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5 Specific Ways The Current Approach to Church Seems Badly Outdated

outdated

You open the doors to your church every weekend hoping more people will come (or in some cases, hoping somebody comes) only to discover that, with few exceptions, more people rarely do.

It can get discouraging, and many leaders wring their hands over what to do and how to respond.

Even once-growing churches hit plateaus and stumble into decline, and we wonder why it’s so hard to gain traction.

One of the reasons so many churches struggle these days is that the way we do church is badly outdated.

Culture is changing rapidly, which means people are changing rapidly. If you want to reach people, that probably also means you need to change your approach rapidly.

That freaks out a lot of Christians who think that because the message never changes, nothing should change.

There’s a huge difference between changing the message and changing the method.

In the church’s case, the historic message doesn’t change. But the methods have to.

Here’s why: if you don’t change your methods, eventually no one will hear your message.

I have a sinking feeling if we sat down with young adults and asked them why we do things the way we do, we’d hear an earful.

As the pace of change accelerates around us with every passing month, here are 5 ways the way we do church appears ever-more outdated.

1. Making People Go to Church

As I outlined in my 2018 church trends post, the idea of only doing church in a ‘box’ on Sundays is an increasingly stale idea.

In the (very near) future, people won’t go to church. The church will go to people.

Not sure what that means?

Think about how much your life has changed in the last 15 years.

Quick example: Let’s say I want to buy a specific wooden monitor stand for my iMac (which I do). I have two options.

Option 1: Traipse to store after store looking for what feels like a needle in a haystack (I want a walnut one), realizing, in the end, I likely need to go to Toronto or some major city to find one that a) I like, b) fits my particular computer and c) is in my price range. (Not factoring in, of course, a lot of phone calls, a day of lost travel time and tons of gas money).

Option 2: Browse Amazon and Etsy from my phone, order the monitor and have it shipped to my house next day.

Which would you choose?

Exactly.

Despite a welcome and thoughtful backlash against technology and what it’s doing to our minds (and souls), the internet is still not going away anytime soon.

There was a day when going to church was the only option you had if you wanted to be part of a local church.

A century or more ago, you lived in a village or city or on a farm, and you made the trek into town or over a few blocks to hear the local preacher. It was also a chance to connect relationally and socially. Honestly, for many people a century ago it was a highlight of their week.

The car gave people mobility, so we created bigger suburban churches to which people drove.

As a result, our entire model for the last century or more has been built on people going to church as though it was a destination and physical place.

But back up the timeline earlier than that, and you realize that the church going to people is not that innovative. Entire denominations and movements were premised on bringing the church to people (think circuit preachers or even the Apostle Paul).

Now, of course, we have the internet. Which most church leaders still seem to ignore as a serious tool for ministry.

So many churches remain stuck in the idea that the only way you can access the Gospel is to come to our building at a set hour every week.

Want access beyond that? Not sure how to help you.

Too many churches operate an analog model in a digital world.

Churches that want to reach people will bring the church to people, through:

A great social media presence

Messages available anytime, anywhere in multiple formats (web, social, podcast)

In-home gatherings

Practical help/advice/encouragement for everyday life (like the ParentCue strategy and the ParentCue app)

Partnerships in the community with other organizations that are making a difference (which not only does good, but takes you out of your box and into where the people you’re trying to reach gather)

Ironically, when churches begin to go to people, it makes people also want to go to church.

Because you went to them, they will want to come to you.

It creates a reciprocal, daily relationship. Whatever you do during the week builds on what happened on the weekend. And whatever you do on the weekend built on what happened during the week.

But most churches still only want people to come to them. That clock is ticking…fast.

2. Separating The Analogue and Digital Worlds

If 2018 is the year where (finally) the digital becomes real for church leaders, the question becomes what to do with it.

Strangely, most churches still separate what they do digitally and what they do in the real world.

Most of us weave seamlessly between our digital and real lives, texting someone one minute and sitting down for coffee with them the next, emailing someone to follow up on the meeting we just had, and video chatting someone we’re hanging out with Friday night.

Too many church leaders still think of their:

  • Email list as a ‘newsletter’
  • Social media as an announcement and PR venue
  • The physical world as the ‘real thing’

You know what the digital world is? It’s relationship.

It’s a friendship. And like all good friendships, it doesn’t fit in a programmatic box.

Our guest services team at Connexus has noticed a huge shift in the last year where almost everyone who visits us in person has watched online for weeks or months before they set foot in a building.

