Tag Archives: megachurch

“Lead Better” is Not the Answer

Aug 10, 16
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Blog Post 59 - Pastor1

When the business principles referenced in last week’s post don’t create healthy church growth (and they won’t), many pastors conclude that another business precept is at fault – leadership.  Countless business books, articles and consultants tell company executives how to lead better.  Today, leadership concepts are being pounded into the heads of pastors.  Megachurch pastors are publishing leadership content at a mind-numbing clip.  Many of the largest pastor conferences in America feature leadership as the central theme and advertise prominent church leaders as the main attraction.

The implication is clear – and insulting.  Your church is still small because you’re not a very good leader!

However, rather than view the implication as an insult, pastors gobble up leadership blogs and books.  I’ve seen hundreds of pastors stand in line at conferences for the opportunity to have a megachurch pastor sign their latest book on leadership.  I’ve heard thousands of pastors cheer like fans at a Beatles concert when a “celebrity” pastor steps on the main stage to speak about leadership.

Better leadership isn’t going to fix the Church’s declining growth, impact, influence and perception in America.  A new CEO of a company in the paper industry may make product design, customer service and advertising changes that take market share from competitors, but won’t materially alter its long-term fortunes without adapting the business model to account for market dynamics lowering demand for paper.  A more savvy and eloquent pastor can bring in new attendees and members, but won’t make the church more effective in making disciples and reaching the community for Christ without reverting to the Biblical definition of “church” and its “customers”.

In other words, better leadership of a bad model isn’t the answer.  Identifying the wrong issues has led to the wrong solution.  Churches shouldn’t fix the ineffective application of business principles with more business principles.  Those business principles don’t belong in a church in the first place, but became more prevalent as pastors and staff have assumed greater responsibility for “being” the church and the commitment level of members to act in that role has declined.  That’s the issue.  Leadership is important but it’s not the solution to the challenges facing the Church today.

The Real Issue…

Many large churches got big not because their pastors are more competent leaders, but because they’ve adapted better to the redefinitions of the terms “church” and “customer”.  As a result, some of the fastest growing churches in America place a great deal of emphasis on:

1. LEADERSHIP – positioning pastors and staff as “insiders” (e.g. the embodiment of “church”) and members as “outsiders” (or “customers” to attract and retain).  Therefore, they eagerly consume advice from today’s most renowned experts on church leadership, like:

  • Cast Vision – For the church, its future Growth and expected Impact
  • Track Key Metrics – Emphasizing Growth measures (attendance and giving) rather than Impact measures (# of Disciples Reproducing Disciples or # of Lives Changed by Members)
  • Empower Staff – Delegating responsibilities to staff for enhancing the church experience for select groups of members and visitors (e.g. families with children, men, women, singles, elderly).
  • Leverage Membership – Frequent requests for volunteers to build the institution and serve those inside the “4 walls”, yet few offer intensive (1-on-1 or triad) programs to build disciples who “go” and serve the real “customers” (who are outside the “4 walls”).
  • Deliver Quality – Excellence in communication, worship experience and programs

2. RETENTION – making church leaders more reluctant to challenge members to the level of life change expected of them as the personification of “church” (i.e. treating them as “customers”).

In light of that redefinition of “customers”, leaders of large churches have generally become more adept than small churches at “Customer” Experience DesignSmaller churches are typically slower to innovate, many resisting changes that would attract more attendees.  The new pastor we discussed earlier likely will encounter severe headwinds when trying to change the definitions of “church” and “customers”.  Asking members to take on greater responsibility for “being” the church and reaching out to the community (the intended “customer”) won’t go over well in most small churches.  Rocking the boat could quickly result in dissension or a split, led by a few long-time members who have far too much power and control.  Many small churches have become private clubs where new initiatives (or new faces) aren’t necessarily welcome.  New pastors would need to earn a great deal of trust and credibility before introducing any innovations that could upset the apple cart.

