CNLP 008: Are Contemporary Churches Losing Their Edge in a Changing Culture? – An Interview with Rich Birch

Are contemporary churches really that contemporary anymore, or are we fooling ourselves?

In today’s podcast, Rich Birch, one of the most forward looking church leaders around today, looks at the rapid cultural changes happening in North America and talks about how church leaders can do a better job of advancing the mission of the church as we move into the future.

AND, don’t miss my first ever podcast contest! Make sure you enter today. 

Scroll all the way to the bottom to enter to win the weekly prize—a free copy of my book, Leading Change Without Losing Itand be entered to win the grand prize: admission to the Orange Conference 2015, plus coffee with me and Jon Acuff.

Welcome to Episode 8 of the podcast.


Guest Links: Rich Birch

Rich on Facebook

Rich on Twitter

unSeminary (Rich’s blog)

unSeminary Podcast (Rich’s podcast)

A Free eBook from Rich Birch

Just for my listeners, Rich is giving away a free copy of his e-book, Effective Announcements: Leverage 5 Minutes in Every Church Service to Move People to Action. You can check out a special link on his website at

Links Mentioned in This Episode

The links and resources mentioned in this episode include:

The Leadership Podcast on iTunes

The Leadership Podcast on Stitcher

The Leadership Podcast on TuneIn Radio

Carey on Twitter

Carey on Facebook

Connexus Church

The Meeting House

Liquid Church

8 Charts That Explain How Our Culture Is Changing

Hillsong Young & Free

Hillsong United

Hillsong Worship

The Demise of the Electric Guitar in Music

Derwin Gray at Transformation Church

Darryn Scheske at Heartland Church

Billy Phenix at Buckhead Church

Andy Stanley at North Point Community Church

The 10 Before (An example from April 2013 of North Point’s pre-service announcements)

Orange (Reggie Joiner‘s family ministry organization)

A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars by Jonathan Merritt

Willow Creek Community Church

Shepherd’s Grove (formerly The Crystal Cathedral)

3 Things You Can Do Right Away

Rich says that churches need to engage more with their communities. They must actively reach out to those outside of their primary demographic if they want to appeal to other groups. Here are three things you can do now:

1. Bring younger leaders around you. If you look around the room you lead in and majority of the people are the same age as you, you have a problem. Deliberately push the age down and find younger leaders to help you, especially with programming and creative. Consider starting an internship program to provide a recurring opportunity for you to invest in young leaders while also learning from the next generation.

2. Get in relationship with leaders further along than you. There may be a leader with a larger church or someone who achieved success with an aspect of their mission, such as reaching unchurched people. Contact leaders you respect and ask for an opportunity to pick their brain over lunch. Most people are generous and willing to share their time and wisdom if asked.

3. Ask more questions. What music caters to your target demographic? What language to they speak? The small things make the biggest difference. You love your church’s music, but the community may not. Don’t be afraid to experiment. What you think is contemporary may not be. Also, discover the demographics of the families in your community. From the point of view of pastoral leadership, your church needs to be ready for the current state of your community. Ask yourself, “How can my church do a better job serving non-traditional families in my community, such as single parents and their kids?”

Quotes to Share from Rich

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2014 Orange Tour

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Got a question?

Next Episode: Jon Acuff

Why is it that so many of us struggle with work? Does everyone have a dream job? And does social media and leadership make you narcissistic?

These are just a few of the issues we touch on next week when we talk to New York Times best-selling author and social media expert Jon Acuff.

That’s next Tuesday on the podcast.

Enter NOW to Win a Ticket to Orange Conference 2015 & More!

Win a prize every week with our first ever listener contest! When you enter by leaving a comment in the show notes of the blog, it’s also your ballot to win the grand prize. This week’s prize is an autographed copy of Leading Change Without Losing It.

The grand prize, which will be drawn a few weeks from now, is a free ticket to The Orange Conference 2015 in Atlanta in April of next year. Not only does it get you in for free, but you get a coffee with me and Jon Acuff backstage!

We are selecting the grand prize winner from all of the comments shared over the next few weeks so you can enter multiple times by participating each week. And each week one person will win the book of the week.

