“It is hard to be all things to all people if we do not know who those people are.”
It is hard to be all things to all people if we do not know who those people are. Communities have planning commissions, businesses do market studies, the military analyses its foes—and the church takes attendance.
It is one thing to know your congregation and quite another to know your community. What often happens is the church stays the same and the community changes … actually, the church usually just ages and the community changes.
Recently, the mayor of our city spoke to the church, sharing the town’s history. It was heartwarming to see the beginning of a community. He showed how things have changed, from dirt roads to paved streets, and the addition of new buildings, schools and churches. It was nostalgic, but the town did not just evolve; the city planned it strategically. Not only was there a historic vision for the community, but also there was and is a clear plan for its future.
Civic leaders are doing a better job than church leaders of knowing where their communities are and where they are headed. This needs to change.
As the mayor shared the city’s plans for growth, there was an excitement in his voice. He shared the dreams and goals of his city: plans for expansion, newer and bigger schools, shopping centers and parks. Then he began to rattle off numbers, statistics of growth and changes in the population, as well describing a younger community, and the needs and challenges they will bring. He held in his hand a demographic study showing where the town was going, how it was going to get there and what was needed to handle the growth.
The mayor, a member of the church, ended his presentation by emotionally asking, “Are we going to be ready to reach these folks with the gospel of Christ?”
The Gospel in Your Community
How would your church answer this question? Is your church stuck in its history? Have you been using the same methods to reach a changing community? I often hear pastors say something like, “If it was good enough for yesterday; it ought to be good enough for today.” To which I, with my gift of sarcasm ask, “Well, how’s that working for you?”
We are, by no means, going to change the message, but we must be willing to change the methods of communicating the message. Therefore, we must be willing to honestly measure how well our methods are working. And if they are not working, we must be willing to change them, and if necessary, change them again.
To know how to change and what to change, we have to know where we are and whom we are attempting to reach. How are we going to become all things for the sake of reaching all people?
First, as a church, we have to get to know our community. We have to …
- Get to know the neighboring businesses and families.
- Attend city council and planning meetings.
- Encourage our congregation to get involved in the community.
- Meet with civic and community leaders.
Then, we have to open the doors to the local community. We have to …
- Encourage the use of the facility: Boy Scouts, social clubs, school events, etc.
- Make it easy to attend: visitor/guest parking, friendly greeters, clean restrooms and nurseries.
- Get your people to simply be in the habit of inviting people to church.
Study the demographics. I remember attending a Rick Warren church planting conference at Saddleback Church many years ago. After studying the community, he said that the average person in their community was such and such age, with a certain average income and a percentage of children. They called him Saddleback Sam. They recognized their community and made Sam their target.
Who is your community’s equivalent of Saddleback Sam, and how can you reach him? Here are some ways to find out:
- Do or get a demographic study of your area.
- Get a target. Pick the easy fruit; go after the majority first.
- Do not compromise the message. Preach the Word in an understanding way. You might consider changing your preferred Bible translation (I may have crossed the line for some).
- Be willing to change your methods. I am fairly sure that door knocking does not work very well anymore in most areas.
- Do not attempt to change who you are; if you are 60-something, do not try to be 30-something.
- If your congregation is made up of seniors, well, many seniors have children and grandchildren. It’s never too late to get our kids in church.
- Have a plan, but do not attempt to reinvent the wheel. Find someone who is doing what you desire/need to do and learn from them.
Reaching the Culture
The demographics of our culture are changing faster than the church’s ability to reach that culture. I read a few years ago, “Christianity is not dead in America, cultural Christianity is.” It is dead because the church has failed to delve into these changes. We’ve remained cloistered in our huts of tradition, hiding our lights under the proverbial church bushel.
Preach the unadulterated gospel of Jesus Christ. Teach it without compromise. However, compromise your traditions, your preferences and your sacred habits, rituals and customs.
I believe that God is opening a window of opportunity for the church in these last days to reach this lost world like never before. Let’s seize this opportunity and reach and change the culture for good.
Tony Foglio is a pastor, church planter, businessman and author of Discover the Bible: Journey Through the Bible As It Was Meant to Be Read (Thomas Nelson, 2004). For more information, go to DiscovertheBible.com.