why your church isn't for everyone

Church leaders do it all the time.

Ask them who they’re trying to reach. Their answer? Everyone.

It sounds appropriate. I get that. What else are you going to say?

After all, the Gospel is for everyone.

But that’s not the question. The question is who is your church designed to reach?

Is your church for everyone? Really?

What if it’s not?

Now, here’s the promise.

What if…the faster you get away from the idea that your church is for everyone, the more effective you will be as a church?

Consider this:

You are currently reaching a segment of the population—not the entire population. I don’t know of a single church that has reached everybody.

The people you’re reaching probably represent a particular demographic. Even if it’s multi-ethnic, or multi-generational, you are likely reaching a segment of people within the broader demographic.

Your church has a style, feel and culture that attracts certain groups. In Western culture, people self-select based on what your organization has to offer, just like Walmart shoppers are different than Nordstrom shoppers.

In addition, the way you do church (a combination of your mission and vision, but even more importantly, your organizational culture and strategy) has an inevitable filtering effect:

Your music is going to attract some people and bother others.

Your teaching style and content is going to connect better with some than others.

The people who already make up your church are more likely to attract others like themselves; like attracts like.

Your location and even the architectural style of the building in which you gather (whether that’s a school, a theater, a gothic cathedral, a contemporary suburban mega-church, an A-frame 50s landmark, or a living room) make some feel at home while pushing others away.

Your leadership style is compelling to some people and not so much for others.

I’m not saying this is the way it should be. I’m just saying this is simply true.

Now don’t miss this.

Far too many church leaders spend their time fighting these realities.

Rather than cooperate with the way people naturally gather, too many leaders resist it.

I agree there are times we need to fight that. A church with no cultural diveristy in a culturally diverse city functions more like a club than a church. And a congregation with only the rich and no people on social assistance worries me. And some churches attract only insiders or an age demographic that makes the future impossible. When I began in ministry, we had mostly handfuls of people over 65 attending the churches in which I served. The future wasn’t bright, nor was the church effective in its mission.

In those cases (and some others) you need to change your culture to reach the broader culture.

But still, are you going to reach everybody?

No.

Now, here’s the promise in an otherwise disconcerting thought-stream:

Your church should be open to everyone, but you will be best at reaching a particular someone.

And that’s okay.

Instead of competing with that, why not co-operate with it?

After all, your church is not the body of Christ. It is part of the body of Christ.

Play your part.

Can you imagine the pressure that will release?

You will no longer have to be all things to all people.

Churches that try to be all things to all people often end up being nothing to no one and lose their effectiveness in the process. Only a few manage to do more than a mediocre job in most areas. The seniors and the young adults and the kids and the teens and the empty nesters and the young marrieds and the singles and the blended families can’t all be equally important. They just can’t be.

Where I serve at Connexus, our vision is to be a church that unchurched people love to attend.

As a result:

We don’t try to please people who want a church for the already convinced.

We’re not worried about reaching Christians who have no passion for friends and neighbours who aren’t in a relationship with Christ.

We don’t feel the pressure to offer 100 programs and in fact often point people to community organizations or neighbouring churches that do much better jobs in those areas. Sometimes we encourge people to find their own way to meet those needs. We focus on the few things that will help us best accomplish our mission.

We feel free to design our Sunday service to create an experience unchurched people want to come back to.

We specifically target the feel of our services and culture to connect with a 30 year old unchurched man, believing that if the man comes, so (gladly) will his family and friends (and often his parents, and sometimes even grandparents).

I realize this is contrary thinking for most people, but for us it’s resulted in reaching more unchurched people than we ever have before (or than many churches in our community and country), with 60% of our growth being from self-identified unchurched people. Which is, after all, kind of why we started the church in the first place. And which maybe why you started or lead your church.

So…rethink this.

Is your church for everyone?

Or is the Gospel for everyone, and your church gets to play a part in that?

What do you think?

24 Comments

  1. Anita Bagnall on May 28, 2019 at 3:55 am

    Amen, man

  2. Ben Haith on May 8, 2017 at 4:14 pm

    “Support Community Churches” is a national slogan that will help foster better relations between churches and the people who live near them.

  3. hollyhouse on April 30, 2016 at 2:09 am

    It’s a good idea to purge your church of all that you don’t believe it is called to reach so it can focus on those it had been called to reach . Oh wait , I’m not so sure I see that in scripture. We have created designer churches to reach niche groups . THE LOST are who we are called to reach and I’m not convinced that it is to be with our Sunday morning worship service . Worship is an interaction between God and HIS people , those outside of that bond can’t really participate …. Observe yes … Participate no. We keep designing worship services for those who can only observe , and forfeit our privilege as children of God to do so corporately at a “palletable to the lost” level and understanding. If what we want people to encounter is the reality of the Almighty and loving God they can’t go where we don’t go!!! We give them sensation , emotion maybe great declaration about This God , but unless WE are really encountering HIM , what possibly could they observe other than a cool service that has fog , lights and a great band??? I don’t wish to be harsh but sometimes I feel the Body is so off track and desperate to win the lost , it has totally discounted the power of the Spirit who invades a space and draws the lost to Himself because of those who are lost in HIM, not the accessories. I do believe Sunday morning has a different purpose than the rest of our week.
    Love to hear some responses. ????

  4. Derek Murphy on April 12, 2016 at 8:36 am

    This is SOOO awesome! Yes it does take a lot of pressure off me! Thank you so much for sharing this!