I go to parties and people who never set foot in a church tell me they watch my messages online.

They don’t see it as separate.

Church leaders who do, lose.

Conversely, leaders who see the analog/digital life as seamless will be in much a better position to reach people who live like it’s seamless, because it is.

3. Ignoring True Community

Is there any irony in the digital explosion around us? Of course there is.

The more connected we become, the more disconnected we feel.

The church should embrace technology as a way to connect, but also realize that as people connect more digitally, they feel increasingly isolated and removed from each other.

What people hunger for most is community. And no one should be better at community than the local church.

The challenge, of course, is that we’re not all that great at community.

Too often our ‘fellowship’ is shallow, or we fight a lot.

What’s missing in far too many churches is love. The very thing for which we should be known.

Churches that become great at cultivating true community will have a long line of people wanting to be part of it.

4. Creating a 100% Downloadable Or Forgettable Experience

I outline the problem with downloadable church services in this post, but let’s drill down a more.

Yes, the church will become more digital, more location independent, more remote. Sermons can be consumed on a run, on a commute and while cooking dinner. I get that. That’s a good thing. You should be able to download snippets of what your church does so you can be present in peoples lives.

But you need to facilitate experiences that go beyond that.

If your entire church experience is 100% downloadable, why would you gather? It’s often in the gathering when people move beyond themselves and experience something transcendent and life-changing.

Ironically, the constant consumption of content leaves people hungering for greater community, greater experience and greater transcendence.

Churches that facilitate those kinds of experiences are seeing momentum. Churches that don’t find it far harder to gain momentum.

I realize this creates a sea of questions for some people.

One of the best questions you can ask as a church leader is “If people show up on a Sunday, have we left enough room for them to encounter God?” That can be done through music, through prayer, through silence and even through the way you preach. It’s a posture as much as it’s programming.

Too often, people show up at church hoping to find God. Instead, they find us.

Don’t let people show up to your church only to find you.

This is one of the highest value points of a church that gathers: you share in something far bigger and far better than any of us and all of us.

5. Being Mediocre

One of the challenges most leaders face is trying to do a great ministry on limited resources.

Since we’re all hyper-connected, it means many churches try to imitate larger churches in what they do, often with limited success.

While you just don’t have the talent, skill or ability to pull off what a church 10 or 100x your size does, that doesn’t stop many from trying.

The result is usually mediocrity.

Years ago Jim Collins asked a great question that should still haunt every leader: what can you be best in the world at?

How would you answer that?

Just because you can’t be great at everything doesn’t mean you can’t be great at anything.

The key is to isolate the principles or points that resonate most.

You may not be the best preacher in the world, but what aspect of your preaching connects best?

Your stories?

The way you make the complex simple?

How you handle scripture?

Your relatability?

The personal connection you create with your audience?

Discover what connects best and develop that. 

Musically, you may not have a great band…but do you have a

Fantastic vocalist?

Great keyboardist?

Solid guitar player?

Good DJ?

Focus on what makes you great.

And no, you don’t have an unlimited budget, but meaningful connection with other people is free. So is kindness. So is hope.

Stop being mediocre at everything.

Pick a lane, and go deep.

You can branch out from there.

In an age where people create amazing art, design, products and services from home-based businesses, mediocrity is no longer an effective strategy.

Better Preaching is a Great Way to Reach More People

 

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This is the complete course you need to start preaching better sermons, including:

  • 7 preaching myths it’s time to bust forever
  • The 5 keys to preaching sermons to unchurched people (that will keep them coming back)
  • How to discover the power in the text (and use it to drive your sermon)
  • The specific characteristics of sermons that reach people in today’s world
  • Why you need to ditch your sermon notes (and how to do it far more easily than you think.)
  • How to keep your heart and mind fresh over the long run

And far more! Plus you get an interactive workbook and some bonus resources that will help you write amazing messages week after week.

In the Art of Better Preaching, Mark and I share everything we’ve learned about communicating in a way that will help your church grow without compromising biblical integrity. We cover detailed training on everything from interacting with the biblical text to delivering a talk without using notes, to writing killer bottom lines that people will remember for years.

Curious? Check it out today and get instant access.

 

What Do You See?

What parts of our model of doing church do you see as being outdated?

Anything you’d love to change?

Scroll down and leave a comment

 

27 Comments

  1. J on October 10, 2019 at 5:35 pm

    Is this article in Spanish?

