Ready to break some church growth barriers? Here's how.

7 Counter-Cultural Opportunities Most Church Leaders Simply Miss

There’s likely little doubt left in your mind that culture is changing rapidly. Even in the Bible Belt, preachers are explicitly engaging an ever-more post-Christian culture (just check out some recent series by Andy Stanley and Craig Groeschel).

If you want to reach people outside the Christian bubble, you’re going to have to learn how to adapt.

In Canada, where I minister, the culture has been post-Christian for decades now, and churches are either dropping like flies or learning how to effectively minister in a foreign culture.  The move toward a post-Christian culture is now unfolding rapidly before our eyes in the United States. You either adapt or die.

David Kinnaman and I discuss the rapid change in the cultural landscape in Episode 24 of my leadership podcast, which you can listen to below or directly via iTunes or GooglePlay.

And while the Gospel is eternal (and the very thing people need), how you present it makes a world of difference.

Yelling at the culture is no way to reach it. Helping people within the culture is.

What all of this provides for the church is a tremendous opportunity. An opportunity many church leaders simply miss. In longing for yesterday, too many church leaders ignore the reality that tomorrow arrived.

Instead of wringing your hands, put them to work. It’s much more effective.

Below, I outline 7 areas in which you might be able to teach people how to do things, not just what to do.


The Common Denominator: People Simply Don’t Know How

So what’s the common denominator in all 7 opportunities outlined below? It’s skill.

When a culture becomes post-Christian, it not only means that biblical memory fades, it means people lose the ability to navigate or handle some of the things they used to know how to do.

This explains things like the almost complete disappearance of civil public dialogue (both by politicians and people…just read Facebook), or the ability to manage personal or national finances.

Think about it. In addition to coming into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, as a church leader,

you long for families to stay together and thrive

want people to be generous and

want to see people treat each other with love and respect

So…what if it’s just that they don’t know how? What if it’s as much a matter of skill as it is a matter of desire?

Why are these skills slipping away? Because, for example, when you lose the reason to love each other (a commitment to a Saviour who loves you), you very often lose the motivation for loving others. Self becomes king.

In fact—and here’s the surprise—some of the things Christians have always valued are the things the culture most needs and wants.

Here’s a bit of a deep-dive into 7 counter-cultural, but very Christian things that can help your community recover some of the skills we’ve lost.

1. Money: teaching people how to save and give

Biblical views on money are counter-cultural. And they’re exactly what people in our culture want and need to hear.

People are drowning in debt. And churches are trying to figure out how to fund the future.

Maybe it’s not that people want to be in debt. And maybe it’s not that they don’t want to give.

Maybe they just don’t know how to save or how to give.

Over the last five years at Connexus Church where I serve, we have worked really hard help people live within their means and to raise the level of giving among all ages, and it’s worked.

It’s a systems approach we’ve used that has seen us run over 600 people through a budgeting course that has resulted in a ton of financial freedom for our congregation, especially for Millennials. They know we’re for them, and we want them to save for retirement, save for their kids’ education, save for their vacation and give generously. More importantly, we’ve shown them how to do it.

At the same time, we’ve run a multi-tiered approach to raising giving and funding our mission.

The result? We have more money to reach people than we ever have before AND our families have more money for their lives.

Leaders ask us all the time how we do this.

The strategy is outlined in detail in a new resource called Fully Funded (affiliate link). The Fully Funded approach is exactly what has helped us fund a facility, a growing mission, and online campus and much more, plus help our families get on their feet. Even in a country where the vast majority of church leaders say people don’t give.

2. Sex: teaching people that sex is for married people 

Few things have changed faster in the last 4 decades than sexual ethics.

In the same way that biblical views on money provide welcome relief to people who are drowning under the culture’s approach to money and finance, biblical sexual ethics provide a stark counterpoint to culture.

Usually, the appetite to hear the Bible’s viewpoint on sex is greatest once people have been burned by the heartbreak of playing by the culture’s rules, but that’s not always the case.

