Let’s be real.
Most of what happens in church staff meetings isn’t all that memorable.
Hey, don’t be offended. I lead a weekly staff meeting that is utterly captivating but I am enough of a realist to understand that 90% of my agenda will be quickly forgotten, which is why I find it so interesting that one particular staff meeting from three years ago is still stuck in my brain.
It was a strategic meeting that was led by someone who is not part of our staff team. He posed a question to our leadership team that went something like this:
“Who is your primary customer?”
Now, admittedly, this question sounds out of place for a church right?
We’re not a business, we don’t really have customers. I mean, that doesn’t sound spiritual at all!
But, his question was a good one. As a church, who is your primary focus? This led to a spirited discussion. Should we be focused on people inside our church or people outside our church? Insiders or outsiders?
This discussion and where we landed was a pivotal moment for us. In the end, we decided that God was calling us to make people outside our church, the unchurched and dechurched, our particular focus.
In those moments, we decided.
But, deciding and doing are two different things aren’t they? Have you noticed that focusing on the lost is actually really hard? Why is that?
Recently, I’ve been reading Kevin Harney’s book Organic Outreach For Churches.
In his book, Kevin describes why it is so hard for churches to focus on those outside the church.
He uses the analogy of a compass.
A compass always points north (unless you’re watching the TV show “Lost”). It’s the default setting of a compass. It’s natural.
With churches, the default setting will always be to minister to those already inside the walls of the church.
Without any intentionality, we will focus our time, money and energy on those who are already part of our church. We can’t help it. Insiders are right there. They have kids that need to be taught. They have needs and desires. They need to be discipled and let’s be honest, their giving pays the bills.
This isn’t a critique. It’s just reality. Our default setting is to focus our time, money and energy on insiders.
Here is this idea in Kevin’s own words:
I have been a pastor for almost three decades, and rarely have I had nonbelieving community members come and ask me for my time, care, or ministry. Rarely do I get letters from people who don’t attend my church asking me why my church is not doing enough for them and their families. On the other hand, I’ve received my share of texts, notes, and emails from church members letting me know exactly what they think the church should be doing for them.
I’m guessing you know exactly what Kevin is talking about.
Now, there is a valid objection here.
Churches are supposed to disciple people right?
Absolutely. It’s an essential part of the great commission.
So, we’re not arguing for a model of church that ignores education, training and discipleship. However, the point remains… it is very difficult to truly focus on the lost. So, what do we do?
1. The Two-Degree Rule
What I like about Kevin’s strategy for outreach is that it is actually doable.
It doesn’t involve scrapping everything you’re already doing in ministry because let’s be real, a lot of what you’re doing is very cool and effective.
Kevin argues for something he calls the Two-degree Rule. His question is essentially this: What would it look like to move the needle of the compass two degrees away from insiders and toward outsiders?
And, what would it look like to move the compass in each and every ministry? Even better, what would it look like to move the compass in the heart of each and every church member?
Here’s an example from Kevin’s book: Delivering meals.
Man are we good at delivering meals to people in our churches who just had a baby, are recovering from surgery or are grieving a loss. I mean, we are amazing at this. But, what if we delivered meals to our neighbors, co-workers or family members who don’t know Jesus? What if our church’s meals ministries moved the compass two degrees away from insiders and toward outsiders?
So, if you’re interested in becoming a church that is truly focused on reaching the lost, you probably don’t need an outreach department.
What you need is for your church, from the ground up, every person and every ministry to move just a little toward outsiders.
I might suggest beginning a conversation with each staff member and department in which you ask them what moving two-degrees might look like in their area of ministry?
2. Act Like Your Neighbor is Here
Our senior pastor loves to tell the story of one of the most defining moments in the history of our church.
It was the day his neighbor showed up for church completely unannounced.
Our senior pastor noticed him while he was preaching and realized in a flash that his neighbor had no idea what he was talking about. He didn’t grow up in the church, he never attended youth group, he didn’t go through a confirmation class. It was all nonsense to him. He was the definition of what it meant to be an outsider.
On that day, our senior pastor made a decision that forever altered our church.
It was a decision to be hospitable to outsiders.
He adjusted his language. He started talking about the Bible as if there were people who didn’t know what a Pharisee was or that Corinthians lived in Corinth.
This led to a hospitality revolution in our church that infiltrated every ministry, every song, every sign and every environment.
So, here’s a question that might help move your church two degrees toward outsiders: What would happen in your unchurched neighbor showed up?
Would they be comfortable? Would they be confused? Would they feel welcomed? Would they feel out of place? These are great questions to ask if we want to become churches that are truly focused on reaching the lost.
So who is your primary customer?
I would argue that it’s those who are not yet part of your church.
And how do we move toward making the lost our primary focus? I’m sure there are a gazillion good ideas but here are two: Move the compass two degrees and focus on hospitality.
We’d love to hear your ideas on this topic. Feel free to leave us a comment below.