Numerous widely-recognized authorities on “Customer” Experience Design (labeled instead as church leadership coaching) stress:

  • Building staff roles around the needs of particular “customer” types to optimize the church experience for each group – a common practice in business but warranting caution in a church setting
  • Devoting significant staff time to putting on a well-organized, professional-grade event every weekend
  • Choreographing worship services down to the minute, unfortunately leaving little room for the Holy Spirit to shake things up
  • Meticulously planning and scripting emotional build-up from the music crescendo, to the announcements, to the message and all the way through to the closing songs and readings
  • Studying and applying the science of “customer” experience design (e.g. ideal # of parking spaces per attendee, % of seats filled to appear full, decibel level, visual effects, even down to seat spacing and cushioning)

A better “customer” experience may mean more attendees, but doesn’t translate into more disciples or greater Kingdom impact.  It can actually have just the opposite effect.  A goal to Attract and Retain will make church leaders more hesitant to Transform and Release.

The Real Answer…

  • Leading Better = Leading Biblically.  In other words, invoke Servant Leadership principles modeled by Jesus.  Flip the definition of “church” and “customer” by reversing the church hierarchy.  Rather than having staff serve pastors, pastors and staff serve members, and members serve the institution, make sure all hands are on deck preparing members to serve and share the gospel with the actual “customers” (those in need of help and hope).  That’s the path to better leadership of the right (Biblical) model rather than better leadership of the wrong (business) model.
  • Resist the temptation to control of the church’s future.  Subscribing to the philosophy that your church’s success hinges on your leadership is alluring – you can always improve and control your leadership skills.  Yet much like we must all resist the urge to think our actions impact our salvation, pastors should surrender control and distribute knowledge, power and responsibility to members.
  • Pastors and staff should commit themselves fully to discipling, equipping and empowering the congregation.  That doesn’t require fantastic leadership, just a deep abiding in Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, compelling them to disclose the costs of discipleship and to hold members accountable to the Great Commission standard.  That’s when we’ll start to see more people showing up who didn’t simply come from another church down the road.  Personal relationships with members who’ve been challenged to become disciples and evangelists can attract even those who otherwise wouldn’t dare darken the doors of a church.
  • Carefully consider which business practices belong in your church, if any.
  • Overcome resistance to change, even when the risks are great.  Church planters are initially bold and externally-focused, but become more risk averse once there’s something to lose.  Isn’t the opportunity to dramatically increase your footprint by challenging your congregation fervently to live out the Great Commission worth risking the departure of those who view church as a social club?

It’s Your Turn…

Do you agree that leadership is overemphasized in the Church in America today because leaders are overemphasized?  Why or why not?

Small Churches Face Even Greater Temptations to Compromise

Aug 03, 16
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"Scenery from Village of Tadoussac in foggy summer morning, Quebec-Canada."

When we talk about treating members as “customers”, people naturally think of prosperity churches or megachurches.  However in many ways the temptations to treat members as “customers” are even greater within a small church.  In other words, defining the wrong “customer” is less about relying on “attractional” models and more about succumbing to pastoral pressures.  Most small churches lack the resources to win an “attraction” battle anyway.  Instead, the dynamics of small church life create a slippery slope, gradually leading pastors to cater to rather than challenge members.

The Urgency: Prospects for Small Churches

As all pastors know and often repeat, members ARE the church.  They also know that Jesus, His disciples and the early church viewed the community as the church’s intended “customer”.  The purpose of gathering together is to worship collectively and prepare hearts to reach a lost and broken world – the Great Commission.  All hands should be on deck, collectively pursuing the real “customer”.  However, most churches today have changed that definition of their “customer” – shifting a disproportionate amount of time and resources to member retention.  As a result, few adequately train and deploy those “insiders” to pursue “outsiders”.  The unchurched – the Church’s Biblical “customer” – largely feels ignored (at best) and judged (at worst).  No organization can define the wrong target customer and succeed.

Churches had the definition of “customers” right for 1900 years.  Churches were the local food bank and homeless shelter.  They started the schools, ministries and even hospitals.  They were the spiritual, educational and charitable “center of town”.  They invested heavily in building and sending disciples.  They plowed tithes back into the welfare of their cities and reaching all with the gospel.