If you want to see the best counter-cultural approach to sex I know of, take some time to watch Andy Stanley’s New Rules for Love Sex and Dating. It’s one of the best series we’ve ever run at Connexus and it’s literally helped hundreds of thousands of people globally (including teenagers and young singles) find hope in a world that treats bodies and souls like commodities.

I outline our approach to same-sex marriage in a post-Christian context in this post.

3. Family: teaching families how to be families.

What if helping families be families was one of the greatest opportunities your church has?

Family breakdown is everywhere in our culture, and often the lack of communication, care and even spiritual conversation in families just reinforces that brokenness.

As church leaders, we teach kids about Jesus every week. But we also come alongside families to help them learn to become families. Coaching families on having dinner together several times a week, leveraging bed time, meal time and drive time to talk about faith and life, and helping parents work on their marriage?

No organization has helped us with learning how to to this than Orange. The Orange strategy is the strategy we use, and our kids’ ministry is the fastest growing ministry at our church.

Our strategy doesn’t just maximize what we do on Sundays, we reach out to parents throughout the week to help them leverage Mondays and every other day of the week to help them use their influence to build up their kids (and each other) daily.

For single parent families, having a small group leader in place for every child gives every kid and teen another voice saying the same thing a parent would say, plus we use the resources Orange produces to help every parent.

When you help parents leverage their time and influence with their kids for good and for God, every child wins.

4. Prayer: Connecting with someone bigger than us

Prayerlessness is an issue not just in the church, but in the culture.

And yet the desire to connect with something or someone bigger than us hasn’t gone away. It’s just morphed. The human desire to pray shows up in yoga, spirituality and more explicitly in mindfulness and meditation.

Want to know how deeply people desire to connect with something bigger than themselves? One of the most listened to podcasters in the world launched a brand new show recently, and his first episode was all about how entrepreneurs and business giants use meditation and mindfulness as a best business practices. You can listen to the Tim Ferris Radio Hour here (warning…language alert). There’s no mention of prayer or Christianity in the episode, but it shows you how deeply post-Christian people still realize there is something bigger they yearn to be a part of.

Rekindling meaningful prayer can be a bridge point to a culture desperately craving something more.

5. Confession: Helping people learn to say sorry in an over-affirmed world

You’ve noticed something in our culture today. People really don’t say sorry easily.

I love millennials and love working with them. But as a parent myself, I wonder if we’ve raised an over-affirmed-I-can-do-no-wrong generation. And that’s spilled out to many older adults too. We’ve seen the rise of political candidates who never apologize as well.

It seems the default alternative to zero self-esteem has become an “I’m never really wrong” approach to life. As Tim Elmore has argued, our over-affirmation of each other is producing a generation of kids who paradoxically suffer from high-arrogance and low self-esteem.

Confession is so healthy because it leads to away from despair and pushes people toward Christ, honest change and hope.

No one should be better at confession than Christians. And it’s a gift we can offer our culture.

Perhaps they’ll receive it better if we start by confessing our sins.

6. Truthful, kind conversation: teaching people how to disagree without being disagreeable 

Few people talk anymore.

Instead, we argue. We take positions. But discussion?

Jesus came full of grace and truth. The Christians have become hateful and argumentative in public discourse shows we’ve sold our souls and become part of the problem.

I interview author and pastor Scott Sauls on Episode 49 of my leadership podcast about how to recapture the civil tone of conversation. You can listen on iTunes or GooglePlay or below.

Christians, you can disagree without being disagreeable. And when we master that art, we can help the world do the same.

In the end, it’s only the Gospel that makes kindness toward our enemies possible and necessary.

7. Self-care: living in a way today that will help you thrive tomorrow

One of the challenges associated with being a post-Christian, highly connected culture is that people have access to so much information and possibility they don’t know what to do about it.

