10 (More) Things the Church Puts Ahead of Reaching People

A week ago I wrote a blog post titled 10 Things the Church Puts Ahead of Reaching People. I had absolutely no idea what kind of deep reservoir I had tapped into when I wrote those thoughts. The blog quickly went viral with over 175,000 views in the first week. More than that, many of you engaged, leaving comments with your experiences and other things that you would add to that list. In honor of your great interaction and some incredible comments, I want to share 10 (More) Things the Church Puts Ahead of Reaching People, based exclusively off your comments from the original post.

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1. Money. Hannah wrote, “I think money needs to be on this list. I can’t tell you how many churches I have attended that had thousands of dollars saved up but were unwilling to spend any of it to reach out to the community. They would rather watch the church die than spend the money.”

Bill echoed Hannah’s thought with his own, “I believe Money should be number one on your list. Todays’ modern church spends more time trying to raise money than they do evangelizing. They take up ‘special offerings’, they have pledge programs, they have fund raisers and some even sell bonds to raise more money.” The Bible itself says “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10).” If not controlled and safeguarded against, the love of money can destroy even a church.

2. Selective Judgement. Cory wrote, “Being right. Before loving. For lack of a better title. The church elevates specific sins as worse than others. They alienate that sinner and embrace another that seems less horrible. Then stand on select verses to prove their RIGHT.” We know Bible speaks against judging others (Matthew 7:1, Romans 2:1), but too often the church chooses to selectively judge others, usually condemning sins that it conveniently doesn’t struggle with. Jesus modeled grace and truth (John 1:17). Churches should aspire to the same standard.

3. Fear of man. Karen wrote, “I think we fear what people will think of us more than we fear the accountability before God. Talking about spiritual things in an age of politcal correctness leaves us in a dilemma. We hope our actions or our example will be enough but the Bible clearly calls us to word and deed.” This can be the polar opposite of selective judgment. For fear of falling into the quick sand of judgment, some churches refuse to take any stands at all, building their houses upon the ever-shifting sands of culture rather than the rock of Jesus’ teaching. Once again, Jesus modeled how to embrace both grace and truth (John 1:17). As churches, we need to follow in his footsteps.

4. Dress/Appearances. George wrote, “Clothes – Some people put a ton of emphasis on how people dress at church.” Agreed. I’ve experienced this too many times in my own life. I think previous generations were taught to dress up to church as a sign of respect (a good thing), but over time the emphasis became less on the respect and more about the appearances.

William shared his own heartbreaking example, “My company moved me around a lot and we attended several different churches. We had been going to one in Southern California, I noticed that most but not all wore suits or a sport coat. I wasn’t used to the Summer heat and wore a nice polo shirt and slacks. After about a month my wife and I were met at the door by three deacons. I was told that in their church we “dressed up to come to church” I had been in the process of downsizing a department in my company and had a bad week. My wife didn’t say anything and looked at me. I looked the fellow in the eyes for about fifteen seconds and without saying anything reached down and dusted my shoes off and my wife and I left. The church is the people, not a suit or building.”

Anne shared the answer to this issue, “Transparency (If we would take off our masks of everything is perfect in our lives and get real about the troubled times we have gone through & let them know without Christ we would possibly not survived, I bet more and more people would come to know Him. I know I’ve been there.)”

5. Lack of Excellence. As Tim wrote, “Lousy preaching / bad worship experience due to inattentiveness and incompetence.” No church would ever admit this, but some churches put laziness ahead of  reaching people. It’s amazing how many churches can take a life-changing message and awe-inspiring worship and bore people to tears with it.

6. Preaching over Relationships. This is a counterpoint to Tim’s previous comment. Peter wrote, “I’d say preaching and teaching over loving and leading by example. I’ve met and come across seminary graduates who taut their degrees but are unwilling to hit the streets to witness. Preaching is great but I’m learning that many suffer because some preachers want to speak to the masses and miss the one on one opportunities to minister.” Church leaders must be pastors as well as preachers. As difficult as it can be to manage, we need balance excellence in preaching and worship with a depth of authentic relationships with the people we get to serve.

7. Leadership Issues. Lydia made a great point, “I think one thing that was left off the list is the preacher. If he decides to do things his way then he starts gathering a group that like him and they start making changes. I have grown up with more church fights and splits than I care to remember and the majority had to do with the preacher and him wanting to do everything and be in control of every thing including the money. In my opinion it is not the music that should be on the list but the preacher.” Power issues and a lack of servant leadership will kill a church almost quicker than anything else. As John Maxwell famously says, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”

8. Imitating Others. Chris wrote, “I would add to this list “Trying to ‘do church’ like another church”. Maybe we want to be like them and grow like them, i.e. Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church. It reminds me of Israel crying for a king because having judges wasn’t like everyone elses kingdom. Problem being, It’s Jesus kingdom, his kingly command, the great comission. Got to get outside the walls. Love people outside the walls for a birth so they will come indoors to grow.” I grew up in Southern California in the shadow of Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, so I know firsthand the temptation to imitate another church. I would caveat that it isn’t just a problem for contemporary churches. Many traditional churches imitate a mythical ideal of a church that existed for Andy Griffith in Mayberry. Every church needs to find its own identity in the community, not simply trying to transplant someone else’s approach.

