Who are you really ‘competing’ against in ministry?

It’s an interesting question, and you may be tempted to dismiss as either inappropriate or bad theology. Fair enough.

Except a lot of leaders are competitive, and if you’ve ever felt yourself secretly resenting anything that seems to be competing with your ministry’s growth, it might be a good idea to ask the question.

Leaders can waste a lot of otherwise productive time and energy battling false competitors, and meanwhile the real problem gets ignored. The crisis we’re currently in makes it even that much more important, because you don’t have time to waste or energy to spare.

It’s easy to envy growing, successful churches or get mad at the church across town (or megachurch) that stole your members in an epic sheep swap. It’s also a mistake.

So…what’s the difference between the competition in your head and the real battle you should be fighting?

Here are four false competitors most church leaders battle, and the real competition we too often ignore at our own peril.

1. The megachurch in your city or online

About that megachurch church many pastors live in fear of…are they your competition?

That question gets accelerated in a post-COVID world as more and more church attendance shifts online. In all likelihood, what’s happening is a significant number people who used to attend a local church have now switched to being part of a megachurch or other church with a strong online presence.

While we won’t really know what’s happened until after we move into a post-pandemic world, I’m guessing the 18% of churches that consistently report growth during 2020 are seeing a percentage of that growth from Christians who used to attend another church. (Consolidation is the #1 trend of the 7 New Disruptive Church Trends outlined here.)

As hard as it might be to see that happen, growing megachurches are not actually your ‘competition.’ (Here are 5 more unfair myths about megachurches).

Different churches trying to reach the world do not create a case of Coke v. Pepsi or Amazon v. Walmart. No, deciding another church is your competitor is more like Coke deciding to take on Coke, or Amazon battling Amazon. That’s usually known as suicide, right?

One church should never try to take on another church, but we do. And when we do, we lose.

To make matters worse, trying to become the rock star preacher when that’s not your gifting or pretending to be something you’re not only makes the problem worse.

Imitation kills innovation and your soul. Envy rots the bones. Nothing good comes from that dark place.

So, what should you and I do with the growing megachurch in your city or online?

Celebrate what God is doing through others, and focus on what he’s called you to do, that’s what.

2. The church next door

The church next door is not your competition either, no matter what size. Even if the church is growing like crazy, it’s still not your competition.

It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that your church isn’t THE church, and when you do, everyone loses. When any church flourishes, it’s cause to celebrate, not a reason to complain, fear or compete.

When it comes to the church, when one part of the body hurts, we all hurt. And when one thrives, we all celebrate.

The pastor you resent is your ally, not your competitor.

When churches start cooperating with each other rather than competing against each other, unchurched people see unity. Unity and respect are far more attractive than division.

3. In-person attendance

The new kid on the block for false competitors is in-person attendance.

As churches reopen for physical gathering, you can sense an emerging competition between those who gather for ‘real church’ in person and those who participate online.

What if that’s a false dichotomy?

Most churches have seen sliding or plateaued attendance for years prior to COVID.

To belittle online attenders as not-real attenders is a great way to alienate what’s left of your congregation.

If your future plan is get everyone back in the building, prepare for a future of diminishing returns.

If your plan is to see church as being online and onsite, you’ll see a much brighter future.

Wise leaders will see online church as something they cooperate with rather than compete with.

4. The weather

You’re probably thinking….the weather? What’s the weather doing on this list?

Almost every pastor I know (myself included) has at one time or another thought of the weather as our competition.

Snowing again? People aren’t going to come.

Too rainy? People will stay home.

Too sunny and warm? Everyone’s going to head to the beach.

I’ve even had one pastor who lives in a really nice climate that his enemy is wind. If it’s too windy, he told me, attendance drops. I wish I was making that up. I’m not.

The perfect conditions for church seem to be overcast but not raining, cool but not too cold…just miserable enough that people say, “It’s not that nice out, so let’s head to church.”

I realize it’s kind of sad we’ve gotten ourselves into this place, but even so, the weather isn’t your real competition. And just a note: Church online solves any and all weather issues, except the issue of your real competition.

So to that point, what actually is your real competition?

The Real Competition: Indifference

The real competition for the local church isn’t another church, the megachurch, online church or the weather. It’s indifference.

You ready for this?

People aren’t thinking about you. Or if they are, they don’t see enough value to drop what they’re doing to join in.

I know that hurts, but it also paves the way for you and your team to reposition yourself for the future.

Indifference is the enemy of all churches: Large, small, mega, micro, growing, plateaued and declining.

The average unchurched person doesn’t lie awake on Saturday night wondering what you’re going to preach on next.