The posts I’ve written on this blog on burnout are among the most read posts of all time. Burnout is almost an epidemic. I know, because a decade ago I burned out.

Since that time I almost daily ask myself this pivotal question “Am I living in a way today that will help me thrive tomorrow?” I’ve reorganized my life, my time, my priorities and almost everything else so that I can honestly answer that question with a ‘yes’ on a regular basis. Better yet, the people  I love the most and who are closest to me can also answer that question with a yes. For that I’m very grateful.

Christians, again, should be great at it. Jesus was masterful at home, he organized his time, energy and focused his priorities.

Doubtless, that art has been lost in many churches today, but that doesn’t mean it’s been lost to the faith.

Showing people how to organize their time, energy and priorities to recapture their lives can help people find life in the midst of a life that seems out of control.

Next month, I’m releasing a new online course called the High impact Leader that’s designed to help people mange their time, energy and priorities in a way that will help them thrive tomorrow. If you want to get on the inside track of the High Impact Leader launch, you can sign up here.

What Do You See?

These are 7 counter-cultural things I see that the church can use to help the people around us that God loves.  My guess is it will also help the people who attend your church.

What are you helping people do these days? What other counter-cultural skills do you see an opportunity to help people with?

Scroll down and leave a comment.


  1. Michael S Carlton on December 15, 2016 at 4:26 pm

    This post is GOLD!

  2. glennoftherock on November 24, 2016 at 12:44 am

    Hey Carey,

    Thanks so much for your podcasts and this post in particular. Your point #1 – Money: Teaching People How To Save And Give is something we really want to offer at our church, my question is, did you develop your own materials or use a course via video, online, etc.?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 24, 2016 at 6:18 am

      Hey Glenn. Thanks for asking. Like I mentioned in the post, we worked with companies to develop our strategy. It’s now represented very accurately in Injoy’s Fully Funded initiative. That’s the strategy we followed. Here’s the link:

    • Tom Sathre on November 30, 2016 at 9:18 pm

      How would you minister to me and my wife of 41.25 years? She and I each have “full schedules but empty lives”; if I read another well-intentioned blog about things that work or approaches that grew another man’s ministry, I may just scream (and then take the advice.) It’s an area I’d rather not lead her in!

      • Carey Nieuwhof on December 1, 2016 at 6:36 am

        I’m sorry your lives are so empty, and you certainly don’t need to read my blog. I hope you find what you’re looking for.

  3. Mike on November 22, 2016 at 4:59 pm

    I’m not sure these points are accurate in the church structure. For example, in my last church:

    1. Money. Over 90% of the budget went to staff salaries and building maintenence. How does that represent Christ’s heart to provide for the widows and orphans?

    2. Sex. Homosexuals were allowed to attend but could not serve in leadership. Divorced and remarried folks could. Both seem to stray from God’s ideal of one man, one woman for life. Why does the church pick and choose which sexual sins are acceptable and which are not?

    3. Family. If the church is supposed to be familial in nature, why are some family members paid to be at family functions while others aren’t? And why do those people refer to themselves as “servants”?

    4. Prayer. We practice mindfulness at work and encourage times of reflection and sharing. I can’t remember any time the church opened up the service for non-staff to share what God placed on their hearts.

    5. Confession. The senior pastor would share with church what God told him the vision was for the direction of the church. It was just assumed he was right because he’s the pastor. Where is the accountability in the church if one man sits at the top above reproach?

    6. Kind disagreement. Every church has a statement of faith. If you disagree with the statement of faith, you either keep it to yourself or you leave. How does the church encourage dialogue when taking dogmatic stances?

    7. Self-care. I work 50+ hours a week, raise two small kids, and then come to church and am presented with opportunities to serve. How does the church role-model self-care while heaping more activities on my plate?

    Maybe it’s a different climate where you are, but here in Northern California near Silicon Valley, church seems like another employment organization trying to get stuff done.

Leave a Comment