Disclaimer #1: I don’t have all the answers. I don’t even have most of the answers. I’m just another pastor that wants to see heaven more crowded and makes a ton of mistakes. Hopefully this is helpful to give some next steps as you faithfully love the people God has put you around.
Disclaimer #2: I’m not going to give you the 5 ways to pack out your services. (MY motivation more times than I’d like to admit) This is a slow path to intentionally build a culture that doesn’t solely rely on talent or tech. Those things are good, but they are not a replacement for real relationships with people and a true understanding of your context.
As my wife and I are on a journey to plant a church in Orange County, we’ve spent the last couple years doing everything we can to learn. Why is this area so unchurched? What do unchurched/dechurched individuals feel when they think about the church? What did we learn? SO MANY of my assumptions were absolutely wrong.
Just so you know my ministry default, I’ve only intimately known and led megachurch. Solutions revolved around hiring leveled up talent, producing shinier environments, buying better tech, sending more press releases to announce good deeds, and being the best show around. Resources many times are focused on a primary goal...how do we gather more people? I believed this with all of my heart. I gave decades of my life to that effort.
Then my heart shifted significantly.
I wondered if Jesus was in my city, what would He spend time focusing on? Who would he spend time with?
Do I spend my time that way? Do I spend time with the people he would?
The honest answer? I don’t think so.
I think I was so busy putting on church that I don’t think I was doing what Jesus would do. I simply didn’t have time. Didn’t Jesus know that I was really busy doing important church stuff? I didn’t have time to do the stuff he would do.
I think that’s a problem. I had a problem and I had no one to blame but me.
This is not a bash on a certain size or style of church. This was a heart correction for me. I was prideful. I was distracted. I was a people pleaser. Social media made it worse. I wanted the event to be packed not only because I thought that equaled success but also because it would look great on instagram. I wanted my friends in ministry around the world to be impressed. I wanted them to know I was doing big things. I equated large gatherings with large impact. I assumed large groups watching a presentation meant large amounts of people being discipled, challenged, and sent out missionally to reach their communities.
I was wrong.
Listen, big isn’t automatically bad. Just like small isn’t automatically healthy. The question isn’t whether large or small is the “right size" but whether we are being faithful with our mission.
Ultimately, God hasn’t called me to be successful. He's called me to be faithful.
So what does faithfulness look like for you? For me?
As we create this new church, we get the unique opportunity to decide who we are, what we believe and what we applaud.
At our core, we believe that you don’t speak your values, you reveal them.
Because of that, we cannot say we value something but then applaud some other behavior. We cannot say we value something unless we put our resources towards it. We cannot say we value something unless it’s blatantly obvious to someone new to our culture.
So this post is already too long, but here are a couple points to consider as you refine your church culture.
Learn your city
One of the things that the team at Newsong Church taught me over and over again was to walk the city whenever I could and “listen to the sound in the ground.” I know that all my Newsong friends are nodding their heads as they read that line because it is so entrenched in their DNA.
What does this look like practically?
- Walk the city whenever you can. Park a few blocks over from your coffee or lunch apt and go for a walk. What do people talk about? What do you feel God speaking to you as you walk and intentionally notice?
- Go to City Council meetings. What are people concerned about? What are they passionate about?
- Who are the non-profits in your area and what are their needs? How can you come alongside them and support? Even if it means wearing their T-shirt and not yours.
- Intentionally and consistently spend time with those in your community. For me that’s always been around fitness. Volleyball and Crossfit mostly. Spending time with people far from the church is so refreshing to me. It’s a reminder that there’s more to me than service production and sermon prep. If I’m great at those things but weird in public, what’s the point? It also reminds me who I’m building the church for. Not for church people but for people who think I’m crazy. For people who think Jesus is irrelevant and the church is out of touch.
It’s so easy to live in the church and make ivory tower decisions based on church trends from the latest conference. I know I did.
Leave the 99. Spend time with the 1. Go to the well in the middle of the day. Spend time with the marginalized, the forgotten, the ones who have zero influence on social media and ask questions. Lots of questions. Learn names. Hear dreams. Bear pain. Give hope.
You’ll find that what many of them want, what many of them are looking for can’t be purchased or programmed. They don’t want a better show or brighter LED screens. They want to be seen, heard and loved.
Isn’t that what you want too? I know I do.
I think that’s why Jesus spent his time the way he did. He’s still calling us to follow him.
Love your city
Before you create a strategy to reach a city, learn to love a city.
Do you love your city? I mean really love it? If not, you need to start there.
Pray, fast, and learn until a deep love for your city begins to overwhelms you. Then do everything you can to keep the fire stoked. Or ... step aside and resource someone who does.
Think of it this way. If I don’t truly love my kids, all the how to books and seminars won’t help me be a loving parent. It has to start with LOVE. If anything, the better I get at just the mechanics the more robotic my parenting would be. It'd be wiser to turn off the screens, cancel some meetings, maybe skip church and actually spend time with my kids. Ask them questions. Listen. Apologize. Learn.
We’ll pick up the conversation in the next post, but until then let’s not over complicate things.
Recently I put a post on Facebook asking my friends why they didn’t go to church. The answers were honest and plentiful. It was far from an exhaustive study, but what shocked me the most was the very things we spend the most money on to build a church were some of the very things that turned people off to the church.
But we would never know that unless we spent more time building relationships, asking questions, and taking out a notepad.
Us pastors should probably do that more.
I’m committed to it. Who’s with me?