So…enter to win by answering this week’s question ­­– 

What is one change you’ve made at your church that’s helping you better connect with unchurched people?

Scroll down, leave a comment, and don’t forget to answer this week’s question for a chance to win the grand prize of a  free ticket to Orange Conference 2015 and coffee with Jon and me or the weekly prize of an autographed copy of my latest book. Go!


  1. Renee on March 9, 2016 at 3:31 pm

    I just listened to this podcast, slowly listening to them all to catch up to the more recent ones 🙂 I have a question on one of the statements made, and I’m not sure that I understood it correctly. If there is a desire to be more relevant in terms of music in the church, what if you don’t have the musical talent available to meet that desire?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 9, 2016 at 4:03 pm

      Hi Renee. That’s a problem we all face. I think you start with what you have, make a goal and then work toward it.

  2. Debbie on December 12, 2014 at 11:48 am

    I attend a rather traditional church and we are making the move (sometimes slowly but moving!) to serve our neighborhood. Our church has been around for 205 years and they cling tightly to the past but have giant hearts for serving those in need. We have a monthly dinner that happens the Saturday after our Food Pantry Distribution. It is free to everyone – they call it Come and Eat. All that is expected is to Come and Eat. None of our guests are churched families, there are folks there from the church to mingle and serve but everyone else is from our neighborhood.

    We started by just praying before the meal. We now do a five minute or so devotional, song, or activity and take prayer requests that are posted in our sanctuary for all to pray over. They love this! Recently a women shouted out to list their praises too!! God is so good. Our local funeral home recently called asking if we would do a funeral for a gentleman (who attended Come & Eat with his wife) whose wife had passed away and he said this was his church. He had never stepped foot in our church building until the day of the funeral. He is now attending on a semi-regular basis.

    We will be starting a Warming Center in one of our buildings this January! We truly have hearts for those in need and our church always shows up to help and support.

    (I love that everything stays Orange with your podcasts!)

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 12, 2014 at 1:26 pm

      Debbie. Love your heart and the heart of your church for serving the poor. Love the story of the man who found a church. Thanks for sharing this!

  3. Robert Morris on November 25, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    The one change I’ve purposefully made in our church to help our people connect with “unchurched people” is not so much a change as it is an attitude of our children’s ministry team. I have to constantly remind our children’s ministry volunteers and even parents that the reason we don’t do some things they might like their “church-going” children to do in the context of children’s ministry is mainly due to the reality that there are kids/families at all stages of “Christianity” (seeking, new believers, etc.)

    For instance, I’ve told the story numerous times of two kids in small group together. One of them is Bible drill champion, and the other has a muslim father who is only coming to church because her sister got invited by someone in the student group.

    This has helped our volunteers realize the importance of relational connection over against a content-guided approach. And the real relational connection is something the world can’t compete with.

  4. joshpezold on November 22, 2014 at 10:17 pm

    The greatest resource we have is our people. It’s not our programs or even our services. With that said the greatest thing we’ve done to reach unchurched people is to equip and empower our people to “pray for one”. We ask our people to pray that God would give them ONE person to share His love with. And we explain what that looks like practically. We talk about it every week, we have people write their “ONE” on their connect card and as a staff we pray for them weekly and announce that. When provide opportunities to bring their “ones” to services, events, groups, and when that happens our leaders celebrate it! Praying for One has changed everything because when you pray for God to give you one person to share his love with, you’ll begin to look at people different. Great podcast. I enjoy listening.

  5. david manafo on November 21, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    we’ve overlapped an environment to outreach to help us connect:
    – we brought our volunteers (many not christian) from our annual tax clinic back for an appreciation meal – this helped us connect at a deeper level with the volunteers; i.e. this local initiative of doing taxes for people in poverty gives us opportunity to impact the volunteers
    – we added a parent’s lounge to a kids outreach we do at a local school; it’s helped us create conversations with parents who stick around for coffee during the event

    I appreciate Rich’s ideas, esp the insight into the shifting under the surface (e.g. mega churches) and I love his passion and wisdom; but part of me also feels like it’s 1985 all over again and I’m a reading a book on how to reach unchurched people so I can bring in all these elements to make church feel relevant or cool enough to start a conversation.

