Every church needs to be more missional. More outward-reaching. More evangelistic. More outside-the-walls.
One of the best indicators of whether-or-not a church is healthy is how much they're reaching people who aren't already in the congregation. The more outward-looking, the more likely it is to be healthy. The more insular, the less healthy.
But, while outreach is a good indicator of health, it can't stand alone.
In addition to reaching new people, a healthy church also pays attention to nurturing, discipling and challenging its current members into a deeper walk with Jesus. Doing one at the expense of the other creates imbalance and ill-health.
Not to mention, it's much harder to bring new people into the church than it is to keep the people you already have. We must do both.
Businesses know this. While an infusion of new customers is vital, it's far cheaper to keep current customers and employees than it is to find new customers or train new employees.
Regular customers and long-term employees are the backbone of any enterprise.
Engage Members In The Mission
I'm not a fan of using business metaphors for churches. Congregation members are neither customers or employees (unless they're on the church staff, of course). But in this case, the analogy holds.
While reaching new people with the message of the gospel is an essential element of a healthy church, it can't be done at the expense of ignoring or belittling current members. In fact, if it's done right, a healthy church fully engages the gifts, talents and ideas of its current members to reach new people.
Certainly, there are churches so toxic that this can't be done. I've seen situations where the only option is a hard restart. Tear it down and rebuild from scratch. But that's not needed in nearly as many situations as we're often led to believe.
In most existing churches, the current members can and should be intimately involved in the process of outreach and renewal.
Close The Old Back Door, Too
The western church is losing market share (sorry for using yet another business expression). Not only are people not coming into the church as quickly as they used to, they're leaving at a faster pace than ever before. Often, permanently.
In order to reverse this trend, churches are working harder than ever to figure out how to reach new people. But too many churches are alienating current members more quickly than they're bringing new people in.
Yet we're told this is the only way to do it. Any current members who raise a caution flag about the veracity of trendy outreach ideas, trite song lyrics or shallow self-help sermons are immediately dismissed as heel-draggers and vision-killers. Sometimes they are that, of course. But not always.
Sometimes they’re offering the wisdom of mature faith to keep us from going to unhealthy extremes.
There’s a lot of great teaching about closing our church’s back door. But don’t forget the old back door, too. The one that too many long-time, faithful members are exiting through when their concerns are ignored, their needs go unmet and their contributions are forgotten.
Energy And Wisdom
This is not a call to keep supporting old ideas past their sell-by date. It's no more appropriate for old ideas or older members to hijack the service than it is for new ones to do so.
Methods, facilities and styles become outdated and irrelevant more quickly than we realize. When that happens, they need to be abandoned. But people are never irrelevant and should never feel abandoned. Especially in the church.
So this is not about one or the other. New or old. It’s a call for the hard, but important balance of both/and.
Strong, mature, healthy, outward-reaching churches find a way to do both. They usher in the future by building on the blessings and wisdom of the past.
A strong church needs new converts, along with mature believers to disciple them. While new members supply a much-needed infusion of energy, enthusiasm and forward-thinking, the presence of mature, loving, supportive long-timers provides some much-needed stability. Their lifelong examples of faithfulness, wisdom and historical continuity are essential elements for long-term viability.
So keep looking ahead. But do it by building on the past and the present, not ignoring or belittling them.
Work with the current congregation to engage together in the renewed mission. If you give them the chance, they just might surprise you.
The best way to have a better church tomorrow is to build on the strengths of today.
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