Researchers tell us that the overwhelming majority of Americans have attended a church before. If only churches could have done a better job of ministering to, discipling, and mobilizing the people who came to their churches they could have already reached and changed the country. It is not the front door of the church that pastors should focus on, it is the back door!
Why do we amp-up the creativity when it comes to getting that next “Person-X” to come to church, while we nearly completely ignore the people who have already been to the church? Church membership rolls bulge with inactive members. Guest and visitors to our churches are ignored by the scores each week. Meanwhile, all the graphics and marketing done by churches puts on a display of concern for the plight of the lost. The stock images in our marketing show we care about individuals–but do our actions?
Is In-Reach a Lost Art?
Now, I am not one of those who is saying you should neglect doing outreach and just focus on the congregation, but there is a lot of be said for In-Reach. Trends in churches lately have tended to put more emphasis on evangelism through church services–or “ worship experiences” Sorry, but I don’t find this to be the model of evangelism used in the Bible. In some cases, churches are so focused on being seeker-sensitive, they have become “believer-insensitive” by not tending to their existing flocks. (This is part of the conclusion I draw from the Reveal Study anyway.)
Some pastors seem to need to be reminded their church members need to digest more than a steady diet of outreach gimmicks and TV guide-themed events to get new people in the door of the church if they are going to grow spiritually. They need more meaty teaching, individual attention, and face-to-face spiritual formations so they can grow in the faith. We need some pastors to love spiritual growth as much as they love numerical growth.
If these pastors do not feed their flocks and “equip them for works of service” (Ephesians 4:12) they are not doing their job as I understand it. In my view the church is meant to be positioned as the follow-up for the outreach your members are doing in the community. Lately, I see more churches using their worship services as the church’s the primary filter for evangelism.
A Market Share Mind-Set Will Shrink the Church
Recent research has shown that Evangelicals are growing in the United States, but the number of Christians are not increasing in the United States. From my perspective, this is an indicator that people are changing churches more than new people are being reached with the gospel. Evangelicals are gaining their “market share” of existing Christians. Maybe that’s a good thing, but it’s not evangelism, is it? A lot of the “relevant” outreach being done in the name of evangelism, seems to be having the effect more of getting people to change churches.
Where are the “Submerging” Churches?
As a Southern Baptist, I have grieved watching my own, once evangelistic, denomination in decline. Baptisms are at an all time low in many places. I attribute this to some who are more concerned about how to be an “emerging church” when they really need to figure out how to be a “submerging church” and how to start baptizing people again. (I know, pretty cheesy). If you call yourself a Baptist church and don’t baptize anyone, maybe you should consider changing your name and affiliation. Maybe that’s why some are.
When pastors use their church service as the primary filter for evangelism in their community, they are forced to create a very targeted presentation. The results are leaving out people who still need to be reached. When you equip individuals for evangelism, and mobilize them to do the outreach, outreach becomes far more varied and the members in the church take more responsibility in the lives of the people they reach.
But when the church member is sent out to bring in the crowds to let high production values, and slick presentations in the church do the evangelizing, they become less involved at the individual level. Also, the impression is given that evangelism is something that is super hard and best left up to the specialists. I fear the present trends are killing the art of personal evangelism.