He does lie awake at night though, wondering if his marriage is always going to be this bad, if he’s going to be stuck in a job that leaves him feeling so unfulfilled and if his drinking is starting to get the best of him.

That average unchurched person lies awake at night wondering if her kids are going to be okay, how bad her husband’s porn problem is and if the emptiness in her soul will ever go away.

As you know, these are all spiritual questions.

Unchurched people are asking spiritual questions. They just don’t think the church can help.

Of course you can help. The key is to cut through the indifference.

How do you do that? Well, this website (and the internet) is full of ways to do that, but let me highlight three briefly.

I. Be the Local Church

So, no, you’re not the leader of your favorite megachurch or church you most admire. No problem.

Just be the leader of your local church. Love your city, township, village….your people.

Nobody should be able to out-local the local church. I promise you the megachurch you admire/envy won’t.

II. Make Your Passion for the Mission White Hot

I get it, passion waxes and wanes in all of us (even in the best leaders). And the current moment has made it that much harder.

But one of the differences between leaders who are effective over the long haul, and those who are not, is that the effective leaders always find a way to keep the passion for the future alive.

By contrast, leaders of stuck or declining churches or organizations generally do NOT burn with drive, desire or passion.

In fact, I can’t think of a single leader of a growing church who isn’t passionate about their mission.

So, stoke your passion.

III. Play Your Unique Role

If God wanted you to be the leader you’re jealous of, he would have made you that leader. But, he made you, well, you.

It can be so easy to feel inadequate for the job…that you’re not gifted enough, talented enough or smart enough to do what you’re called to do.

Not true. And besides, putting on an act every day is exhausting.

Leaders who are comfortable with themselves, who know their limitations, and who can lean into their unique gifting have a great future ministry to an unchurched culture.

Those are some of the key ingredients in authenticity. And authentic leaders resonate with a culture that’s tired of being hyped, sold and manipulated.

Stop wishing things were ideal and embrace the real. It will take you further than you think.

The Art of Better Preaching

art of better preaching

As much as the digital reality has changed everything, some of the core principles of sermon preparation and excellent communication never change. Great communication is simple great communication.

If you’re ready to start preaching better sermons and reach the unchurched without selling out, then it’s time to start using the right tips, lessons, and strategies to communicating better.

The Art of Better Preaching Course is a 12 session video training with a comprehensive, interactive workbook that will help you create, write, and deliver better sermons. The course contains the lessons Mark Clark (lead pastor of  Village Church, a growing mega-church in post-Christian Vancouver) and I have learned, taught, and used over decades of being professional communicators.

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.

Don’t miss out! Check it out today and gain instant access.

Any False Competitors You See?

What false competitors do you see? And how are you battling indifference?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

Who are you really 'competing' against in ministry?The growing megachurch isn't your enemy. This is.

12 Comments

  1. Chaz Robbins on October 20, 2020 at 5:13 pm

    This is great stuff! Thanks for these observations. One other false opposition I would throw out would be kid’s sports / other activities. One way I’ve heard what you’re talking about here is that “a service isn’t church … a service is an expression of the church.” The church is a community of people so we should be measuring all sorts of better metrics than attendance at a service.

  2. Bobbi on October 19, 2020 at 6:10 pm

    The opposite of love is indifference. Why are people so indifferent? I would agree that it’s because they don’t see any value in the local church but why is that?

    Unfortunately we’ve trained and discipled Christians to be self focused and to avoid any hard topics In our local assemblies for fear they won’t come back. Therefore they don’t see any real value in a local church which is truly a shame. Instead people Flock to the latest self help preacher online and it’s a temporary antidote to the pain.

