Moving Your People to the ‘Upper Room’

The same things that draw people in cannot be what makes them stay.

Take a moment to picture the church as a two-story house. When people come into your church for the first time, what draws them in? When they decide to stick around the church, what moves them to make themselves at home? The answer to both is usually the four Ps of place, personality, programs and people. Just as a person usually enters a house at ground level, people enter your church by walking into what I call the Lower Room, where the church’s four Ps are located.

When people engage with a church, they necessarily form opinions about the place, the personality, the programs and the people. They cannot help but make or not make an immediate connection to all of the obvious things around them. These are the concrete things they can see and touch and will like or dislike. If someone talks about why they like a church, one of the four Ps usually takes center stage:

• Place: “The new building is close to where we live.”
• Personality: “Pastor Carlos is such a good teacher.”
• Program: “Emma and Aiden really love going to Kidz Zone.”
• People: “It’s the church our friends Joe and Sally attend.”

Because every person coming in contact with a church first encounters its Lower Room, every church should aspire to have attractive Lower Room features. I want to see a stellar Lower Room in every church I work with. I want them to have amazing facilities. I want the people to think the pastor hung the moon. I hope the programs are exciting and dynamic. And, of course, I want people to have great chemistry with friends they enjoy.

It follows that good church leaders pay close attention to the Lower Room. In fact, in order to grow the church, leaders spend much time making their four Ps more accessible from the outside and more irresistible on the inside. We upgrade our sanctuary like we upgrade our kitchen. We hire a young associate pastor to attract younger families. We roll out a new sermon series like a new season on Netflix. We attempt to make our guests feel as welcome as VIPs at Walt Disney World.

Please note that in the lifetimes of today’s church leaders, this has been the tried and true formula for church growth: If you maximize the attractiveness of your place, the charisma of your personalities, the excellence of your programs, and the welcome of your people, your church will grow. It’s that simple.

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At the same time, however, there remains a disturbing question lurking in the house’s shadow. Is capturing people in the Lower Room real church growth? Is this what Christ called us to do: tie people emotionally to a place, personalities, programs and people? Does a church where most people are most attached to facility, leaders, activities and relational chemistry correspond to what the church is according to the Bible?

Of course it’s not! Jesus gave every church a dynamic mission and each church one-of-a-kind potential. In addition, people prefer to be emotionally connected to a much bigger idea; a more transcendent cause. The life that Jesus offers to each of his disciples through this amazing thing called the local church can hardly be captured in the Lower Room alone.

We need another room. I call it the Upper Room, and it changes everything.

The Upper Room

The Upper Room offers an alternative answer to the question “Why do the people in your church call it ‘home’?” People in the Upper Room are emotionally attached to a sense of purpose beyond place, personalities, people and programs. Being in the Upper Room means that a person knows and names God’s unique disciple-making vision for a church.

Let’s evaluate the two rooms through a simple comparison. If you were to ask an eight-year-old boy what he wanted most for his life, every answer would be tangible: an electric scooter, a PlayStation, et cetera. But if you were to ask the parents of the eight-year-old boy what they want most for their son, every answer would be intangible: a vital relationship with God, acceptance, confidence and so on. We wouldn’t really fault the boy for wanting the next best toy. But we would find the parents alarmingly myopic if not downright irresponsible if they aimed at a tangible thing. Why? Because it would completely miss the beauty and opportunity of being human. We might say the boy is emotionally connected to a Lower Room of life while his mature parents live in the Upper Room.

Here is another way to look at it: What quality do place, personalities, programs and people have in common? They change. And not only do they change, but virtually every leader understands that they must change overtime to ensure the viability of both the organization and its higher purpose. The building needs remodeling. The pastor retires. Programs get tired. People move away.

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Think of this incredible advantage of the Upper Room: Even when the place, personalities, programs and people in the Lower Room change or fall away, the commitment of Upper Room people does not waver. In fact, I have routinely seen the conversion of people who used to resist change now insist on it. The secret is this: People don’t resist change; they resist loss. (If you offer someone a 15% raise today, chances are they will not resist the change.) If people are emotionally connected to the Upper Room, they don’t have anything to lose when the Lower Room changes. The four Ps do not compel them to claim the church as their own. Rather, Upper Room people truly identify with the church’s Vision Frame—that is, its disciple-making mission and disciple-shaping values, worked out through its disciple-moving strategy toward disciple-defining measures of success in light of its disciple-inspiring vision.

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Excerpted from Future Church by Will Mancini. Copyright 2020. Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Used by permission.