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.