The fact that small churches are no longer on the front lines of compassion corresponds closely to the decline of the church in America.  Reversing course and getting back on the path to growth won’t be easy.  There are powerful forces in place taking focus off the external and shifting the energies of small churches further internally.  A vicious cycle is at work due to the redefinition of “Church” (was members, now leaders) and the Church’s “customer” (was the community, now members):

Higher Expectations of Leaders (to “feed” and care for members)

+ Lower Expectations of Members (e.g. decreasing contributions to church)

= More Responsibilities Passed from Members to Leaders

+ Fewer Resources to Address a Greater Number of Demands

The road ahead for small churches promises to get still rockier.  Church “shoppers” continue to migrate to larger churches, mainline denominations struggle to reach younger generations, and government agencies are considering increasingly unfriendly policies and tax laws.

The temptation to compromise will only grow stronger in the years to come…

The Issue: What Does Compromise Look Like?

None of the following business principles should be in play at any church.  They’re not Biblical, yet are all too prevalent in small churches (and many large ones as well).  Each of them contributes toward defining members as “customers”.  See if you recognize any of these corporate behaviors at your church:

  • “The Pareto Principle” – Also, called the “80/20 Rule” where 20% of the input is responsible for 80% of the outputs.  In small churches, a handful of members typically have an inordinate amount of control.  Pastors worry about the reactions of the most influential families to any decisions, no matter how basic or simple (e.g. worship music).  Therefore small church pastors seek the implicit or explicit approval of those most prominent or vocal, or risk a disgruntled member threatening the peace and stability of the entire church.  Likewise, companies give preferential treatment to “anchor” customers, surveying them to get feedback on product or policy changes before enacting them.
  • “Who Moved My Cheese” – As we’ll discuss more next week, small churches often become complacent, resistant to changes that would disrupt the status quo.  When “if it’s not broken…” entails more concern for retaining long-time members than reaching the lost, it becomes a problem.  Many small churches not only aren’t growing, they don’t want to grow.  In business, engaging new markets requires innovation, but too many pastors remain content to preach to the same (saved) folks every Sunday.  If church leaders and members saw the community as the “customer” their church was planted to reach, then community needs – and not those of current members – would dictate priorities and worship style.  For example, millennials should be target “customers” but largely feel out-of-place at small churches.  They want to be change agents in their communities and world – but churches are too invested in appeasing members to design local missions programs that meet the compassion “needs” of millennials.
  • “Exceed Expectations” – The formula we laid out earlier in this post showed how the onus for operating churches has flipped from church members to church leaders.  Nowhere is that more evident than in small churches.  Members are generally seen as voluntary participants, not as the church personified.  Pastors are careful not to ask too much of them, yet stand ready to jump when asked to do something for them.  Companies can’t require that customers read the owners manual or share the “good news” about new products as prerequisites for making a purchase – but that’s exactly what churches should be doing.  Church leaders shouldn’t be in the business of providing excellent customer service, but members have come to expect that level of performance.  That shift in expectations is the primary source of pastor burnout today.
  • “The Customer is Always Right” – The redefinition of “customers” also makes small church leaders reluctant to hold members accountable for their actions.  Most are hesitant to approach the patriarch of the church or the largest contributor to confront them about sin in their lives.  Yet those same pastors will readily accept criticisms from those same members and make changes to pacify them.
  • “Create Raving Fans” – Pastors find it equally challenging to address inaction – in other words, to raise the bar for members on service and evangelism.  It’s difficult but necessary to ask members to become greater servants and advocates for Jesus in their circles of influence.  However, rather than pushing those with the largest circles to step out of their comfort zones, disrupt their daily lives and become the embodiment of “church” between Sundays, leaders of small churches are more apt to make simple requests – like inviting their friends to church.  Yet we are all called to be raving fans of Jesus, not a church.
  • “Risk Mitigation” – Businesses continually assess and minimize risk factors.  Issue resolution is important in churches as well, but pastors of small churches are particularly quick to snuff out infighting because a single rift could jeopardize the entire church.  A squabble or difference of opinion between two members or even a member and the pastor can readily lead to a split.  Undue attention to putting out internal brush fires can detract from the external mission of the church to engage and serve an entire community.  Ironically, a greater focus on the external, common cause of pursuing the church’s true “customer” would reduce the concerns of members about their own needs and opinions – the source of most spats.