9. Church Politics. LaDon suggested a great catch-all when he wrote, “No. 1 – Definitely should have been church politics!” It’s sad to admit that politics can enter a community of faith, but we all know it can. Many of the stories you shared in your comments can be boiled down to church politics.

10. Self. Kyle was right on when he wrote, “I think the #1 thing most “Christians” place before reaching people is THEMSELVES. Most Christians don’t care about the waitresses soul…especially if she’s not giving us good service. We don’t care about the soul of our neighbor…especially if they have a barking dog or screaming kids that bother us. We don’t care have a burden for the soul of the co-worker who gets on OUR nerves. Can music, buildings, traditions…etc get in the way of reaching people? Of course. But until ‘Christians’ get over themselves and start having a burden for people, we will not reach people for Christ.” Well said!

 

QUESTION: What else would you add to this list?

7 Things The Church Puts Ahead of Reaching People

On Monday I wrote a (surprisingly viral) blog post about 10 Things the Church Puts Ahead of Reaching People. I had no idea the chord I would strike with this post as it’s been shared over 6,000 times on Facebook and viewed over 37,000 times in the first four days. That post was a written version of what I shared verbally with my church in my most recent sermon. Here’s the video version of Monday’s viral post (I had edited it down to 7 Things for time constraints).

How One Church Changed to Reach People

Today I want to tell you the story of the church I have the privilege of serving at: Mt Vernon. It’s a long and arduous story of a church that dared to dream differently and the painful steps it had to take to get to its very happy ending. It’s a story of a church that broke through the 10 Things to reach people.

Mt Vernon logo

A decade ago Mt Vernon under the leadership of the former pastor created a task force called the Catalyst Team to ask the age old question: how do we reach more young families? The vast majority of churches ask this question, because the vast majority of churches do not have an abundance of young families in it. The answers they came up with were similar to most churches’ solutions: new facilities, modernized programming, family-friendly environments, contemporary music to attract and keep young families. What makes Mt Vernon unique is that it had the audacity and courage to actually follow through, to change.

Now, it would be misleading to gloss over these changes as quick or harmless. They were neither. The changes Mt Vernon instituted to better reach young families took years to implement and changed the very DNA of the church. And not everybody liked it. Many members left (although now on the other side Mt Vernon is bigger than its ever been, and yes, overflowing with young families).

Mt Vernon changed just about everything you could think of (besides moving physical locations). We replaced the pews with removable chairs. We ditched the chandeliers. We replaced the choir with a praise band. We removed the pulpit and started preaching from a round table. Those are just a few of the aesthetic changes. Mt Vernon transitioned from Sunday School to LifeGroups (which met at various times throughout the week) to free up more people to serve on Sunday mornings. We cancelled Sunday night services to allow LifeGroups to flourish. We started a Host Team (which now consists of over 50 people weekly) who are out in the parking lots, doors and coffee stations each Sunday morning to create a welcoming environment (none of whom could serve if they were stuck in Sunday School). And we built a new building in the center of our campus, a Welcome Center/Preschool Area for our young families.

The cost to reach people was steep. Not everyone liked the changes. Not everyone stuck around for the ride. I came along seven or eight years into this process as the new pastor. The leadership had seen the vision come to fruition and wanted to continue down the same path. For the past three and a half years, I’ve helped steward the vision of Mt Vernon to reach people, especially the next generation for Christ.

As other pastors have commented on Mt Vernon’s growth and success, here’s my candid advice to them: getting to this place will cost more than most churches are willing to pay. Go back to that post 10 Things. Any one of them could have thrown a wrench in Mt Vernon’s revitalization. But for those churches willing to pay the price and embrace change, the other side is beyond worth it. Our church is overflowing with young families. Lives are being changed on a weekly basis. We’re in the midst of a movement of God. It took years to get here, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Way Forward Past the 10 Things

I honestly didn’t know Monday’s post would strike such a chord with people (1000 Facebook shares and 6000 page views in two days). It was a written form of something I preached last Sunday. Apparently it resonated. According to my wife, it gave voice to something people have been feeling for years.