  3. Brian McMichan on October 19, 2020 at 2:39 pm

    People are not attending church because there is far too much “man-made” teaching, etc
    Rom 8:13 For if you live according to [the dictates of] the flesh, you will surely die. But if through the power of the [Holy] Spirit you are [habitually] putting to death (making extinct, deadening) the [evil] deeds prompted by the body, you shall [really and genuinely] live forever.
    Rom 8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
    Zech 4:6 …. Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit [of Whom the oil is a symbol], says the Lord of hosts.
    Eph 3:17 May Christ through your faith [actually] dwell (settle down, abide, make His permanent home) in your hearts! May you be rooted deep in love {and} founded securely on love,
    Eph 3:18 That you may have the power {and} be strong to apprehend {and} grasp with all the saints [God’s devoted people, the experience of that love] what is the breadth and length and height and depth [of it];
    Eph 3:19 [That you may really come] to know [practically, through experience for yourselves] the love of Christ, which far surpasses mere knowledge [without experience]; that you may be filled [through all your being] unto all the fullness of God [may have the richest measure of the divine Presence, and become a body wholly filled and flooded with God Himself]!
    Gal 2:20 I have been (spiritually) crucified with Christ [in Him I have shared His crucifixion]; it is no longer I who live, but Christ (the Messiah) lives in me; and the life I now live in the body I live by faith in (by adherence to and reliance on and complete trust in) the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself up for me
    So …The success of your life, as a child of God, is in direct proportion to the consciousness of the living Christ, and the almighty power of God, that is in your heart.” F J Heugal… Rest in Him every moment.
    The world needs to know that God loved everyone so much that He gave His only begotten Son to free mankind from the burdens, influences, deceptions and controls of the Prince of this world … Satan (the devil, Lucifer who encourages, tempts man to rely on self, others and possessions .. this is sin .. or separation from God Who loves us.) . Jesus’ life on earth was sinless – He totally relied on God and was One with Him. His death was the sacrifice and full payment for all human sin … believe in Him and His payment and you are freed! John 3:16 For God so greatly loved and deeply prized the world, that He even gave His only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in Him (clings to, abides in) shall not perish, but have eternal life. (This was not only for those living at the time of Christ Jesus’ crucifixion, but for whoever lives on earth up to the time of His return …. which, due to the horrible state of our world, relying on self, etc., may not be too far away).
    Christ Jesus’ closing words on the cross were “It is finished!” (John 19:30)… He had achieved what He was sent to earth for … to spiritually free mankind and give spiritual sight! (Luke 4:18-19 The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon Me, because He has anointed Me [the Anointed One, the Messiah] to preach the good news (the Gospel) to the poor; He has sent Me to announce release to the (spiritual) captives and recovery of sight to the (spiritually) blind, to send forth as delivered those who are oppressed [who are downtrodden, bruised, crushed, and broken down by calamity],To proclaim the accepted {and} acceptable year of the Lord [the day when salvation and the free favours of God profusely abound].).
    As Paul said, (Gal 2:20) “I (my spirit) have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ Jesus Who lives in me” … you, or anyone, can say that … all it takes is “whosoever believes” and takes the step of faith to be (spiritually) born again … Paul was baptised soon after the “platelets” were removed from his eyes.

  4. David Johnson on October 19, 2020 at 1:53 pm

    I agree “indifference” is a big issue, but the biggest competitor for us is Little League Sports Tournaments every weekend, including Saturdays and Sundays. Parents have their kids in sports from the age of Kindergarten and they play weekend long tournaments. Tournaments always take precedent over church. I have even had parents say to me we will come when we don’t have a tournament, or we have tournaments this Sunday and won’t be there.

  5. Alina Wreczycki, PhD on October 19, 2020 at 12:55 pm

    Through courage, which is the primary trait making others possible (Fairfox, 2005 about Churchill) to know the self and relying on the highest self for self-worth based on emotional maturity/outgrowing the child within to not use defense mechanism appropriate for childhood in adulthood and therefore being emotional sovereignty to draw self-worth from the highest self based on the highest exalted emotion of compassion rather than the “good” ego opinions of others – this is the frontal cortex in full throttle in collaboration with neocortex for validation of rational thinking with the aid of deductive and inductive logic in reference to the moral character while the lowest/reptilian brain and the lower/emotional brain are in balance to not claim the blood supply from the frontal cortex and neocortex to ready the upper and lower extremities for the “fight or flight” response (Tanzi & Chopra, 2012). If I take these neuroscientific facts and infuse them with my spiritual Catholic “heart formation” (Issler, 2012) to keep the circle of Lectio Divina flowing all the time from (a) Lectio/reading the Word, (b) Oratio/thinking what the Word means for others (in the Catholic Church, this is done by a priest), (c) Meditatio/asking what the Word means to me (I’m Introverted, so I know feelingly like the blind Shakespearean Gloucester), and (d) Contemplatio/what heart and mind transformation Entheos/God within wants me to undergo through self-knowledge and self-work to bring myself to the global community/communion of People as Church regardless of their respective denominations or being unaffiliated – locally to radiate forth onto the state, the nation, and the globe with empathic imagination dissolving false/ego boundaries, and relying on the senses, but not be enslaved by them, while the heart just knows.