The Solution: Redefine the “Customer”

Transform and Release Disciples – versus retaining and attracting “customers”

Flip Expectations – Challenge rather than cater to members, with less tolerance for complacency or sin

Unite Around a Common Cause – Put aside petty differences and transform your community for Christ

Increase Your Church’s Footprint – Even a small church can have a tremendous impact, but it will require change

It’s Your Turn…

Which of the business principles above have you observed in a church before?  What negative impact did it have on key Biblical imperatives like the Great Commandment and Great Commission?

7 Keys to Increasing Your Church’s Footprint

Jul 20, 16
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Blog Post 56 - Footprint on Railroad (Unsplash - photo-1456894332557-b03dc5cf60d5)1

Last week we defined the “footprint” of a church as the collective impact for Christ of the people within it.  The number of members, budget or square footage don’t necessarily determine how wide or deep a church’s reach extends for the Kingdom.

Jesus modeled discipleship and community engagement as an example for His Church to follow.  He felt a small number of highly effective disciples would cover much more ground than a slew of casual followers.  A larger church does have a greater opportunity for community impact, but will only realize that potential if it applies Jesus’ model of building Powerful disciples and equipping them to demonstrate His love and compassion before telling people who He is.  Jesus had the perfect words, yet knew they wouldn’t be enough.  No pastor, no matter how eloquent, can “outpreach” Jesus.  Smaller churches can make a tremendous difference as well if they remain committed to that path Jesus laid out for expanding their “footprints”.

In our experience working with thousands of churches of all sizes over the past 15 years, we’ve observed that few remain as committed to discipleship and community engagement as they were when they first planted.  Once there’s something to lose, the realities of managing the organization and keeping it funded tug at the vision of member and city transformation pastors had when they first opened their doors.

To increase your church’s footprint and take more ground, leading to numerical growth and cultural revitalization, we recommend the following 7 ideas:

