Time was when a church could sit on its corner of town and wait. Eventually three things would happen. New residents would come looking for a church to join. A family in distress would come looking for a church’s support. And of course the rare soul seeking God would show up every now and then. All a church had to do "back in the day" was be friendly enough to hold on to a decent percentage of such visitors to replace the members who died and/or moved away. But those days are gone... long gone. Folks today don’t much visit churches. Frankly, religion isn’t much on the secular mind, so the steady stream of “new blood” has come to an end. Local churches are now in the position of having to fight hard for every new guest… every new believer. The obvious question is, “How do we appeal to those outside the church?” If we are to be “fishers of men and women” what are the “hooks” capable of making a catch? Here are five reliable “hooks.” Among Americans today there are five issues that arrest most everyone’s attention. They are: Marriage Parenting Money Addiction Aging/Dying. These five concerns impact most everyone, and the secular world offers no answers or solutions. Most marriages are reported “unhappy.” Parents are overwhelmed and overrun. The average American household is drowning in credit card debt. Alcohol and drug addiction is eating the heart out of people. Death and dying is omnipresent. Are there other concerns that occupy the minds of America’s rank and file? Of course, but marriage, parenting, money, addiction, and aging/dying are fundamental. Any church that effectively addresses these five issues will always have interested people knocking on their door. People don’t visit churches on Sunday morning by accident. They come because they have problems that are bigger than they can handle, and it usually has to do with one of the above five concerns. The average person on the street may not give a fig about the church, but they’re hurting over their marriage and they’re desperate about their children. What have we been doing at Baughman UMC is to address each of these five concerns. We offer marriage coaching twice a year, a yearly parenting class, a digging out of debt seminar, etc… Do these ministries bring in a flood of new people? Some times. But most of the times they provide something even better… a small steady stream of new people. In today’s secular world a guest’s first visit to church is often not the Sunday morning worship service. It is more likely the class on debt relief, or the mom’s group. There are a thousand and one issues that a church can address, but there are five that are all but universal in our American culture. These are the effective “hooks” that can be thrown into the secular water that ALWAYS get a response. The secular world pushes us to more and more individual freedom, ignoring the fact that many are drowning in such freedom. People are desperate for something solid that they can build their lives on, and with the Gospel of Jesus Christ we have solid answers for every one of the five concerns that currently plague our culture: Marriage Parenting Money Addiction Aging/Dying Focus on these five with your outreach, and you’ll have more new people than you’ll know what to do with.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. April 15, 2016 /Discipleship Ministries/ – United Methodist new church starts outpaced new church starts by other protestant denominations in three of five key benchmarks – average worship attendance, new decisions for Christ and reaching previously unchurched people – according to a survey of 17 U.S. evangelical denominations and church planting network organizations. Read more.
People frequently ask how to help transformation begin in the congregation of which they are a part. Begin with prayer. Pray about transformation, not about Aunt Tillie's bunions, the fight at the fire company, the election, the proverbial "unnamed" (if they are unnamed to us doesn't God know who they are? And if God knows who they are why are we naming them.) Oh well, it is good and biblical to pray for those in need, and that includes bunions, disagreements, national politics and even "unnamed" people I suppose, but those in need also include those in church whose faith has grown cold, stagnant or are simply not "growing up into Christ who is our head." It also includes the many more people who live in our communities, work with us, go to school with our kids but do not know the life God intends for them.
So if you want to help foster transformation of a congregation, don't start with a new program, a change of structure, AND don't start with the needs of the congregation. Begin gathering with others, 2 or 3 or 50 who have a passion for those who do not yet know Jesus as Lord and are not enjoying the abundant, eternal life he promised.
By the way, the budget for this is manageable, it does not require a large church, young people, youth, a certain educational level or anything other than a deep love of Jesus and people.
Seriously, almost everyone I have ever read who has lead a dynamic new church plant or a dramatic transformation of an existing congregation, names prayer as the first ingredient in the process.