Untangling Terms to Understand Growing Your Church

Admittedly, I sit in a weird seat.

I’m former church staff so I totally get the realities of what it’s like to lead a congregation. But my vantage point is now from the pews, volunteering where I can and cheerleading the best I can. All-too-often I can see things that I wish people working for churches could see and understand. But, as one megachurch pastor puts it, “Sometimes you’re so busy working in the church you can’t work on the church.

So here’s a little something I’ve been noticing lately that I think really hurts churches strategically: Term confusion.

Here’s two examples.

Confusing Outreach for Friend Reach

  • Outreach, in a Christian sense, is a blanket strategy. It encompasses attempts to reach any/all people in your target area or demographic outside of the people who currently attend. It’s a large term that includes friends and family of people currently inside your congregation but also extends to everyone outside of your current circle. Outreach is great, it’s important, but the strategy for doing outreach has to extend beyond your current reach of people. That might mean sending a mailer for a Christmas production to everyone in your target zip codes. Or it might mean sending teams of people to knock on every door in a subdivision.
  • Friend Reach, in a Christian sense, is a targeted strategy. It’s asking people in your congregation to invite family/friends from within their circle of influence to come to your church. In a sales sense, this is a good strategy because the conversion rate [in the sales sense, not religious] is higher when you mix a referral/testimonial from a friend versus an outreach effort, which is more like a cold call. For a cold call you’re excited about a 1%-2% response rate. For a referral you’re looking at something more like 15%-20%. But the core difference is that with a “Friend Reach” you’re widening the circles of influence you already have.

I think many churches do “Friend Reach” without any actual outreach. Friend Reach is a legitimate growth strategy. But understand that it’s an insular one.

Confusing Evangelism for Christian Witness

Simply put, the difference here is words versus deeds. Evangelism is actually asking your co-workers, “So what do you think about Jesus? Do you want to know him?” Witness is, in a simplified sense, how Christians behave in the world on behalf of Jesus.

Most churches seem to be leading their congregants to live as good, Christian witnesses in their community and if their friends have any questions about their, bring them to church where an expert can explain the message of salvation from the stage.

That’s confusing the equipping role of a church with it’s role as Christian witness in the broader sense. Which is why people in the pews have no idea what to do with their faith other than “be good people because, you know… Jesus” and show up for next week’s sermon, which will have exactly zero follow-up.

In my opinion it’s actually reversing the roles! The local church should stand as an example of Christian witness in the community (which, in part, individuals can stand with and represent in their community) BUT a major part of that role is equipping congregants (as part of discipleship) to practice evangelism in their daily lives.

In other words, if your churches entire evangelism training is telling people to invite their friends to the Christmas concert… you’ve confused some things. 

More Term Confusion?

Sure, there are more examples of this. But these are the two most obvious ones I see heading in the Christmas season…

Published by Adam McLane

Adam McLane is a partner at The Youth Cartel, co-author of A Parent's Guide to Understanding Social Media, blogger of 10+ years, and a fan of all things San Diego State University Aztecs.

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