It’s not uncommon to hear from people who have been a part of our church for a long time that when it comes to reaching people who are far from God and caring for those who are already here, there needs to be a balance.
I respectfully disagree.
Consider this: When something goes wrong on a Sunday morning in children’s ministry or in the worship service, who do you hear from, guests or insiders? (Let me save us some time by giving you the answer: the insiders.)
Okay, what about this: Imagine you get a complaint that a ninth-grade boys small group spends too much time hanging out around a bonfire or playing soccer and not enough time in “deep” Bible study. Is it more likely that it’s coming from a family who has never been connected to a church or parents who are insiders? (Hint: see answer to the previous question.)
Last one: Who is most likely to complain the loudest in your church when you change a service time? (If you answered insiders again, you’re catching on.)
It goes without saying that it’s important to care for and lead the people that are already a part of your church. That’s why you do funerals, make hospital visits, and stay at your office late to meet with a married couple who’s going through a rough patch. But if we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that we feel a pull to please the people in our church we see each week at the expense of serving those who have yet to set foot in our building on a Sunday morning. And who can blame us? Insiders are the ones who are most likely to bend a pastor’s ear (or email inbox).
But it’s those who have yet to meet Jesus that we’ve been commanded reach, to serve, and to share the Good News with. The problem is that since we are more likely to hear the complaints of those within our organization, gravity pulls us, our energy, and our resources to be directed towards those who are already there. We don’t accidentally reach people we don’t yet know–we have to push against the gravity that pulls us towards insiders to do it. Here are three things you can do to fight the gravity:
1) Tell the insiders it’s not about them
Unless you make it clear why your church exists and the mission it’s on, the people within your church will naturally assume that the church exists for them. After all, isn’t that the way it is with just about every other organization that we voluntarily belong to? The Church is unique in that it does not exist primarily for the needs of its members. Oh, and don’t think that just saying it once on a “Vision Sunday” every few years is going to do the trick. If you’re not telling the people you serve almost every week that your church exists for those who aren’t here yet, you might as well not say it at all.
2) Do everything you can to make outsiders feel like insiders
Try this just one Sunday: walk into your church as though you had never been there before. What do you see? Is your church easy to figure out? Are people friendly and helpful? Unfortunately, chances are that just about everything in your church–your building, signage, Sunday services, your ushers and greeters, even that charming coffee hour in the parish hall–is designed for those who are already there. Make it your goal to help people who are on the outside feel like family as soon as possible when they visit your church.
3) Actually know some outsiders
If your strategies for reaching people who aren’t yet a part of your church are only influenced by people who are already a part of your (or any) church, how effective could those strategies be? Andy Stanley in his book Seven Practices of Effective Ministry points to “listening to outsiders” as a crucial practice of a church that wants to continue to reach people who don’t yet know Jesus. This might sound difficult since we tend to know fewer outsiders the longer that we are on the inside of church ministry, but it’s absolutely necessary if you want to work against the gravity that is always pulling you to ignore outsiders and serve only insiders. To start, try asking first-time guests to your church for honest feedback on how welcome they felt and how easy it was to figure your church out. Some of the responses might surprise (or deflate!) you, but wouldn’t you rather know that something needs to be fixed rather than pretend that you’re ready for first-time guests?
What did I miss? What are some other things that help us resist the urge to serve only insiders and fulfill our mission to reach outsiders?