  1. Decentralize – …power, knowledge and responsibility. Empower, equip and train leaders to take ownership of discipleship, outreach and local missions.  Turn small groups into neighborhood groups, charged with caring not only for each other but for entire city blocks.  Reorganize into Mission Shaped Communities, entrusting lay leaders with the task of mobilizing members to generate collective impact.  When pastors truly define members as the Church personified, it won’t hesitate to challenge them to assume those leadership roles.  Only distributing power, knowledge and responsibility throughout the congregation will enable a church to fully leverage the power in its pews. 
  2. Deconstruct – …the skyscraper and tear down the warehouse. Stop trying to build A church and build THE Church.  Knock down the 4 walls; they aren’t keeping people in, they’re keeping people out.  Society perceives an “us” versus “them” attitude on the part of churches as Christians speak more and act (in compassion) less – pushing people away rather than drawing them in.  Meanwhile, other religions are taking ground in America, seeing the importance of taking action, infiltrating all facets of society – getting directly involved in neighborhoods, local causes, politics, and service projects.  As other religions expand their footprints, Christian churches can’t afford to pull inward, which they do when they become more concerned with retaining than transforming, making church the “end” and not the “means”.
  3. Disperse – In the skyscraper analogy, at the end of the workday, employees go down the elevator, walk briskly past the homeless in the park downtown, get in their cars and drive straight home. Many churches seek to provide a protected environment, apart from the moral decay around it.  Christians have even formed a subculture where we’re only exposed to acceptable versions of everything educational or entertaining.  When churches engage in compassion activities, most only go into the world on their own terms, doing controlled, supervised service events where members stick close to others from their own church – with limited contact with those they are serving. Yet Jesus and His disciples did not shy away from the world, instead going out to serve and evangelize the hurting and lost at every opportunity.  It was dirty, hard work with danger around every turn.  They didn’t leave the temple, head home and shut the proverbial garage door behind them.
  4. Disciple – Leaders should train members as if they truly ARE the church, essentially like the employees of a company.  A business would never rely on a 30 minute weekly presentation and 1 hour discussion led by an uncertified volunteer as the full extent of its training program for new hires.  Yet that’s what most churches do today, concerned that congregations don’t have an appetite for a greater commitment than that.  As a result of not being challenged directly with all that the Great Commission entails, too few become disciples or disciple-makers.
  5. Depend – …on one another, uniting as the body of Christ to advance the common mission of maximizing community impact. Resolving social ills in a city like hunger and homelessness isn’t a job any one can church can do by itself.  In fact, to make meaningful progress, churches will need to band together with those already working in those trenches, including government agencies and secular charities.  Each church acting independently doesn’t form a cohesive footprint.  How shocked would citizens be to hear that all of the churches in town are working together to eradicate child abuse and neglect?  Would that quickly change the prevailing perception that churches are primarily concerned with taking care of their own?  Why should the term “Kingdom-minded” ever need to be used to describe a church willing to work with other churches when that should be our natural state?  Instead we see competition over a shrinking pool of frequent churchgoers – the opposite of unity, resulting in a contracting overall “footprint”.
  6. Deploy – …troops to fight a “ground war”, not an “air war.  That’s the only way to win America’s “culture war”.  Dropping verbal bombs only serves to further alienate those who don’t care what Christians know (because they don’t know we care).  Only the Church can mobilize massive troops, with love as their chosen weapon – as opposed to a louder megaphone.  Only a united Church that’s spread out over a wide expanse can cover the entire battleground.  But that alone won’t get the job done.  Pastors will need to do more to enlist soldiers to join this army – challenging members to be the living, breathing church between Sundays, with hearts breaking for the hopeless and helpless.
  7. Dedicate – Unfortunately, few churches see local missions as a critical function, allocating less than 2% of their budgets to following Jesus’ model of leading with compassion.  Community engagement also occupies a very small amount of time at staff meetings.  Local missions pastors (if the church has one) are typically the least influential voice at the table.  Pastors and staff in charge of media, singles, youth, music, communications, small groups, and finances all have more say in the direction of most churches.  Priorities and dollars follow goals.  A good indication that a church is building a skyscraper and not maximizing its “footprint” is if it’s closely tracking the number of people in the pews yet not the number of lives changed by those in the pews.  As pressures mount to manage and grow, the temptation increases to prioritize “noses and nickels” metrics over member and city transformation.

It’s your turn…

How many more could be reached by the church dispersed?  How many would be caught off guard seeing far more love and hope lived out in front of their eyes?  How many more would want to check out church for the first time in quite a while?

More Big Churches, yet a Smaller Overall Footprint

Jul 12, 16
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Blog Post 55 - Footprints (Unsplash - photo-1456374407032-6e4baf58fb62)1

The collective footprint of the Church (capital C) in America is shrinking in terms of:

  • Growth
  • Impact
  • Influence
  • Perception

We have more huge churches than ever before.  Church planting organizations are launching new churches as quickly as they can.  Yet the “pie” isn’t increasing in size.  The percentage of Americans regularly attending and joining churches is in decline.  Mainline denominations are seeing record numbers of church closures and pastors walking away from the pulpit.  There are enough “Dones” (with church) to warrant a label for the movement.

How do we reconcile the onset of the megachurch movement with a smaller overall footprint for the Church in our nation?  Is centralizing into a few large churches where we’re heading?  Is that a good thing?  Is absorbing members from smaller churches into larger ones that can offer more programs and amenities expanding the Kingdom or contracting it?  Those questions aren’t dissimilar to asking whether Walmart setting up shop in a small town and putting many “mom and pops” out of business is good for its residents.

