Ministry in today’s culture is more difficult than perhaps at any other time in history. Sure, we’re in no danger of being fed to the lions, but today’s culture is more resistant to religion … any religion … than ever before. After speaking with pastors and staff, I heard some consistent wishes.
1. I wish everyone went to church … or knew they should go to church.
According to studies, though, less than 15 percent of the population was actually in church last weekend. In fact, pretty much anyone who really wanted to be in church last weekend, was in church. That means over 80 percent of the population didn’t want to be in church last weekend. And they’re the church’s target audience (or should be). In today’s culture, almost no one goes to church regularly and to be perfectly honest, very few “want” to go to church anymore.
2. I wish we could “build it and they would come.”
Whether it’s a new worship center, a new worship service, or a new ministry program, building and launching something “new” no longer guarantees anyone is going to get excited about it and show up to the launch. In fact, most of the time, a new anything at best means only a handful of lookie-loo’s will take the time to drop in, and few if any of them will return. In today’s culture, it takes more … much more … than creating something new to gather an interested crowd.
3. I wish friends would visit our churches just because we invited them.
There’s a persistent, but largely erroneous, “study” that’s been floating around for a couple of decades that says the that a majority of unchurched people would be willing to visit a church if they were invited by a close friend or colleague. Baloney. Today it’s a rare unchurched person who will show up to church just because they’re invited. In fact, most of our well-churched members were faithful in inviting their friends and colleagues, but they’ve given up because they’ve been turned down again and again and again. In today’s culture, an invitation to church just isn’t compelling.
4. I wish youth groups attracted families to church.
I’m not sure that a vibrant youth group ever actually grew churches, but that rumor continues to haunt the church to this day. The rumor seems to be based on this reality: “The big box church up the street has an awesome youth group with an incredible youth director. And that church is growing.” The conclusion that’s drawn from that reality is this: “To have a thriving and growing church, hire a youth director.” This is sorta related to #2 above – build it and they will come. A thriving church needs a thriving youth group, but not because youth are building the church, but because younger families have youth and drag them along. Plus there’s a correlation to that reality: Almost no self-respecting fourteen-year-olds ever willingly invite their parents to anything. In today’s culture, youth groups don’t grow churches. Young adults grow churches.
5. I wish our town (or our church) was still the “destination location.”
Many downtown and suburban churches were built in the heyday of their communities. Back when the doctors and lawyers and engineers and the mayor and the school superintendent all were a part of the church. Back when everyone in the neighborhood looked like everyone else and the nearest public schools were filled with kids that looked like everyone else. These weren’t necessarily the “good old days” on many levels, but “back when” meant there were big budgets, big membership, and big programs. But ultimately, every neighborhood changes hands over time. And a church that was built for an XYZ culture begins to struggle when the XYZ’s move to a distant suburb and commute to the church while an ABC culture moves into the neighborhood and the church can’t or won’t make wholesale adjustments in worship style, ministry programming, staffing, etc. If we could just get the XYZ’s to move back into our no-longer-destination-town (or neighborhood), things would be so much different. In today’s culture, if a church is going to reach its community, it’s going to have to reach the community that’s actually there, not the one that used to be there.
6. I wish our church members tithed.
Few churches would have financial problems if even half of the membership tithed. But the truth is, less than 7 percent of a “healthy” church tithes and the average active church household gives less than 3 percent. The reasons more people don’t tithe are many, but some of the most common reasons is because (1) I can’t afford it; (2) I don’t get much back from my church; and one of the most prevalent reasons (3) I’m unhappy (mad, angry, frustrated) at my church so I’ll withhold my giving. In today’s culture, financially supporting the work of the church is less about doing what’s right or giving because God has called us to a higher spiritual calling, and more about getting something in return (including getting my own way).
7. I wish that what grew churches “back then” still grew churches today.
Once upon a time, it seemed like a church could put out a sign that said, “Y’all Come” and people would flood into the church. Once upon a time, it seemed like anyone who was invited to church was eager to visit. Once upon a time, it seemed like …
But this isn’t once upon a time. In today’s culture, growing a church means the current membership of the church is going to have to make some serious sacrifices. The worship service is almost certainly going to have to change. The marketing budget is going to have to be significantly increased. The staff is going to spend a lot less time doing ministry to the members and a lot more time just “hanging out” with the unchurched. Almost no sacred cows will remain untouched if a church is going to be faithful today. And almost every member is going to have to step out of their comfort zones to rub shoulders with people they don’t know and maybe even don’t “get.” Because in today’s culture, wishing isn’t a very good strategy. To be effective and faithful to the Great Commission means we’re going to have actually do things that make sense to the culture, but make no sense at all to the average Christian.