People We Haven't Met Yet
In every successful business, we see a concept that is universal. Businesses that are successful and growing are making decisions based on people who don’t have their product yet. The way they advertise, display things in stores, appeal to our senses, is focused on those people. They are driven to make decisions for people who don’t already have their product but who—once they get it—will be excited to return for more. They are spending their dollars on that certain group of people, to reach people they haven’t reached yet.
When we look at this way of thinking in the business world, we all agree that it makes a lot of sense. Provide something of high quality for the people that you have and constantly be reaching out to the people that you don’t. In the local church however, for far too long, this idea has been way too foreign, and it has to change. Now before you quit reading with the protest “The Church is not a business!” let me say this: I totally agree. The church is not a business. It is way more important than a business.
I am not trying to get you to upgrade your cell phone or sell you a new set of tires, but for far too long we have managed the church like a tire salesman that sells a set of tires to one guy and then closes for new business until that guy's tires run down so we can sell him some new ones. We have to change the way we think and the way we teach our church to think. We have to start making decisions for people we haven’t met yet.
Different labels get put on churches for different reasons. I am not going there with this article. Call it seeker-driven, seeker-sensitive, whatever you want to call it, just start thinking about lost people when you make choices. Make decisions for your church that people who don’t go to church will appreciate. When we set out the coffee, sound check the worship team, and lead people through a service, we are constantly thinking about the people that are new to us for the very first time that day.
Elephants in the Room
Before we talk about specific things that we can do to make a person who is near to us but far from God feel comfortable coming to our worship service, we need to address a couple of elephants in the room.
First, there is no biblical precedent for the idea that Growth=Diluted Message. Most of the time when I hear that, it is coming from a guy shooting arrows at the megachurch in town whose preacher is obviously not as spiritual as them because their church is growing on some diluted gospel presentation. I think that is a cop-out in a lot of cases for bad leadership, dysfunctional church government, and preaching that isn’t good. In the book of Acts, we see Peter preach and the church grew by 3000 that day. Growth doesn’t mean the message is diluted. More often than not, a lack of growth points to a lack of health in the body.
Second, senior leaders too often resist making decisions that might risk losing the big giver. If we would learn how to create budgets with more margin we would stand a better chance at making decisions based on the heart of God and not the wallets of one or two families.
Who Are We Trying to Please?
Beyond those internal elephants, there are two outside extremes that make it hard to shift the direction of the body.
On one extreme we make decisions for Great Aunt Ethel. Aunt Ethel has been dead for 20 years but she gave money for that organ to be repaired. Now we feel like we can’t add a worship team because all of Great Aunt Ethel's descendants that are still there in the church would be upset that we somehow thumbed our nose at Ethel's legacy. So we have an extreme where we are making decisions for people that aren’t even here anymore. We are making decisions for people that have already committed their lives to Christ and are actively serving in ministry. I thought Jesus said he came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). So why are the lost the last people we consider upsetting when we make church decisions?
The other extreme that I see is that everything is all about ME. The teaching always has to go deeper, and deeper still. The worship needs to be five hours long, and during that time I should be allowed to behave however I want. Who cares if we do something to make an unsaved person feel uncomfortable? This thinking generally results in a small handful of very zealous believers, but it makes no room for anyone else. I heard a great pastor say it this way one time: “When people are drowning, they don’t need to know the Greek word for life raft.” There's a place for deeper teaching, but it's not in worship, where new people are first being introduced to Christ. In this extreme we aren’t making decisions for tradition, or for Great Aunt Ethel, we are driving our decisions for us. We become the central focus.
Shift the Focus
So what can you begin to do to start shifting the focus to people that you haven’t met yet?
1. Speed of the Leader, Speed of the Team: Who are you focused on personally as a leader? Your church will not invite more than you invite. They will not read more than you read or pray more than you pray. If you personally don’t own the heart to reach lost people, your church isn’t going to either.
2. Show Me the Money: Are you spending the bulk of your resources to reach lost people? You can preach your heart out, but you need to put your money where your mouth is. Too often church budgets can be used up maintaining their building. If that’s where the money is going that’s where the people will focus.
3. Only One Chance: Do you have a first impressions team? Stats say you have seven minutes once someone reaches your campus to decide whether or not they will come back. You haven’t yet preached a message, or sung one song. Do you have a team that you are training to impact people positively from the streets to the seats? What are you communicating to people before they ever hear you preach? Are your leaders huddled in little groups talking to each other and not trying to reach out to new faces? Never forget this: people left to themselves will make it about themselves. You as the leader have to keep turning their eyes outward.
4. What’s the Flow: How does your service flow? Do you make a lot of announcements that only pertain to a few select groups? In our church we will not announce anything from the platform that affects less than 85% of the people in the room. (Notice I didn’t say people who are a part of the church.) Do you explain things that are going on as if they are new, or do you just pick up from the conversation you started last week?
I am not saying that just because it is tradition that we should get rid of it, or that just because it is great for you personally means you shouldn’t be doing it. I am saying that we need to stop and ask ourselves who is the focus of our decision making? If we aren’t trying to create an environment where people who don’t go to church would want to come, then why should we expect that they would ever come?
So often we set our focus too small. We are just making decisions to run our church, but we should never forget that the church doesn’t have a mission. Jesus’ mission has a church. Don’t make the church and the way you do things an idol. If you want to reach people you have never reached, there is a good chance you are going to have to start doing things you have never done.