Carey Nieuwhof: ‘Stop Looking in the Wrong Place’

A 10-minute consultation to get your church moving again, from Carey Nieuwhof of Connexus Church in Toronto.

Carey Nieuwhof, founding and teaching pastor at Connexus Church in Toronto, answers the question, “How can churches remain agile in the midst of an ever-changing culture?”

A lot of churches are stuck, and the causes for being stuck are sometimes simpler than we think they are. It’s not a theological shift that needs to happen. For a lot of churches, the reasons are practical and structural and strategic, rather than missional. The vast majority of churches aren’t growing. And so what I say to those leaders is, “Do you have any interior barriers that are stuck?” Sometimes we’re looking in the wrong place.

For example, are you doing all the pastoral care for your church? Imagine a mom and pop store, where you can do everything. You can be shipping and receiving, CEO, CFO. But if you’re trying to run a 100,000-square-foot supermarket, good luck with that. You need a day supervisor, a night supervisor, a cash supervisor, produce, bakery … the whole deal. You need a multilayered organization. And the leader who thinks he or she can do it all is doomed to bankrupt the business or shrink it down to a tiny mom and pop operation. We run many of our churches like mom and pop operations.

Many leaders confuse the mission with the method. As leaders, we grow really attached to our methods at the expense of the mission. If you went in and changed everything and brought in a band and changed the structure, you can become wedded to all of it because the greatest threat to your future success is your current success. There are a lot of leaders who say, “No, this is how we do church.” And they think it’s contemporary. Chances are, if you’re using the phrase “contemporary service,” it’s not contemporary. Not anymore. Maybe it’s contemporary compared to you, but it’s not contemporary in a sense that it’s actually going to connect with unchurched people.

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I’ve developed this little test in which I ask, “Do teenagers love your church?” If teenagers don’t like your church, there’s a very, very good chance that unchurched people aren’t going to like your church. If you can’t connect with a teenager, you’re probably not going to do a very good job of connecting with an unchurched person.

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