Yesterday, I said that church growth is a matter of branching out and that one of the greatest areas in which churches struggle when it comes to growth is in the area of encouraging their members to go for it.
Most churches, as we've discussed, have an established system and their model of growth is to plug new persons into those systems in various pre-existing positions in order to make the programs run smoothly. Most churches aren't interested in doing something new; truth is, they have enough trouble just doing what they're already trying to do. (See my previous post on burning persons out.)
The truth is that every church has a personality, and every church has a niche. Churches have established themselves to the best of their ability by who they are or who they think they are or who they want to be, and they really commit themselves to that. Some churches want older folks to feel comfortable, so they keep the piano and the organ and the hymns. Some churches try to attract middle-age families with young children, so they invest in their children's ministry. Some churches work to be welcoming to the hurt-by-church refugees who need a new place to try to love Jesus. Some churches center their ministry on the poor, so they have a ton of outreach events and try to fundraise outside of their pews. And on and on and on we go.
And it's true that bad things often happen when a church tries to act outside of their personality. Try to put contemporary worship in a traditional church for traditional folk, and there's backlash. Try to carve out a space for seniors or for the disabled in a vibrant, middle-age families with young children church, and it's hard to get anything started. What ends up happening when a church tries to act outside of its personality is that it ends up wounding someone. You have to know who you are.
But part of knowing who you are is knowing who you're made up of. Knowing who is in your pews, who is giving to your ministries, who is showing up, who is serving. It's knowing who is loving Jesus in your building because...hear me...that is who you are.
You can plan to be whatever kind of church you think you want to be all you want, but at the end of the day, every church has the personality of the folks in its family.
So when someone comes to the church with a new idea about some crazy kind of way they want to love their community, a lot of churches are really quick to shut it down. We don't do that. We haven't done that before. That's not who we are. But...that is who you are because look! This person is you. This person is your church.
I can't tell you the number of persons I've talked to who have become discouraged, and in some cases, left their church or even left the church altogether, because they had a ministry opportunity resting heavily on their heart, directly from the Lord, saw a need in their community and had the passion to meet it...and their church shut them down. Point blank. Wouldn't hear of it. Labeled them a troublemaker. Started pushing them to fringes so that they wouldn't start spreading their crazy ideas too far around the congregation.
And I can't tell you the number of churches who have missed incredible opportunities, perhaps even missed their calling, by turning their own members away from real ministry in favor of established programs.
Now, that doesn't mean that we, as a church, just jump on board with whatever ideas come up. That doesn't mean we do everything that anyone suggests we take up. It goes back, again, to knowing who we are and what we're really equipped to do. And it requires having some safeguards in place about how that looks for us.