The answers to those questions will hopefully lead us to the path to expanding the Church’s footprint.

How is the Church’s “Footprint” Determined?

…Not by the Number of Churches

We can’t plant churches fast enough to atone for a flawed model.  Any organization that defines the wrong “customer” puts its future in jeopardy.  As we’ve discussed throughout this blog series, the “root cause” for the Church’s decline today is the radical shift that took place over the past few decades:

  • Churches no longer view the lost in the community as their “customer” – the target audience where they should invest the bulk of their energy and dollars.
  • When churches were the food bank and homeless shelter during their first 1900 years, they plowed as much as half their income back into the community.  Today that number stands at an average of less than 2%, with many churches allocating no budget to local missions.
  • Churches no longer rigorously prepare members to BE the church, training them like “employees” to pursue the real “customer”.   Instead, they worry that some may not come back next Sunday, threatening the church’s survival or growth plans.

Ignoring the intended customer is a losing proposition for any organization.   It’s like trying to sell more widgets when you’re losing money on each one.  As they say, you can’t “make it up on volume”.  If each new church is unwilling to upset the apple cart and risk challenging members to pursue and serve the real “customer” – then we can’t “make it up on volume”.  Each new (internally-focused) church will only perpetuate the prevailing view that the church cares more for itself and for its own than for those outside the “4 walls”.

…Not by the Size of a Church

A church may be enormous, yet occupy a very small footprint.  In other words, it may grow vertically but not horizontally, much like skyscrapers that:

  • are tall, but take up very little ground – they go up, not out
  • gather a lot of people together into a confined space
  • house those whose goal is to help their organizations grow
  • provide a nice office environment, far removed from the dirt and poverty just outside the ground floor
  • try to attract tenants and keep them as long as they can
  • measure success by the size of the building and number of occupants
  • block the view of neighboring buildings and scenery

The key consideration when measuring a church’s footprint is whether it’s “taking ground” – not its member rolls, budget or square footage.  A large church that has defined the wrong “customer” and therefore doesn’t transform and release won’t take much ground even if it plants new churches.  Each new campus simply replicates the same misguided “skyscraper” model.  Crowding more churchgoers into a single institution that doesn’t effectively build and send disciples further contracts the overall footprint of the Church.

…Not by the Physical Space of all Church Buildings

Think of the vast physical space represented by all of America’s churches.  Historically, those buildings were utilized all week long to provide services, education and shelter to the community.  Now, hundreds of thousands of church buildings sit nearly empty Monday through Saturday.  A company measures its footprint by how its branch offices are utilized throughout the week to serve its target customers.  Churches only fully leverage their buildings for 3 to 4 hours each week and do so for the wrong “customers” – even shortening service times to further “cater” to those members.  Instead, churches should be maximizing the productivity of their physical space all week – providing programs for the real “customer” and conducting discipleship classes to equip members to expand the church’s footprint between Sundays.  Yet, we see too many churches ask only that members invite friends to come to the church building for that one hour next Sunday.

…It’s the People

The footprint of a church is the cumulative impact for the Kingdom of the members who make up the church.  It’s how much ground they collectively cover for the Lord as they live out their lives among their spheres of influence.  A churchgoer isn’t occupying much space for Christ if they rarely share their faith or serve others in His name.

In fact, Jesus intentionally scared everyone off whenever He was on the verge of becoming a megachurch pastor.  He “preached it down” or disappeared to go pray each time He built a huge following.  Jesus thought the best strategy to take ground was to build a few disciples.  He chose to narrow His following down to the real Powerful (vs. pensive, private, passive) few.  He didn’t worry about hanging on to anyone.  Jesus felt a small number of highly effective disciples would cover much more ground than a slew of casual followers.

It’s Your Turn

Are there enough pastors willing to disclose all the costs of discipleship and ask churchgoers to endure everything that becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ entails, knowing many will never return again?