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So now that I’ve opened up this pandora’s box of emotion, let me see if I can help chart a way forward. Here was the Next Step for Sunday’s sermon, the way we could put the truths we learned into action. Hopefully it can help you as well. It’s a simple (but not easy) way to reach people for your church: pursue people more than your preferences. Preferences are just that: preferences. Style of music, architecture, programs: all preferences. People, on the other hand, are eternal. Now, number 9 on the list (status quo) will hinder many churches from doing what’s necessary to change and reach people, but let me give you a glimpse of what it looks like when we pursue people more than preferences:

  • I shared yesterday about a young lady who came to Mt Vernon a few weeks ago. She grew up in the church, loved the church, and the church loved her, until she got a divorce. To her church, that was the unforgivable sin. She still wanted to be a part of her church, but they made her feel so unwelcome and judged that she left. And in her words, she stayed away from church for ‘far too long’ because she was so hurt, and only recently has she worked up the courage to venture back out into the church world. The reason she came to Mt Vernon? Someone pursued her. A friend, who knew her past, knew her present, and invited her anyways.
  • A wife who had stayed out of church for more than a decade following the death of her husband. In her words, she searched and searched but could never find a church home. She’s found a home now at Mt Vernon. How? Someone pursued her, her sister-in-law.
  • A young lady I met last week grew up as an Air Force brat. She moved around a lot and her family eventually settled out West. They couldn’t find a church they felt at home in so they just stopped going. Eventually she stopped believing in Jesus altogether because it seemed too unrealistic. Years go by, this young lady joins the Air Force like her father before her. She’s stationed here in Columbus, and someone pursued her. A friend from work who’d been going here for awhile invited her to come with her. This young lady came last Sunday, and when I met her she said this was the second time she had been in church in 11 years. All because someone pursued her and invited her.

That’s one part of the equation. We’ve got to be willing to pursue people more than our preferences. But as important as it is for church members to do that, churches as a whole have to do that as well. Too many of you have invited someone to church only for them to have a bad experience. So how can churches pursue people more than their preferences? If there was an easy or simple solution to that, I would sell it as a book and retire as a millionaire. There is no easy solution. But there is a solution. The best I can do is try and show you what it looks like.

In tomorrow’s blog I’ll share the steps we’ve taken at our church to try and create a culture of people that pursues people more than our preferences.

 

Church Scars

There’s an ugly secret about the church: the church has hurt a lot of people. If you’ve been in the church long enough, you probably have a scar or two to show for it. As a pastor’s kid, I was mostly immune to it, but I felt it for my friends. I remember in high school when a buddy of mine came into the church building with a hat on. A deacon came up and hit him upside the head, ripping his hat off and demeaning him for having the audacity (as an unchurched kid) to wear a hat.

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I remember as a youth pastor seeing an older couple yell at two visiting youth because they were sitting in their pew. I remember being on stage, unable to do anything because the service had already started, watching the shame and embarrassment come over these visitors who had no idea they had taken somebody’s seat and had to get up and move somewhere else.

I remember a minister friend who was fired by his church because black kids wanted to come to his white church and he welcomed them with open arms. The leadership ran off those kids and my friend with them.

I remember two weeks ago talking to a young lady who grew up in church, loved the church, and the church loved her . . . until she got a divorce. That was the unforgivable sin, and although she tried to stay involved with her church for community and support, they let it be known that she was no longer welcome. So she left, staying away from church for far too long (her words) until she regained the courage to venture back out into church world.

Church scars. If you’ve been in church long enough, you probably have some. It shouldn’t be like this, but it is. I asked a question recently on Facebook that asked people to share their church scars. Here were some of their responses:

  • [My husband] and I both were very involved in youth groups and both got a bad taste in our mouth so to speak for church due to things that happened with our youth pastors.
  • As a very young Christian I think it was feeling like I couldn’t measure up. The church was very condemning and I was a babe in Christ so didn’t understand the grace of my Savior.
  • After we moved back to Columbus, we joined a church and attended for 8 years. I never felt “at home” the whole time we attended. Then a situation arose that caused quite a few members to leave, including us.
  • I grew up in church and was there for every event and activity as a child and through youth. But, after some stuff went down, my feelings were hurt and I resented the church.

We can defend, explain and try to resolve, but let’s start by admitting that the church has hurt a lot of people.