  2. Mark Armstrong on December 30, 2018 at 8:10 pm

    That’s for an insightful article. I would say that we need to be careful that our theology of church is driven by Scripture and not sociological and technological factors. Church is simply the gathering of believers. I suppose the internet allows us to gather in different ways, but there are things that the internet can never facilitate. These include, of course, the depth of relationships which form in each others physical presence. Could my wife and I sustain a close relationship if we lived in different houses and communicated only via social media? A good eschatology also influences the way we think about church in the here-and-now. Perhaps this needs further exploration because I think that Carey’s social insights are really, really helpful.

  3. Ian on December 20, 2018 at 11:42 am

    This article affirms a lot of what the leadership of the congregation that I belong to is doing. The preaching is consistently from the Bible with emphasis on both every individual building their relationship with God and our relationships with each other. Sermons are available online as a podcast and from the website, which is kept up to date, and the church has active social media accounts. There’s an app that can be used for online tithes and offerings. The music team is talented and there are small groups that meet throughout the week in people’s homes. A year ago we went from one morning service to two morning services on most Sundays. I’m certain our leaders study what works and doesn’t work for other similar congregations and, God willing, focus on implementing what works.

  4. Mark McDonald on December 19, 2018 at 6:53 pm

    Thanks for a great article, like some comments I am curious how a small church might engage digital. In my setting (50-60 people) the church wanted to revert back to print material, but we didn’t even have Facebook or Instagram. So in our setting we are starting our digital strategy with social media to have a presence online.

    Two things I think are outdated:
    1. Prayer Books – I like having a structured church service but in the era of digital projection we need to ditch the physical prayer book. In my last church a visitor would need a song book, bible and prayer book, with the liturgy in two parts of the prayer book. In my current church all of that is projected on the screen, same Anglican liturgy but easier for the visitor to follow.
    2. Promoting the latest church trend – I see too many church websites in Australia promoting how their church model is better than others. Even some churches who promote everything but Sunday. Even in a secular country like Australia, most non christians who don’t go to church still think of church as a Sunday thing. Most non christians who don’t attend church don’t care about the latest model of church or the new rediscovery of early church missional communities etc etc. Churches need to open the gospel for people and stop promoting the latest missional model.

    • Val on December 22, 2018 at 6:10 pm

      This is so refreshing to read. We have to realize that most of what we do in church today belongs to an era that will die with us and, probably, sooner. So ‘church’ doesn’t change, but the way we do it does and trying to preserve the status quo is a death sentence. What I appreciate most about this article are the practical suggestions.

    • Jim on December 27, 2018 at 9:25 am

      I hear you, I tried changing some music, nobody new came, I created a website, nobody new came, I added an evening service for who couldn’t come in the morning, nobody came, I preached relevant sermons, used power point, nobody new came. I went back to just teaching the Word of God and now were starting to see new faces slowly but surely

  5. Roy Brockmeier on December 19, 2018 at 3:15 pm

    Hi Carey, love your column and outlook on the needs of today’s church. As a Parish Administrator I was interested in the financial processes as well as the human interaction and relationships. Is there a benchmark for financials that would be a topic of discussion or review so a priority of stewardship investment for healthy churches might be suggested. As a long-term mainline protestant (Lutheran, ELCA) congregation we are going through some process re-engineering that is trying to overcome years of silo’ed ministries without effective coordination or use of human resources. With 60+% of our general operating fund budget being spent on salaries and benefits, it doesn’t leave much wiggle room for operations beyond building maintenance and servicing the mortgage. Happy to discuss at further length if appropriate. Blessings, Roy

  6. Sonny J. Reeves on December 19, 2018 at 8:58 am

    The internet and time in my retirement from the active ministry has given me time to do a serious study of the early Church, Church history pre-Nicene, and the reformation of the middle ages, plus the restoration movement around the “Great Awaking” in America. I studied the dry bones of church history 50 yrs ago in bible college, but the innovations and discoveries, the ability to read ancient documents and see artifacts in museums relating to the first century are awesome learning tools. Where did we lose the simple Gospel, the love for next door neighbors, community and being salt? When do we return to those simple commands to “One Another” with God’s Love? When will we be the Church Jesus died for, prayed that we would be “One” in union with the Father? If we find common ground in the resurrection of our Lord, my God, and King, what more do we need? Money? Power? Control? or just love our neighbor, forgive our enemies, wash the feet of our brothers and sisters. “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
    ― St. Augustine