  5. Ellen on July 6, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    Great points above. If a church realizes that it is not for everyone, then the people in that church should not be putting a lot of pressure on people to join, or to take part in ministries-whether they fit the part or not. I have a friend who always had an obsessive attitude about church. He mother is the same way. They would always question me about going to church. If I wasn’t going to church, they would ask me if I believe in God. In my adult years, I converted to the Catholic Church and I attend regularly. My friend appears to have a problem with my being Catholic. She still bugs me to go to her church. I feel that the only reason that she wants me to go to her church is because it will make her look good. When I have gone to church with her before, she would always belittle. So, I think that my friend has a different reason for going to church than I do.

  6. Dr Wilberforce Oti on June 13, 2015 at 2:59 am

    This is not a fact, it is the truth… Thanks for opening my eyes to this timeless truth… Even our Lord Jesus said “… I am sent only to the lost sheep of Israel…” Boundaries makes us effective… Thanks Brother Carey

  7. Zachary Verbracken on April 19, 2015 at 10:38 pm

    Love the quote “Churches that try to be all things to all people often end up being nothing to no one.”

    It reminds me of something I read from Mark Rutland about aligning your Market (who are you trying to reach?), your Message (how are you going to resonate with your target audience) and your Medium (how will you reach them?….setting, music style, etc.) to be effective. Many churches simply don’t think through their strategy and get misaligned there…. And a compelling vision + a poor strategy = ineffective ministry in the long run.

  8. Eric Dye on April 3, 2015 at 7:39 am

    It’s all about the niche…well done, Sir!

  9. Rob on January 21, 2015 at 5:34 pm

    Even Jesus said he came only for the lost sheep of Israel.

  10. […] If you struggle with this idea that the church isn’t for everyone, I wrote this post for you. […]

  11. Rob Sellitto on December 14, 2013 at 11:11 pm

    Carey, thank you for sharing your insight. I know it is an older post, but I missed reading it in September. I had a recent conversation with a leader where I felt very strongly that I wanted our church to welcome everyone, but not be for everyone, for similar reasons you outlined in your post. I find one of the things I am having the most struggle with as I begin this journey as a lead pastor is leaders who are afraid of people leaving.

  12. Marilyn Luinstra on September 7, 2013 at 10:21 am

    I agree, church is typically feminine . We use girlish names for groups, prayer clusters, triplets. It makes me grimace and I am a female.

    As for the daughters of those 30 year old men, will they be encouraged to use leadership gifts at Connexus.

  13. bardstine on September 5, 2013 at 11:44 am

    Thanks Carey. I planted a “Church for the Unchurched” in Victoria, TX. One of our phrases is “Everyone is welcome at Renegade Church, but Renegade church is not for everyone… and that’s OK.” You summed why we do what we do the way we do it one concise post.

  14. Roy Snow on September 4, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    The only issue I see with being so focused on this style of Church is dealing with families.

    Each person in a family grows at a different rate, so not offering options for individual people within the family who may be more advanced in their faith or in need of more, you limit, in many ways, the opportunity for an individual to grow.

    For example if someones wife is comfortable growing within the existing Church and it’s teachings but her husband has lost interest or is spiritually in need of more, the husband is left out, or is forced to attend groups outside of the church to gain what they feel is missing within themselves. Or if a family is comfortable within a Church and enjoys the church setting and teachings but one or more family members has an issue with church policy, or church policy restricts a person from spiritual growth then the Church essentially has excluded this family or a person within the family from having the growth they may be looking for and or need.

    So with this how does a family approach and deal with this issue? Does the family leave and find a different Church, thus leaving possible spiritually profitable growth? Does the singled out person suck it up and find whats missing outside of the Church? Suggestions?

    • Nicole Patteson on September 5, 2013 at 1:33 pm

      This is my current struggle as a church member. I don’t have any answers except I just keep waiting on The Lord for direction.

  15. Jonny Rashid on September 4, 2013 at 2:25 pm

    We have a sign in our church that goes like this:
    “Maybe we are not for you. We are looking for people ready to do the next thing. You might need to let go of the precious memories of your parents’ church.”

    • PC on September 13, 2013 at 2:32 am

      really?

      • Jonny Rashid on September 13, 2013 at 8:06 am

        Yeah–it actually got some people to check us out. We have a few more; one says “Please don’t just come to our church. Church isn’t something you go to, but something you are. We’re looking for people to be the church. Are you out there?”

  16. Greg Martin on September 4, 2013 at 10:06 am

    Great stuff Carey. It is indeed liberating when you come to grips with these truths. God has gifted each of us in amazing ways; stop trying to be the guy down the street (whom God gifted in a different amazing way!). Thanks for the reminder!!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on September 4, 2013 at 10:12 am

      Thanks Greg and Bobby. If we could realize that our competition is not the church down the street but the beach on a sunny day, we’d be so much further ahead!

  17. Bobby Williams on September 4, 2013 at 7:09 am

    Excellent post Carey & challenging. It’s a good reminder to not only be laser focused in vision but also in who you’re reaching. There’s tremendous freedom in that.

    • Mamah Osak on July 4, 2019 at 9:45 pm

      This post is so old (2013) I wonder if anyone will respond to my comment which is …
      Apostle Paul said he has become all things to all men that he may reach some. Is it not contradictory to your suggestion, as profound as it sounds, that the Church should be selective about its target audience. I believe every church should be welcoming to all people regardless of age, race, educational background, culture, financial status, etc. The Church is a place you go to worship the Lord, hear and understand the Word of God taught truthfully from the Scriptures, and join with others to reach out to others and meet the needs of each other, the people (within the Church (local and international) and others. Small groups (called by so many names now [life group, cell church, house fellowship etc.]) will take care of the other disparities in interests etc. Especially because of families. Don’t forget that the strategy that targets a specific audience will inherently and intentionally detract and belittle others. So how do treat people who are not 30 year old men? Why are you not interested in 30 year old women? Seriously!

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