Why Bigger Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Better

Jul 05, 16
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Different Size Houses In Row On Wooden Table

For companies, the objective is always growth – in size and profitability.  However, as most of us have experienced, corporate growth can actually reduce the quality of products and customer service.  New growth initiatives, whether organic or through acquisition, may excite leadership and shareholders, but usually make customers nervous.

More revenues and customers are appropriate Key Performance Indicators for a business, but not for a church.  Yet nearly all churches closely track “nickels and noses”.  Does ambition for either have the potential to compromise “quality” a church delivers – measured in the Great Commandment and the Great Commission?  For example, church growth consultants often recommend designing sermon content around topics that will attract, but won’t necessarily increase the congregation’s love for the Lord.  Likewise, church growth strategies rarely include boldly challenging members to become sold-out disciples for Christ that reproduce disciples.

Calling for that level of life change, although routinely demanded by Jesus at the heights of His popularity, would certainly have many church members today heading for the exits.  Jesus also modeled demonstrating His love and compassion before telling people who He is – yet pastors today inadvertently try to “outpreach” Jesus when their churches largely neglect that first part.  Yes, Jesus, His disciples and the church for 1900 years viewed the lost in the community as the “customer” – who should be relentlessly served and pursued.  However, most churches instead define members as the ”customer” when leaders compromise “quality” for fear of losing congregants to a church down the road.   “Quality” in Kingdom terms means treating members as the Church personified, and equipping and empowering them accordingly, so they can be effective in reaching the real “customer”.

Both Compromise, but Not for the Same Reasons…

Are smaller or larger churches more likely to see members as “customers”?  Which are more inclined to follow the Biblical mandates spelled out for churches in the last paragraph?  Which are more apt to see community engagement and compassion as core components of their strategy?  Frankly, nearly all small and large churches today have redefined the “customer” – but they’ve done so for very different reasons.  In our recent post “What’s Your Church’s True Purpose?” we contrasted two sets of goals:

  • Transform vs. Attract – Leading people to love and look a whole lot like Jesus, whereby they feel compelled to disrupt “life as they know it” for the sake of bringing others to Christ – the Great Commandment
  • Release vs. Retain – Preparing and equipping them for ministry throughout their spheres of influence, their city and the world – the Great Commission

In that context:

Large Churches – Are better designed to Attract, able to offer first-rate programs, facilities and services

Smaller Churches – Are struggling to Retain, unable to keep up with the “Joneses” in terms of children’s programs, facilities, resources poured into worship services, etc.

On the flip side:

Large Churches – Are finding it difficult to Retain, often becoming a “revolving door” as church “shoppers” fail to connect and slip out the back

Small Churches – Are failing to Attract or simply don’t want to, content with the comfort and consistency of familiar faces at the pulpit and in the pews

Who’s More Likely to Transform and Release?

That’s the other important question.  Most of us have heard about Andy Stanley’s comments (which he has since retracted) about small churches.  A key line from that sermon was “If you don’t go to a church large enough where you can have enough middle schoolers and high schoolers to separate them so they can have small groups and grow up the local church, you are a selfish adult.”  Yes, big churches do a better job of providing an environment where kids will enjoy church.  However, getting youth into a church doesn’t mean they’re doing any better at getting them successfully “out” of the church.  In other words, the strategies behind designing an environment that will attract kids to church could also be the very thing that’s keeping them from graduating those kids to higher levels of spiritual maturity.

Is more fun and fellowship in a church setting more likely to make young people disciples of Jesus Christ?  Are large churches better preparing youth to BE the church between Sundays?  Frankly, small and large churches alike are doing less today on both of those fronts.  Those old enough will remember decades ago when children got in two solid hours of teaching and worship on Sunday mornings.  First, Sunday School followed by the church service – and then another hour on Wednesday nights.  Today, most kids get 30 minutes per week in most modern-day Children’s Programs, which take place while parents are in the church service – and even that has been shortened as well.  Deep-dive Bible education has largely been replaced in churches with keeping kids interested and engaged, hoping they’ll encourage their parents to come back the following weekend.

It’s Your Turn

Do you think large or small churches are generally more effective at Transforming lives and Releasing disciples into the world?

