the world confounding the wise”. How many of us are just plain bored with manufactured, pre-packaged, professional “church”?

    Thanks for this blog Kathleen. I am catching up, but I love what I see here.

    Peace!

    • Thanks for your comments, Erik! I especially like this; “Does the Holy Spirit transform people’s hearts better with a good looking pastor? With huge speakers? With free donuts?”

      Blessings,

      – Kathleen

  5. really good stuff.
    I find it difficult in the past few years regarding our local church why it appears so many people just don’t want to come. I can’t say there is anywhere else I’ve heard such deep truths even though they’re entirely applicable, changes of significance in the lives of everyone there, (who stayed and doing their best to follow the wisdom) it’s a mystery why although there are so many answers and results there, people seem to simply not want it.
    every counseling session has been met with resolution to families reconciled, marriages fixed, teens back on the right path for successful and contributory lifestyles, drug addicts delivered just sitting and listening to the deep things of God and so on.
    the testimonies of the past almost 13 years have been tremendous even among the sick and crippled.
    but after all that, people still don’t seem to want to go to church unless it’s a traditional thing for their families.

    it’s as though people don’t associate results or changes or fulfillment with church anymore because of all the professionalism and (in plain terms–) scandals.

    has the bad cop made it so hard for the good cop that the good cops have been put into the same bag as the bad ones?

    stop bringing people to church. what a concept huh?

    • Interesting point, Maximo – even when our “products” are “successful”, it doesn’t make people want to go to church more.

  6. These enhanced “church” activities are used in marketing, but not for lost souls. They are targeted at people who already go to church, where 96% of new members come from other churches. Providing a better entertainment package and “world-free” environment is proving best for attracting those 96%. A good piece on this phenomenon, “Church Cannibalism: The consequence of being out of God’s will” can be read at: http://honorgodsword.blogspot.com/2013/10/corporate-church-cannibalism.html

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