I attend many meetings, often the discussion seems to be what do we want?, instead of what will it take to reach our community for Christ?! As important as I believe starting new churches is, refocusing a church is an enormous challenge. But doable!
When I was in home mission work years ago, I prepared messages in the morning, then went to the hospital to see parishioners. Then three or more afternoons a week I went visiting. Some Saturdays I went door-to-door in the community seeking to invite people to come to our church the next day. Also during the week I did some administration work as well as calling on folks who hadn’t been faithful in their attendance. You have to remember in those days I preached up to three times a week, twice on Sunday and on Wednesday night. I was preparing as many briefs as an attorney.
Today the world has changed, the gospel has not changed, the Word of God has not changed, the world in which we live has changed and that’s the way it is, I have to get used to doing things differently. For instance when I was growing up, church was my life. I had little to no friends at school. I went to a few to almost no activities at school. My social life revolved around my local congregation and the youth group. It didn’t matter how many nights we had events, I had nothing else going on in my life, that is except church.
How are we going to reach people today? The word of God is always relevant, it could be the way we do things that is the problem, at times it’s as if were speaking a foreign language or living in yesteryear.
There is no need for me to delineate the changes, we are aware of the changes that have taken place in the last several years.
Everyone has an opinion the problem with opinions is that they are not the same as fact. I love my opinions but most for others not so much, which as you come to think about it is the way I often feel about the opinions of others. Our opinions are like noses everyone has one. I told someone recently that if you dropped me in today from 1981 when I began pastoral ministry I would think you had taken me to a foreign country. I realize that many of the things that we used back in the good old days are tools that no longer work. Yet there is a deeper set of problems: we have to acknowledge that the tools worked in their day. I remember hearing Thom Rainer say that we have thrown out tools that used to work and rather than replacing them with tools that fit in today’s environment and replacing them with those kinds of tools, we have replaced the old tools with nothing. We used to have calling on Tuesday nights. We would ask our people to call on people who had either been absent from church or someone would had just visited the previous Sunday. We would gather at the church building distribute the names and addresses, have prayer at the altar and then everyone would go their way and would return the card with a handwritten note of how the visit had gone or whether in fact they had been able to find anyone at home. In spite of what anyone thinks, it was an effective tool, it got our people engaged, and helped them to understand that we are all responsible for the people visiting and our own folks who may be homebound, ill or going through spiritual difficulties that was keeping them from church. It was not required that everyone come, but we required that if you wanted to see the church move forward in our community we had to get into the community. Today with everyone busy and with daycare, school and sports activities and a host of other things, you would be hard pressed to find anyone home. If you did find someone home they would find your impromptu spur of the moment visit to be intrusive and not very thoughtful on your part. People are not sitting at home waiting for strangers to knock on their door, let me rephrase that, they’re not even looking for friends to drop by out of the clear blue, let alone strangers. We have to find some point of contact. The logical one for me seems to be email or texting. The person does not have to respond immediately and can respond when they have a moment of free time, yet it shows that someone is thinking about them and is interested in their life.. In my last pastorate I would send a handwritten card with either a gas card or a Starbucks card and thank them for visiting our church. I learned that the day of form letters is over, every one can spot a form letter. Nothing says we really do not care about you like a form letter. People are surprised when the pastor of a church takes the time and writes a handwritten note and that you’ve given them something for free. People are surprised because they have this idea that the church is trying to get something out of them and they are surprised when you give them something and it is something that they find useful. We prayerfully most seek ways to communicate, not only with our constituency but the community beyond. This sets up all kinds of tension. One must care for the congregation, yet one must reach the community, how does one do both? You do it by enlisting people to help you. In my days of pastoring if the lead pastor or senior pastor did not show up for church members surgery and pray for them at the hospital it didn’t matter how many folks you sent it was not seen as important as the pastor being present. One has to begin a re-educating process with the people. Though we have a lead pastor it is not the lead pastor’s responsibility to solely do all the ministry themselves. They are to equip and help all of us be the ministers God has intended us to be. Then we have to train and equip people to be adequate ministers. This is much of the impetus behind the small group, home meeting approach. In a non-churchy setting many barriers come down and people are ready to let down the guard and come to someone’s home for Bible study, Fellowship, especially when it’s led by people just like them, real flesh and blood human beings who live in their neighborhood.
Again I grew up in the era where Sunday school was the big deal as a child our Sunday school attendance was considerably larger than our morning worship attendance! Yet Sunday school did not exist to have school on Sunday it existed to help us make Christlike disciples. But many of us have fallen in love with the methodology, 9:30 to 10:30, lecture style conducted like our schools, whereas many are following the informal, common friendship way of inviting someone to their home, to learn and to have fellowship and to pray together. I think we need to look at what used to work and rather than falling in love with the methodology we need to see what was at the core of the methodology, what was its purpose and for what purpose did it exist? Then in our culture we need to discover what is a tool that makes sense to people today but still accomplishes the purposes of the old tools. So as we lay aside tools from the past, let us incorporate tools that are biblically solid and are culturally relevant in order to reach and disciple this generation.