Posts tagged ‘Evangelism’

September 26, 2013

Attracting People, Keeping People

gestureAs a church planter I’m very interested in getting people to come to church. Every pastor is interested in getting people to come to church. But many of them have an existing congregation and can simply rely on a steady stream of new people who have connections with existing congregation members. They possibly don’t have to do anything deliberate in this area at all. In contrast, Catherine and I have no congregation at all (except for our daughter!) So we are 100% reliant on attracting new people. So how do you go about that?

In my experience of church life one thing that rings true is whatever you do to attract people is what you will have to do to keep them. So if we attract people by having the world’s loudest rock band, or the world’s greatest dance troupe, or the world’s greatest singer (and yes, that would attract people) then to keep them we will have to keep putting on those kind of shows. What you end up with is people who like the band / dancers / singer but are not the least bit interested in the Christian message. You have attracted people, but not the kind of people that care at all about what you have to say. We have both seen churches do this, and it is painful to see them then assess, why is no one responding? They don’t respond because they were never remotely interested. They succeeded in attracting non-Christian people, but not non-Christians who were open to the gospel.

I learnt this lesson from Tim Hawkins who trained me in youth ministry. Tim oversaw a youth ministry of 300 high schoolers – one of the biggest in Australia. Every Friday night the 300 kids would attend various groups according to their age. They would play games, have fun, enjoy each other’s company, hear a little bit from the bible and go home. The games were front and centre. If you liked the games you would like the youth group. The problem was not many of those kids cared about the bible bit at the end. So the whole approach was changed. The decision was made to put the bible message front and centre. If you didn’t care for what the bible said then you would not enjoy the youth group. A year or two later Tim was in charge of a youth group of 150 kids who loved God and wanted to hear from his word. It’s not easy to take one of the nations biggest youth groups and halve it. That requires quite some courage. To say in the midst of the decline, “No, this new strategy is right, we are sticking to it” was very bold. However after a few more years again the commitment that those kids had to the gospel meant that they brought their friends, and it was back to 300. However this time it was 300 disciples, not just 300 kids who liked youth group games. Of course making disciples is what it’s all about.

So Catherine and I are working out exactly what advertising we will do to attract people. But you can be sure that we will be putting the gospel front and centre. Not in “Christianese” that unchurched people can’t understand, of course. But we will be making it clear that we have a message that will turn your life around if you will pay the price.

What we need to do is attract people who are open to spiritual things, who are looking for new direction in life, and who are not put off by the thought that a church is a place that might have answers.

We would much rather 20 interested people than 120 uninterested people. Because from 20 interested people you are going to get many people committing their lives to Christ. You will get the start of a great church, a church full of people who love God and want to grow in Him.

The other argument is that if you attract 120 people then it could well be that some of them will happen to respond even though they began to attend because there were things on that have nothing to do with the church’s message. But here’s my view after seeing a number of churches do this over the years – it just doesn’t work. It’s a failing strategy, and yet it remains very popular. It is a huge amount of time and energy for a minuscule reward.

Jesus, meanwhile, simply went to synagogues or wherever people assembled and preached. People were taken by his message. His healings and miracles were the “show”, not a musical performance. Changing the lives of the people who do attend is going to do more to grow the church than anything else.

John

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