  7. Dennis on December 19, 2018 at 8:29 am

    Not too long ago (maybe 25 years?) it was a contest to see which church could snag the most highly educated pastor. It didn’t matter if he was impersonal, aloof, a boring preacher, and the world’s biggest narcissist as long as he had a string of “alphabet soup” degrees after his name. It was a delight for the trustees to HAVE to hire a sign painter to emblazon the church sign with “The Reverend, Doctor Ignatz Fizzlewicz, DD, Phd, MDiv, DMin, BTh, MTS, BA, – Senior Pastor.” Those days are gone. What people want in a pastor is someone who is relatable, not someone who has spent most of their life attaining various degrees. Nothing wrong with education, mind you, but when that becomes the most important qualification something’s wrong.
    I trust the church that doesn’t even put the pastor’s name on it’s sign (or anywhere else for that matter) much more than I trust one that makes the pastor’s name and degrees more prominent than it’s mission.

  8. Michael Wilson on January 20, 2018 at 8:42 pm

    I thought the article was very insightful I am not sure that we haven’t gotten a bit lazy in our approach to God because it’s our life test to find Him in our life and these duties are our road to heaven .So we still need that community for our spiritual development.However this was a well done article and quite thought provoking.

  9. Dwyte Hoffman on January 17, 2018 at 2:26 pm

    When I started reading this post, I was concerned that you would miss the personal connection and relational aspects of churches…until I got to points 3,4 & 5. As a layman, I shared my concern with our pastor that in the process of going high tech, our church was losing its high touch aspect. I have seen many new pastors come into an older existing church and in an attempt to revitalize and update it, they totally ignore or dispose of, the church’s strengths and character that should be built on rather than discarded (in most cases). That’s why I especially like & agree with, your points 3,4 & 5.

  10. Brandon May on January 17, 2018 at 11:47 am

    This was extremely helpful! If I am honest, the longer I pastor, the more convinced I am that the “win” is not centered around Sunday interactions. Focussing on how many people we can develop into disciple making, holy spirit lead followers of Jesus is to me, the real win. Winning at “disciple making, disciple makers” is what I see over and over in scripture and if I can develop the people God has already entrusted to me, then I believe that the church will grow in a way that I still have not figured out. I planted a church in my hometown of Augusta, GA and I tried sexy Sunday church for the first 2 years. About 18 months ago, we totally changed our approach by getting specific about why we (another church in a church filled city) were even here. We got honest with ourselves and took a look at our personal pasts. For me, I grew up in church but outside of my parents, I could only think of one person who actually came alongside of me and poured into my life as a “mentor.” Because of that relationship, I was inspired to spend my life in church leadership. Sadly, many of my friends who grew up in church with me did not have the same experience.

    So at Illuminate Church, we decided that the “win” for us is to be sure we get super intentional about training up mentors that would love on, pray for and walk people through their faith. This is not the same as traditional small group ministry. We do not allow our mentors to disciple more than 4 at a time. We’ve learned that after 4 people, the “personal connection” gets more and more watered down.

    This is certainly not a very sexy approach because training the first group mentors takes a long time. But now that we have trained them, they have already begun the disciple making process and we are excited about how making disciples is going to organically multiply in the coming years.

    I appreciate this article as helpful insight for our team. I only share a little snap shot of our story to continue the conversation that this article inspires. Thanks for your help CN!

    • Grant Conklin on January 17, 2018 at 11:53 am

      I really like your response and approach, Brandon. But, you do know what sexy means, right?

  11. Daniel Burton on January 17, 2018 at 10:17 am

    It feels like the struggle with technology that the church has is hinted at in this article. The church, by its theological nature and definition is relational and connection based with dedication, whereas the “current trends” seem to isolate and attempt to fit church in to a busy schedule. People DO listen to sermons on podcasts etc (a good thing as you stated) but I wouldn’t say they have received the church experience. There is a whole aspect of fellowship and coming together as one body of believers to physically be with one another.

    The challenge then is how to feed people true authentic faith in a largely digital world. The internet, social media, and the like are all tools not endgames. The question should be how to we leverage the power of the tools we have been given to communicate the Gospel and prepare the saints for ministry.

    I agree in part with what you are saying in that I don’t feel anything is bad, just incomplete. Bringing church to a person is evangelistic in nature (a good thing), but overlooks discipleship and accountability in a digital context (a not good thing). Adding discipleship and community digitally is a deeper question that I don’t think the church has found an answer to yet because it is a harder and deeper question, yet a question I would argue with tremendous potential for impact and ground breaking growth. Rather than a flashy presentable 100% downloaded church experience, discipling whole congregations to meet together, support one another, and train for the purpose and plan that God has given them.

