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.