    In the gentleness of my heart
    there is complete surrender
    of all that has happened
    to the highest power within
    without which I would not be
    to let my courage release
    the sisters of humility and compassion
    for all I come in contact with
    regardless of their intentions
    to feel and embody moral love
    and allow joy and inner peace
    to flourish as the beauty within
    my highest temple to radiate forth
    to enlighten the communion table
    with understanding and empathic imagination
    to morally love, create, and share
    in Entheos/God within a.k.a. enthusiasm

    If I don’t find myself in the temple of my heart, I will not find myself in any temple. Without knowing who I’m, I would be prone to being what others exhibiting the full spectrum (low to high) of the human condition would want me to be. This would be synonymous with my death while still biologically alive. If I die to my ego by embracing it, all boundaries to being my highest-self in service to others with moral love dissolve, and regardless of their reactions, we are all blessed in our unique way of this enlightened feeling – some with moral love and some with fear. But all of us need to face themselves on their own terms and embrace themselves at each point of their spiritual journey. We can listen or read to spiritual teachers, but at some point, life itself as the continuous process on Earth and our collaboration and reverence for life in all forms become our guide with intuition and feeling in the body to add sustainable value for all while we work in the Garden of Eden to keep it for our progeny and the next generations. Amen 🙂

  6. Keith Spurgin on October 19, 2020 at 11:24 am

    Really good stuff Carey! Thanks for your continued investment into Kingdom leaders like myself.

  7. Dr. Deborah D Dancy on October 19, 2020 at 10:28 am

    I am extremely happy to recognize the power in the Body of Christ. Ego, jealousy and envy are deminished as we interact with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Collectively, we can do so much more for the Kingdom of GOD. Daily, I praise His name for this newfound freedom. There is truly a refreshing feeling of joy in my spirit. Like David, I shall dwell in the House of the Lord forever.

  8. Ron Edmondson on October 19, 2020 at 9:30 am

    I’ve been telling a story at conferences for several years. The first month I was in a new pastorate to attempt church revitalization of an established church, I attended the local city council meeting. Four council people asked me the same question when I told them what church I was pastoring. “Where is that?”

    To understand that you’d have to know we were one of the largest parcels of land within the city limits. We had close to 300,000 square feet of buildings. We had been in the community over 100 years and were one of the larger churches in town. But they didn’t know where we were.

    I started to take offense, but then I realized something. There were two reasons. 1)They weren’t looking for a church or 2)They already had one. It wasn’t that they didn’t know we were there, but they didn’t know our name. We had to change that in order to revitalize and grow again.

    • Jeff Hook on October 19, 2020 at 11:51 am

      Nor did they know all the good things your church had been doing in the community. Either the church wasn’t doing anything good (probably not the case, but easily fixed), or the good things (the fruit of the church) was not being proclaimed (also easily fixed). Proclaiming the fruits of the Spirit is proclaiming Christ. The church can do this corporately, and individuals can do it singularly. The combination of all of them becomes the narrative that the church is known for within the community. People do not have to be looking for a church to understand and believe the good that is being done in the name of Christ through a church.

  9. Tim Sprankle on October 19, 2020 at 9:13 am

    I remember a divine breakthrough a few years ago when driving past another church on my way home from our building. I noticed their parking lot had more cars than our parking lot. Rather than lamenting my poor turnout, for the first time I thought, “I’m so glad people are hearing about Jesus in there.” That thought took ten years to form. I am grateful to God for releasing me from the joyless trap of comparison.

  10. Thomas Sharpe on October 19, 2020 at 8:42 am

    I think we all have something missing in our lives. We can seek to fill it with significance. Numbers and big can bring us hope in ministry. Big in others can bring us back to our unmet needs leading us to envy. Maybe Jesus wants to take care of our need for Significance in the Gospel so we don’t chase the wind.

    • Kelly on October 19, 2020 at 11:09 am

      Thank you, Carey for the wisdom & insight you’ve poured into this issue. I don’t represent any local church at the moment (that is if we refer to it like an organization one belongs to). Truth is I am one whose life has been devoted to its cause. I have loved and served wholeheartedly wherever God has placed me in different seasons. I’ve been deeply hurt though by the last one my family has been to. Some of the leaders saw us as “competition”; a threat to their jobs instead of co-servants in ministry. Thus the past lockdown months have served more of a refuge for me – worshiping quietly through streamed services here and there. Your recent posts though have inspired me to continue ministry digitally; to continue being the church from wherever I am. In fact my husband & I have already begun an online mission/project redeeming social media as our platform. And as we do, I am already feeling the indifference from the some we used to serve with. Most probably for the reason we are no longer doing it from within the same building they are in or to them we are still deemed as competition. Nevertheless, I just wanted to let you know how your posts have encouraged me specially at a time when the “church” (and by this I’m referring to who we thought were true Christian friends we’ve stuck closer to than brothers) you expect to show up & be supportive have sadly given you a cold shoulder instead. So…God bless you!

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