    How do we keep the passion high to reach people but fall into that same cycle? Any ideas on that Carey or Rich?

    I appreciate what you both do for the broader church in your 2 local contexts.

  6. Carey Nieuwhof on November 12, 2014 at 7:59 pm

    Hey everyone…wow! Some GREAT responses. I really think there are some great ideas…seriously fantastic. And some common themes for sure.

    This week’s winner is Josh Hanson. And thanks to everyone for contributing!

  7. Jkhoop on November 12, 2014 at 8:39 am

    We hosted a town hall meeting that dealt with the issue of heroin addiction in our community. It was moderated by a local judge and included local police, families affected by heroine addiction, and programs that offer hope for those affected. We also had a chance to present about our Celebrate Recovery program that meets weekly at our church. It was great opportunity to see people from the community in our church that wouldn’t normally come.

  8. Vanessa Donohue on November 9, 2014 at 12:18 am

    One thing our church has done, to bring in the unchurched. We’ve started a motorcycle club. All are welcome. We embrace all shapes and sizes, ages and stages.

  9. Scott on November 7, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    I have enjoyed all of your podcasts, I really look forward to your next one with Jon Acuff i have enjoyed his books, and speaking. Thank you

  10. Steve Simms on November 6, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    What if church moved beyond human programming and instead allowed ordinary people, as prompted by the Spirit, to share what is burning on their heart? Perhaps it would be a major step forward in getting back our church “edge.”

  11. Drew Peterson on November 6, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    Our student ministry team has been debating at length whether or current programming structure provides ease-of-access to those students who don’t know Jesus. This was an insightful podcast, Carey. Thanks for sharing and leading well!

  12. Heather Height on November 6, 2014 at 11:12 am

    Love, love, LOVE this topic! Our ladies ministry shifted from only meeting to talk Bible stuff once each month to actively training to walk/run/dance…whatever….in the next Color Run that comes to our city. We have challenged each of our ladies to bring either a neighbor or co-worker to walk with us, and we engage people who are already at the tracks where we walk in simple every day conversation. We change our walking locations by rotating between some of the local parks so that we can all bring our children to play, as well. It is a small change, but the idea is that we are building relationships that will, over time, allow us to better meet the real needs in our community.

  13. Joe Willis on November 5, 2014 at 5:21 pm

    This is an incredibly timely post for me and my church. My leadership team is preparing to meet this Friday to discuss the future of our church, recasting vision, and the use of our facilities.
    We recently threw a Halloween party with a carnival, dark maze, lots of candy. It was pretty cold here, so we had a lot of kids from the community join us. At least half of the attendees were from the community. I hope to be able to keep in touch and use this event to spark interest in the corners of our community we’re missing.

  14. Justin Dela Cruz on November 5, 2014 at 10:33 am

    Yesterday, we hosted/provided a staff appreciation breakfast at the HS where one of our campuses meet.

  15. coreyrayjones on November 5, 2014 at 9:36 am

    We wanted to connect with unchurched kids in our community and so we began by simply asking the local elementary school, “How can we serve you?” This change began as a baby step but it has opened the doors that many believed would never happen and has formed a true partnership and ministry.

  16. adamsong22 on November 4, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    instead of going “wider”, we’re trying to go “deeper”.

  17. Chuck on November 4, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    This interview was another spot-on discussion. Very relevant. Very true. Very honest. Bullseye.
    The biggest change at my own church that I’ve helped orchestrate is to make our Small Groups ministry shift way away from a “members only” deal. Given that we are a small church aiming for a missional-type outreach, we don’t limit our small groups to “church members” or even regular attenders. (Many folks who hang out at our small groups often attend group more regularly than they do church!) While we realize the compromises in certain aspects of community that this can cause in some settings (such as privacy, etc), we weighed those issues against the need for people OUTSIDE the church to find a safe place to land that’s NOT church (in the traditional sense). This means, for example, students from the university I teach at can land in our small group and not feel like they’re joining an organization. (Often these students go home for the weekend and attend their family church, which may not have a small groups ministry…) This is particularly important when official “belonging” is the last thing on their mind…and they’re more concerned with being alone on campus, confiding in someone going through the same thing they are, finding a place they can study the Word, sharing a meal, or making a few local friends without feeling pressured by a group to join them (especially when they’re already part of something else back home.). As “backwards” as this approach really is, when you look at how a lot small group ministries have historically become (i.e. as something you participate from within a church or a ministry…), our own group, for example, has almost become the reverse… a gateway INTO the church, or into the FAITH. We’ve watched God bring about salvations, baptisms, discipleship/mentorship and other major growth milestones that have been catalyzed mainly by merely getting into community And that, to me, is clearly a God thing. All glory to Him for it.