  12. Scott on January 15, 2018 at 9:28 pm

    Old ways of thinking, news ways of thinking and God’s way of thinking. Not all necessarily mutually exclusive, but it does take some serious thinking to get the right balance. That said, there must never be a time where we do not consider new and old ways of doing things without measuring them against God’s thoughts as revealed in His word.

    • keith on January 21, 2018 at 9:56 pm

      Good practical thoughts, on a tongue in cheek subject, I believe. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Jon on January 15, 2018 at 9:19 pm

    Carey, thanks for wading through all of this for us and putting yourself out there knowing that you’re going to be criticized. We need more leaders today who aren’t afraid of trying something new in order to reach further for the Kingdom. I think that’s why Jesus said “Go” not “stay.”

    Trying to figure out what that looks like in our context. Blessings to you and your family my friend.

    • Tony on January 18, 2018 at 7:44 am

      Jesus said “Go…!” Good stuff

  14. Jo Ann on January 15, 2018 at 7:18 pm

    One quibble: In the final point, you say “You may not have a great band . . .” Not all churches have or even want a band, great or not. Some of us have great or no-so-great choirs. Please be more inclusive of “traditional” churches.

  15. Mike on January 15, 2018 at 3:53 pm

    Great article, Carey.

    What would I change? Okay, just remember… you asked. 🙂

    The church is broken. Seriously broken. Jesus said the greatest command is to love. He also said his followers would be known by their love.

    Churches are not full of love. They are full of dogma. They exist with the paradigm that church-goers have it right and the unchurched have it wrong. Even if not consciously done, everything about the modern church sends the message “we are better than you.” And no one wants to be judged like that.

    The internet gives us almost limitless access to information. People can now look up alternate viewpoints on any subject, including matters of faith, theology and philosophy. If churches only exist to support a set of dogmatic beliefs they deem true they will find themselves dying off. The millennial generation is very comfortable asking “why” and pushing back on blind faith that doesn’t make sense in the physical, here-and-now world.

    The church and especially pastors need to look themselves in the mirror and ask some very hard questions:
    – Why am I doing what I’m doing?
    – Why do I want to be in relationship with the unchurched?
    – Why do I want people to sit and listen to me?
    – Have I ever tried to hear what I sound like to people that are outside my tribe?

    This probably sounds harsh. Sorry for that. It’s the reality that I see today as one of the de-churched.

    • Ian on December 20, 2018 at 11:53 am

      “They exist with the paradigm that church-goers have it right and the unchurched have it wrong.” Yes that’s a common attitude even though it contradicts the meaning of being a “ministry”. It’s all on church leaders & members (like me) to not just pay lip service to their churches being a “hospital for sinners” but to make sure their ministries truly are environments for healing, caring and guidance.

  16. Harris Clark on January 15, 2018 at 3:11 pm

    I just found out about your ministry through another pastor friend of mine. Since I have been following your ministry, I have been truly blessed and enlightened. I pray that God will continue to download you with the secret and hidden things as he is already doing.
    Love you to Life!!

  17. PostLambJam on January 15, 2018 at 1:14 pm

    My personal philosophy is wherever the Holy Spirit is, they will come. If people put more effort into seeking God, praying in tongues, and identifying and using their spiritual gifts, they might be surprised at how the “supernatural” compels people to come. These “formulas” work on a limited superficial level, but the Word says “it is the Spirit that draws them”. Let’s get back to our first Love and take tender care of our communities. 😘

  18. Dave Hyatt on January 15, 2018 at 1:02 pm

    Challenging and insightful thoughts Carey. One twist in completely downloadable content that occurred to me is that you don’t want your ‘Sunday morning’ service to be completely contained there either. What I mean is, if it doesn’t have some carry over into the week, through application, follow on content, etc., it will be like be one and done. We can do better!

  19. Grant on January 15, 2018 at 12:36 pm

    Can you give an example of a church under 100 (which is most churches) going deep digitally in an excellent manner? Thanks!

  20. CML on January 15, 2018 at 12:13 pm

    I get great strategies, ideas and information from your blogs but often find serious typos. Today there is a blatant error that completely changes the meaning of one of your main points; one which has been also highlighted for tweeting. The phrase
    “Just because you can’t be great at everything, doesn’t mean you can be great at anything” I believe was intended to be …doesn’t mean you “can’t” be great at anything. Hopefully not many people tweeted the original phrase with the typo.

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