Two views of the local church

church-views

There are two sides to every coin, aren’t there? I’ve had this post stuck in my head for several weeks– and I think the illustration says it all.

Church leaders: Complacency sneaks in. We surround ourselves with people who go to church. We spend a lot of our time at the church. Our perspective becomes that the community revolves around activities at the church. Pretty soon we become ambivelent about the neighborhood we live in. Our schedule is defined on what’s convenient to those who come to church. Our agenda becomes to serve them.

We perceive our ministry as a “city on a hill” when in fact the people living in our neighborhood are completely unaware of our existence. Before we know it, we are so comfortable with our programs, budgets, staff, and people who come to church we forget reality.

The reality is that in most communities about 5% of the population attends a church. And yet we are comforable with that. Go ahead do the math yourself. Spend 30 minutes calling every church in your community and get actual attendence numbers. Next, simply divide that number by the population of your community. In most places that number is 5% or less of people who attend church on any given weekend. And we all know that just because someone attends church on Sunday doesn’t mean they are Christians, right?

Why not take some time to get to know how 95% of the population views your church? Think of it like this. Count the next 20 cars that drive past your house. Only the 20th car will attend a church this weekend. In the illustration above there are 18 houses in view of that church. And none of them will attend that church this weekend. If your theology is like mine, you recognize that Jesus died for all 20 of the people in those cars and all 18 of the people who live in those houses. But who is our ministry serving? The 5% who show up. Most of our money and time is spent serving Jesus from the perspective of the 5% and not the 95%.

That perspective should change things. 1 in 20 people will attend church this weekend. Any church. Even that church that is so bad you won’t even meet with the pastor to pray.

I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him. Romans 12:3, The Message

And yet church leaders reassure themselves that numbers don’t matter! This is the state of the church and people say we don’t need to fundamentally change how we do ministry. We worry about offending the 5%. We worry about changing too much too fast while our sworn enemy puts up victory statues all over. We follow leaders who look at this reality, shrug their shoulders, and move on with their lives. We go to denominiational meetings which agree to spend more money on organizations which are smaller every year. In short, we invest all of our time and energy in a broken model.

And then when someone really breaks through. And that community reaches 6% of the population so we flock to hear how they did it? Got a book? Teach a seminar? Our perspective is jacked up, isn’t it?

New leaders are needed. I dream of church leaders coming to the forefront who are drastically interested in the 95%. I long to surround myself with leaders who keep the 5% in perspective. We celebrate those lives changed! But I want to be with men and women who think differently. Where are the leaders who look at those 5% as just the beginning? Where are the people who recognize that a model cannot be built around an individuals talents? Where are the leaders who know they need to start a swarming movement?

Point me to those people. I am tired of those who are satisfied with the failure of 5%.

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in Ahwahnee, California.

8 comments

  1. Could it be that you’re focused on ministering to the 5% instead of leading a movement for the 95%? Perspective makes all the difference.

  2. This is why we should always have new believers who have a circle of non-church friends, blending worlds. We do become so saturated. I think we’re actually supposed to hate the bubble! The more we hate it, more outwardly focused we can be!

  3. The more I think of this, the more I realize what a quandry this leaves my friends who work at churches. On the one hand they already know the numbers and know they live in denial of the 95%. On the other, they have got to pander to the 5% in order to make a living.

    The hard core truth is that in order to stay working at churches you have to forget the vision Luke paints in Acts. Institutionalization of Christianity was the only thing that could stop the virus of Christianity that started in in AD 33 and grew explosively until Rome adopted it as their state religion 200 years later. Look at China as the antithesis for the US church. Where it is legal and institutionalized the church doesn’t grow. Where it is illegal and viral it grows like mad.

    The real question is this: Could unpaid volunteers create a movement that required almost no resources that reached the 95%?

  4. @adam

    I agree with you about the Institutionalized church, but do assume there where people in the early church that grew explosively that were supported (at least in some sense) by the area they served in (Paul talked about have every right to have that, but he didn’t – which means that we could aspire for what Paul did too). Also, the institutionalized church in China could never grow. It’s legal, but it’s not really legal for it to grow. And there can only be so many that are officially Christian by law. The places are packed out too.

    That being said, these two pictures are fantastic and should be very sobering for anyone who sees them. Displays perfectly what’s been in my mind for quite a while.

  5. @todd- you’re a riot. Yes, the illustration is a little along those lines, isn’t it?

    @ben- I really wish I knew a solution. I do know that all organizations, as they institutionalize, insulate themselves from people outside of the organization. It’s true in non-profits, business, religious orgs, etc. I suppose my thought for those of us who work within the church institution is to recognize that our work there services the 5% and not the 95%. We need to be cognizant to have a professional life and a real life of ministry outside of the institution.

    Part of me is openly wondering if we need to start a new movement… almost an antithesis of church as we know it to reach the 95%.

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