18 Church Trends (and More!): Trend 14

Continuing my highly derivative series on church trends, the next six are from Carey Nieuwhof’s post 6 Disruptive Church Trends That Will Rule 2017.

Trend 14: Preachers Who Can’t Speak To The Unchurched Will Preach To A Shrinking Crowd

Just because your church is growing doesn’t mean you’re accomplishing your mission. Unless, of course, your mission is to attract unhappy Christians from other churches.

One day, every church will have to learn how to reach unchurched people because only unchurched people will be left.

Better figure that out now if you want to be effective in accomplishing your mission.

Amen, and a thousand times Amen! Although I think Nieuwhof understates the problem, if anything.

As pointed out in an earlier post, for a generation a church can grow just by being a better church of its denomination. Be the best Church of Christ in town, and you’ll grow — if there are other Churches of Christ nearby from which you can steal members. Attendance and contributions and volunteerism will rise, and the elders and other leaders will figure they’re doing things right. Until they’ve drawn all the unhappy members the other churches have to give up. And then the church will plateau. And then it will die.

Part of the problem is that the churches that are attractive don’t emphasize the necessity of being part of a Church of Christ, and so the Church of Christ children who move into town will compare your church with the truly nondenominational churches in town, and you’ll have worse music, weaker leadership (we just will not train our elders or even our preachers in church growth), a weaker emphasis on personal evangelism, and more poorly designed and run small groups. Yours will be better than what the other Churches of Christ in town offer — but not nearly as good as the community churches and church plants — where the leaders have been trained in how to do these things well.

And so your church shrinks and soon dies … unless (a) you decide to be truly evangelistic, (b) you subordinate member preferences and traditions to evangelism, and (c) you create community within the church so that the church becomes an outpost of the Kingdom in a foreign land.

There’s much more, of course. And somewhere in all this it becomes necessary for the preacher to know how to speak to the unchurched. This creates a serious problem that we should be honest about. After all, the assembly is really intended to be for the members — as an encouragement to love and good works (Heb 10:24-25) and edification (1 Cor 14). But the preacher can encourage the members using a non-insider vocabulary. He can let the classes deal with theology and Greek declensions. The sermon should sound like something from, you know, Jesus — who managed to be both profound and yet simple enough for the unchurched all at once.

The tricky part is that the older, more mature members need meat. The babes in Christ need milk. The unchurched need Jesus in terms they can grasp — and the Gospels are, to me, the best example of how to do this. Paul is not. If you just have to talk about inaugurated eschatology, save it for Bible class.

PS — I adamantly oppose the Simple Church model that is killing Bible classes. It just doesn’t work for the more mature members.

PPS — Look at your website as though you’ve never attended your church even once. Notice how the front page is typically filled with insider terms. We just have to have cutesy names for classes and ministries that are impenetrable to non-members. I mean, what is a “Dorcas class”? Do you really expect an unchurched visitor to pull out a Bible dictionary to figure this out? If the children’s program is called “Skyclimbers,” that may be great for your kids, but the visitors have no idea what you’re talking about. If the assembly is called “The Well,” you need to issue a decoder ring with each visit to your website.

The website is for unchurched visitors. Stop using code words as though only your own members would ever look. Nothing more clearly advertises cluelessness when it comes to visitors.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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5 Responses to 18 Church Trends (and More!): Trend 14

  1. Mark says:

    I guess one thing that never reached preachers was how to preach on one parable of Jesus and then sit down without over-preaching. Jesus frequently taught both the unsynagogued and good synagogue-attending Jews at the same time. Also, studying and understanding modern culture and human nature does not mean you condone it. Paul, in Acts 17:16-34, used his observations of Athens to the benefit of God.

  2. Joe B says:

    Most preachers can’t. In fact the paradigm of speaking or having a dialogue who it either indifferent to faith, agnostic or even antagonistically unChristian all the way to atheist is a completely foreign concept. Most MDIV programs are all about ministering to the saved or already disciple. In fact starting any spiritual dialogue with someone who doesn’t come from some type of pre-supposed Christian assumption is very difficult for the average preacher. I remember the other day I was listening to a radio outreach program and the whole thing was about “how to get the bible study with a non-believer”. The whole thing was based on the assumption that getting people to sit down to a traditional bible study was the only way to bring people to faith. Um research shows that most non-believers don’t consider the bible as the default place of spiritual meaning. So why would we shove that into the crucible of reaching the average post modern seeker? My point it’s not the preachers fault. It is what our universities and preacher training schools have taught them to do. But it is also our paradigm.

  3. Dwight says:

    I find that most preachers are taught to preach at and not to. In other words preachers are giving a sermons at people who are not them, but not relating themselves to the people. This is usually trained into preachers. Thus when they get to trying to teach one-on-one they often use the same approach.
    What I find is that there is usually one church that is the shining beacon of what people want in an area and they flock to it. I am in one of those churches. But this also robs the other churches of people that could help them be a shining beacon, because they want to be with other shining beacons. But once in a place with shining beacons only so many beacons can shine at a time and thus the beacons become less brighter and less active than what they would have been in one of the other churches.

  4. Jim H says:

    Eschatologically speaking (Rom 9-11), focusing on chapter 11. Are we beginning to see “…the full number of the gentiles has come in”? Is God preparing to address his chosen, ethic Israel? What might it look like if the “… full number of gentiles has come in”. Would we see gentile churches less effective in gentile conversions? Would we see the unsaved gentiles increasingly reject the gospel message? Would we see Jesus removing gentile churches’ “lamp stand from its place”? (Rev 2-3, I.e., dying churches)? Would today’s churches recognize this unfolding mystery – God’s preparation to address Israel’s temporary hardening?

  5. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Jim H,

    Paul is pretty vague. I doubt that he means “all the Gentiles.” See my post at http://oneinjesus.info/2016/01/the-pope-the-salvation-of-the-jews-and-calvinism-part-13-conclusion-and-a-theory/ for a couple of possible theories.

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