There Wouldn’t Be a Megachurch Movement If…

Jun 30, 16
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Blog Post 53 - Painting Church (iStock_000002459773XSmall)

On this 1 year anniversary of this blog series, we’re excited about launching into a new phase and a new approach that we think you’ll love.  From here forward, we’re going to release short, impactful posts that you can read in less than 3 minutes – 2x per week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Our next topic: The Rise of Megachurches and the Role of Small Churches.  Our findings and insights will surprise and hopefully awaken you to new ways of thinking about the church landscape in America – and how to maximize your church’s impact, no matter how large or small it is.

The Megachurch Movement…

…is a RESULT of the Redefinition of “Customers”

Why is the number of megachurches growing so quickly today?

Why are those large churches thriving while small ones are struggling?

We believe it’s for reasons similar to why Walmarts are taking business away from “mom-and-pop” stores in small towns across America.  Our consumer culture has spilled over into our choices of which church to attend.  Churches generally no longer define members as the church and the community as the “customer” (as was the case throughout church history).  As we’ve shown, most pastors instead treat members much like “customers”, more inclined to cater to them than to challenge them.  Rather than churchgoers seeing themselves as the embodiment of church (between Sundays) most act as consumers of it:

  • They leave if they’re not happy with something
  • They shop for amenities, kids programs, sermons and music that suit them best
  • They serve, give and invite their friends to church – and pastors encourage that institutional loyalty

Small churches simply lack the resources to “compete”.  When a new family is seen walking into a megachurch, they nearly always come from another (smaller) church down the road.  Visitors show up because megachurches offer more of all the above than smaller churches.

Churchgoers ARE the church so they shouldn’t think that way – but most do.

If members weren’t treated as “customers” and didn’t feel like “consumers”, there likely wouldn’t be a megachurch movement in the U.S.  If congregants solely attended to worship the Lord, fellowship with a church family and live out the Great Commission, why would they ever choose a megachurch?  Why endure driving a long(er) distance, dealing with massive crowds, parking far from the building and walking down aisles trying to find a seat in a huge auditorium.  Studies show that those in large churches find it harder to make connections, easier to slip out the back door and feel less accountable for assuming any actual responsibilities – in other words, to reap all the benefits without any of the obligations.

If worship, fellowship, discipleship and engagement were their only desires, most of them would still be in smaller church families.  And if members truly viewed themselves as the living, breathing church:

  • The draw wouldn’t be the speaking ability of the leader, the quality of the facilities, how much fun the kids are having, or the amazing performance by the worship team
  • They wouldn’t “shop” elsewhere if sermons didn’t “feed” them or send them home with practical life lessons – because they’d understand the sermon is only a small piece of what church is about
  • Their focus would be on what they can do for the Lord and not what the church is doing for them
  • They would no longer see what they do for their church as the full extent of their personal ministry – because they (and not the institution) are the “church”

CAPITALIZES on the Redefinition of “Customers”

Once churches begin to realize “economies of scale”, most take advantage of that competitive advantage.  In leadership meetings, they discuss strategies to beef up kids programs and enhance facilities they know smaller churches simply can’t match.  Certainly, the arguments for those improvements are couched in spiritual terms but large churches always want to become larger.  Each must examine its own heart to ensure that Kingdom-building outweighs empire-building.  Three reliable litmus tests for whether a church’s plans are anchored in making disciples or attracting consumers are:

  • Is that church also taking advantage of its scale to maximize its impact on the world around it – equipping and mobilizing the congregation effectively to Prayer, Care and Share lifestyles?
  • Is it “selling” Invite, Involve, Invest – the “rallying cry of the internally-focused church” – as its primary growth strategy?
  • Is its local missions approach based on transactional, big-splash events that build brand recognition – or on relational, behind-the-scenes, year-round compassion that convinces the community that it truly cares?

It’s Your Turn

Do you agree that the advent of the megachurch movement in America is largely an outgrowth of our increasingly consumer-driven culture?  If not, please explain why.