In 1969, Elmer Towns published The 10 Largest Sunday Schools And What Makes Them Grow. Over 40 years later, most of those churches have disappeared from the lists highlighting the largest churches in America. Why is that?
Often times, as a church grows larger the tendency grows to focus on maintaining and servicing what is already there. Internal ministries overwhelm outward mission. This is not strictly a large church phenomenon. Any church can be overwhelmed with by this temptation.
1 Peter 4:10 (HCSB) says, "Based on the gift each one has received, use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God." The key word is each one. Each and every church member. But unfortunately, there is a huge chasm between this verse and what happens on a regular basis in our churches.
According to the research from the book I co-authored with Thom Rainer, Transformational Church, the majority of people in the majority of churches are unengaged in meaningful ministry and mission. There's this passage in 1 Peter, but then there's the practice in our churches.
So, how can we avoid having a church full of customers rather than a church full of co-laborers in the Gospel—develop a culture and implement a structure.
Churches need a culture that encourages and a structure that enables people to move from passivity to activity, from being passive spectators to active participants in the mission of God.
Today, I want to focus on developing the culture. Here are three steps to develop a missional culture within the megachurch environment: instill it, repeat it, and celebrate it.
A pastor I know put it in a way I thought was really helpful. He said they see four categories of people that come to their church – three categories that they want and one they do not.
- Category one: The visitor or seeker
- Category two: The mature serving disciple
- Category three: The growing disciple beginning to take steps
- Category four: The person who thinks they're mature but is unengaged and serving no one.
And here's what he said to those in the last category: "We need your seat for some of the other three categories." Having that expectation of attendees, they are either serving or in the process of becoming a servant, that is creating a culture in your church.
The sooner you place this mentality into the DNA of your church the better, because as you reach new individuals you want to bring them into a place where service is the norm. A person will become what the majority of your people already are.
You can help develop this within your church. As Mike Dodson and I found in our book Comeback Churches, the primary factor for the revitalization of a church is the leadership. The same is true of developing a missional culture. The leaders, including, but not limited to the pastor and staff, must work to intentionally engraft the right mindset in the body. How can they do that? By repeating the values of the culture you want to instill.
The pulpit will always be a place to shape the values and culture of a church. When the pastor repeatedly inserts the idea of being missional into his sermons or his writing has an impact on the hearers and can work to correct a misguided focus.
For example, at Grace Church I work to talk about the culture we want to have. Our church uses the concepts begin, connect, thrive, and engage. Those are our four values. We've got a lot of people at begin and connect. But then, how do we move people into the last two: thrive and engage, creating a culture that our passion is disciple making? How do you do that? Hammer it relentlessly.
As churches grow, most often you find that a higher percentage of people get the desired culture of the church at the beginning, while fewer people take hold of it later. Well here's the thing. It's that consistent repeating of the culture and its values that helps us to create a mindset discipleship.
To bring about a cultural shift you must continually reiterate it with key leaders and get them engaged first. Then, you encourage them to repeat it in their small groups and within their circle of influence. You work with the various ministries in your church. Have them all consistently focus on developing a missional culture.
This is not a six-month process; this is a multi-year one. You will echo the values of your culture over and over again. Those who are not on board from the beginning will either allow the repetition to sink in and they'll follow the new culture or they will become annoyed at repeatedly hearing about serving and they'll leave. Sometimes, that's a good thing.
I've repeatedly said, "What you celebrate you become." The International Pentecostal Holiness Church celebrates church planting by giving pastors pins for planting or sponsoring church plants. Not surprisingly, their last two decades have been their best. (The Greater Orlando Baptist Association started doing church-planting pins, as well.)
When I preached at Progressive Primitive Baptist Church, they clearly celebrated the educational achievements of their members including one young man who had a list of academic achievements from high school through his master's degree.
Denominations and churches should affirm positives at least as much as you reject negatives. The people in the pews should know that you stand against what is unbiblical, but there should be no doubt about the type of church culture you support.
If you want your church to keep a missional culture, you should celebrate it at every opportunity. Have recognition services for volunteers in your children's department. (Medals may be appropriate there!) Create a monthly feature on your website to highlight a member who served others in an extraordinary way. Announce a church wide celebration of every member who was involved in a mission trip during the past year. Whatever ideas you can come up with to continually remind your church what it is you value – do it!
Those who visit your church should leave with a clear picture of what it is you value through what you celebrate. Members and attendees alike will see that servanthood is appreciated, which will encourage them to adopt the missional culture you have instilled and repeated throughout the body.
Culture Eats Strategy For Lunch
Here's the thing, culture eats strategy for lunch every day. That's not from me. The quote, attributed to the late business guru Peter Drucker, reminds us that our plans are pointless if the environment in our church undermines them. Your strategy becomes sort of an add-on in which few people are engaged.
In John 20:21 Jesus said, "As the Father has sent me, I also send you." So that tells us that all of God's people are sent on mission. 1 Peter 4:10 reminds us that all of God's people are called to the ministry.
Having a missional culture established through instilling it, repeating it and celebrating it will provoke members to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24). With that culture in place, they won't be asking if they should serve. The only questions will be where should I serve, among whom should I serve, and in what way can I serve. Those can be answered with the last factor in moving to missional—structure.