Don’t expect them to come to you

An elderly gentlemen the other day (and when I say “the other day,” I can mean up to a year so don’t try to figure out what church I’m referring to) mentioned to me nostalgically, “We used to have two night services and two or more morning services.” This was juxtaposed against the backdrop of empty pews at the service. The gentlemen was saddened, and probably rightly, at the lack of attendance.

But it revealed a mentality that must change should this and many other churches see more folks involved in public worship. The hope was that maybe one day the pews would again be filled and services abound. And so the fundamental question asked is: “What can we do so that people will come?” Usually the answer is to tweak the service, getting more traditional or contemporary, or hire more staff, or develop more attractional programs.

But I think there is a problem with this philosophy. Here’s why. More and more people are growing up without any church background and so folks are not actively seeking out churches. With only 20% of Manatee County connected to worship, it’s hard to argue against that.

So many established churches cannot afford to continue to embrace this “We’re expecting them to come to us,” mentality. That worked at one time when the percentages were much higher and there was a more common understanding of spirituality and the role of a church. While I’ve detect a higher than average spirituality in Bradenton, the church appears unnecessary or less important to many.

The attractional model has worked for both traditional and contemporary churches over the years. In fact many traditional churches operate according to the same philosophy; they hope to attract people by preaching or traditional worship. Other churches expect people to come to them because of contemporary worship, children’s, youth, or young adult programs or bible studies.

It can work for some churches. But its hard to argue that it works for most. Many churches need to stop thinking, “Why aren’t they coming to us,” and adopt a, “We’ll go to them, love and live among them, and eventually bring them.”

Our church is beginning to see members inviting visitors, as well as visitors inviting visitors. From children to young adults to elderly folks, we’ve seen some fruit across the demographic board from people abandoning the attractional mindset and living missionally.

And that’s quite encouraging because that’s really the only way most churches are going to grow. The attractional model can still work for certain settings, but many folks need to realize that those days when people would simply come like animals to a dinner bell are over and not coming back. So I think it’s time to go to them, instead of angrily, frustratedly, or despairingly expecting them to come to us.

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