QUESTION: What are your church scars? (Comment below and share yours)

10 Things the Church Puts Ahead of Reaching People

You would think the Great Commission is clear enough: Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. Unfortunately, too many churches put other things ahead of reaching people. Here are 10 of the biggest:

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  1. Location – Some people are tied to an address. Church is an address, a location. I’ve seen churches die because their people moved away and they weren’t willing to reach the new folks in their neighborhood.
  2. Buildings/Architecture – For some, the bricks and mortar are what make the church sacred, not the people. At my first church when our youth group exploded in growth we had to move into the sanctuary because it was the only room big enough for us. We had some ladies that were so concerned that every Thursday morning they would come into the sanctuary after our Wednesday nights and look up and down the pews for knicks or scratches. They were more concerned with the architecture then the people that architecture was designed to meet.
  3. Tradition – You knew this one would get in here. Tradition has killed many a church. When churches pursue the past more than they pursue people, that church will die. Many times preachers will preach on the last seven words of Jesus, the seven phrases Jesus said while on the cross. I’ll never forget what a Bible college professor told me once. He said, “Do you know what the last seven words of a church are? We’ve never done it that way before.”
  4. Music preferences – This one splits up more churches than perhaps anything else. We’re fine reaching the next generation for Jesus, as long as they like our music our way. That’s putting music preferences above people. And I’m not saying the contemporary music is the final answer. It’s not a particular style of music but the heart behind that’s willing to give up musical preferences to reach the next generation for Jesus. I’ve said this before, but when I’m older and I’ve got great-grandkids running around, I’m not sure what kind of church music they’ll like, but I guarantee you I probably won’t like it. The question is will I be willing to put reaching others ahead of my musical preferences?
  5. Programs – The early church reached their world for Christ and became the dominant religion in the Roman Empire without Sunday School, without VBS, without youth groups or children’s choirs. Church programs are designed to reach people, but we can never let them become more important than people.
  6. Control - Some churches are stifled because there’s a few families in control, and they simply don’t want to give up control. They put control ahead of reaching people.
  7. Social Status – The Bible says that in Christ there are no slaves or free or Greeks or Barbarians but we are all one in Christ. However, too many churches aren’t willing to reach people outside of their racial, economic, or social status.
  8. Cleanliness – Some churches aren’t willing to do the heavy lifting required, they’re not willing to roll up their sleeves and embrace the messes of the world. If we’re not willing to get a little dirty, we’ll never reach the world.
  9. Status Quo – Some churches simply don’t want to change. They’re good. The light bill is paid, the buildings are paid off, there’s enough of a crowd to give the illusion that something is happening. Some churches aren’t willing to embrace the change necessary to reach people.
  10. Religion – Put it all together, some churches put religion above people. They put their rituals, their observances, their routines, their beliefs, their ministry structures ahead of people. They feel like they’re loving God, but they don’t realize that you can’t truly love God if you don’t love people.

QUESTION: What other things would you add to this list?

In response to the popularity of this post, I’ve written several follow-up blogs tied to this one. Please check out:

10 (More) Things the Church Puts Ahead of Reaching People – a follow up post based off of your comments on this post.

7 Things the Church Puts Ahead of Reaching People – the video clip of the first time I ever shared the information from this post.

The Way Forward Past the 10 Things – how to begin to move past the problems toward the solution.

How One Church Changed to Reach People – a real life story of how one church changed to better reach people.

‘Church’ Shouldn’t Be in the Bible

It’s a conspiracy theory a thousand years in the making. When you think of a ‘church,’ you probably think of an address, a building, a worship service. But that was never Jesus’ intention. If you’re familiar with the Bible, then you know the climactic story when Jesus launched the ‘church.’ He was with his disciples and asked them who they thought he was. Here was Peter’s incredible response:

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. Matthew 16:16-18

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There it is. Black and white (or red letters if you’ve got that kind of Bible). Jesus inaugurated the ‘church.’ The only problem is, the word ‘church’ shouldn’t be in the Bible. The original Greek word is ekklesia, which literally means “assembly” or “gathering.” It was an abrupt departure from the Old Testament model where religion was centered on a place (the temple). Jesus said that his assembly, his gathering, would be centered not on a place of worship, but on a person.

So why don’t our English Bibles have the word “assembly” or “gathering”? Where does the word “church” come from? “Church” derives not from a biblical Greek word, but from the medieval German word “kirche,” which literally means “house of the Lord.” What’s the significance? Jesus came to abolish the old temple model where religion was centered around a place. But by the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church had reintroduced the temple model with religion centering around holy places and towering cathedrals. ‘Church’ was literally a place you went to.

When William Tyndale (who was the first to translate the Bible into the English language in 1526) came to this Greek word ekklesia, he had the audacity to translate it “congregation,” honoring the truth that Jesus came to institute something centered not around a location, but around a group of people called to a specific purpose. For this audacity, William Tyndale was burned at the stake but the ‘Church’.

Unfortunately, the concept of ‘church’ had already been ingrained in popular culture and further translations (most notably the King James Version created by a king who controlled the houses of worship in England) reverted to the word ‘church’. And hence came the popular idea that the church is a location, a place you go to. But simply put, that was never the intent. Jesus did not come to institute a religion centered around a location. He came to institute a movement, an assembly, a gathering of people centered around Him. Buildings, cathedrals, steeples, sanctuaries, church buildings, are all inconsequential.

The church has never been the building. It’s always been the people. Don’t fall for the conspiracy.