Have you ever opened your eyes underwater? You know, without goggles?
All of the underwater world is a blur. Sure, you can see stuff but you can only see things nearby and its nothing like what you see on a National Geographic special.
Then someone hands you a set of goggles and you go back underwater. It’s an entirely different experience. If you are shallow enough and the water is clear, you can see the bottom. You can see fish and rocks and plant life.
The difference is quick and obvious.
This is the same experience I feel that most people in full-time church ministry go through. They are underwater in the culture they live in without goggles on.
Most churches are failing to reach the culture because they lack a strategy to engage the culture they live in.
The staff needs goggles so they can actually see what is happening, not just 5 feet in front of their face and fuzzy, but all the way to the bottom!
Any ministry professional can do the math. Add up the amount of people who are actually attending the churches in their community, divide it by the population and you can see that the Gospel is not winning. In most communities you’ll find less than 10% of the population goes to any church more than once a month. In the most reached communities you’ll find about 30%. (Go ahead, spend the 30 minutes to do so with your zip code if you don’t believe me.)
That’s an F for the church. The church is underwater in the culture it is supposed to thrive in. Jesus calls us to reach the whole world (100%) with the message of the Gospel and we’re at 3%-30%. Not awesome.
It’s no wonder why…
- Christian colleges and seminaries focus little on engaging culture. I’ve visited a fair number of them and most of their students describe their campuses as a bubble. (Meaning they don’t engage the community around them very well.)
- Churches are notoriously insulated from culture.
- Churches tend to hire people who have spent the vast majority of their adult life either in a Christian college, a seminary, or the local church. All places which are notoriously bad at engaging with culture.
The result is an “us vs. them” mentality. It’s a simpletons philosophy of cultural engagement.
And it isn’t working.
I once visited a church that had the following truism painted in big letters on the wall of their foyer. “Through you we have access to every single person in our community.”
That is true. But if we aren’t teaching people how to engage with those people in a meaningful way it’s empty access.
I believe that people working at churches across the country and around the world are good people. They are in ministry because they want to reach people with the Good News of Jesus Christ. (e.g. The right reason for being in ministry.)
I believe that the vast majority of people who are frustrated in their ministry calling are frustrated because they feel stuck… a ministry life isn’t what they thought it was… and that frustration will be eased if they stop focusing their time on running programs for people who come to church and start focusing their time on reaching people who don’t come to church.
5 Steps to Creating a Cultural Engagement Strategy for Your Church
- (observe) Lock your church staff out of the office for a week and each of them visit 10 parishioners at their places of work. (More on this idea)
- (engage) Implement 3 of these 10 ways your church can be good news to the closest public school to your church office.
- (engage) Implement 3 of these 10 ways your church can be good news to the neighborhood your church building is in.
- (strategy) Schedule a 2 day off-site retreat with your entire staff and leadership team to share what you’ve learned in items 1-3, and create a strategy which continues to foster engagement between members of the church and the community the church ministers in. (Cover my travel and I will facilitate this retreat for free, if your church will commit to doing items 1-3 beforehand.)
- (implementation) Take whatever steps are necessary to become a church wholly focused (Maybe possessed is the right word?) on meaningfully engaging the needs of your churches immediate area for the sake of the Gospel prevailing.
Before people will hear Good News you have to become a church which is Good News.