  18. Joe Robideaux on November 4, 2014 at 10:52 am

    To better connect with the unchurched at Lifewater Church, we made a shift to “missional communities” rather than a traditional small group model about a year ago. The intent was primarily to see deeper and deeper discipleship taking place with our already committed members but the bonus we’ve seen is an even greater success rate in reaching out to the unchurched of our community.

    I don’t want to write an unreadably long post so I’ll shorten it by just saying that instead of a programmed Bible study kind of format, we have different rhythms we go through where we may be studying scripture one week, having a family style meal the next week, out in the community serving the next week, etc. It’s always a little different each week but we’re seeing more unchurched families being invited to our missional communities than we’ve ever seen before. My take is that they are excited to be in community with other people while also interested in serving others in outreach. Both are available in our missional communities.

    We also tell members of the missional community to constantly be on the lookout for opportunities to pour into other people and that’s led to guys from a missional community inviting an unchurched man struggling in his marriage out to play tennis regularly. They’ve been able to disciple him while on the court and he’s recently started plugging into their missional community.

    Another member of a missional community found out about a pregnant teenager who had decided to keep her baby. The missional community pulled together and blessed her with all of her starter supplies. That story led to another missional community doing something similar for an unchurched couple who worked with someone from the missional community. That blessing led the unchurched couple to start plugging into our church as well.

    All that to say, we’re seeing the shift to missional community create a greater intentionality of reaching out to the unchurched.

  19. Chris Shumate on November 4, 2014 at 10:33 am

    The church I attend is part of Kid’s Hope USA. People within the church volunteer time to children at a high risk elementary school in Knoxville. Many of the children in the school have one parent incarcerated, some even have both parents incarcerated. Each Christmas the campus I attend does an angel tree for people in our community too. The main campus (I am part of a multisite church) does a shopping with dignity type thing where people get to come in and pick their Christmas gifts for themselves. I forget how it’s phrased, but it is something to the effect of there’s more dignity in choice, so participants get to choose.

  20. Rev. Crum on November 4, 2014 at 9:49 am

    One of the main changes I have made is to try and be more active on social media. From devotional posts, to announcements and other insights I find across the net. I do this both on my personal page and my churches page. What’s great is I am finding as I focus my posts more on ministry I am able to reach people I never thought read what I had to share.

  21. fred on November 4, 2014 at 9:03 am

    We take one Sunday a year and lead service projects in our city. During what would be our regular gathering time. We provide childcare at the church for children 7 years old and under, kids 8 years old and over get to participate in the service projects. Most of the organizations we help are not Christian organizations, but they are doing a great work in our city. Our hope is that once people do a service project for an organization, they will connect with that organization and then build a relationship with that organization and the people that lead it or those that it serves. We have seen some success in this, praying and thinking through how to see more. Thanks for your podcast!

  22. Josh Hanson on November 4, 2014 at 6:43 am

    I’ve helped to build an intentional relationship with the local elementary school that’s literally our next door neighbor. We’ve started an after school tutoring program, have hosted their 5th grade graduation, Kindergarten Christmas program, given the school an $8,000 Christmas gift, hosted a celebration of the school secretary being cancer free, sent volunteers to their Fall festival, and each summer we take one Sunday morning to paint, clean, and help the teachers get their rooms ready for the upcoming year. We’ve only been building this relationship for three years, but we’ve already seen trust built between us and the staff, students, and parents of the school.

  23. […] also honored to be on the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast today. In the podcast, I mention how the church needs to add more EDM beats to worship music. The […]

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