Why Established Churches are Learning from New Churches

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I hold a strong conviction that new churches can help established churches learn how to engage in effective outreach. In fact, I wrote about it previously. Here’s why: There are more similarities between established and new churches today than in previous generations.

The loss of denominational loyalty among Christians.

For generations, new churches were started by gathering denominational members who relocating to fast growing areas. The loss of institutional loyalty the past three generations has rendered this strategy obsolete. New churches must reach people with a wide range of religious backgrounds.

This loss of loyalty also afflicts established churches. Researchers tell us around 20 percent of Christians worship on any given weekend. Of that 20 percent, most will choose a church according to what the church can provide them. Programs, worship times and the “feel” of a church influence choices in churches much more than denominational name.

Facilities matters to Christians.

Mission churches struggle in gathering people in part because they worship in rented facilities. These temporary locations, such as school gymnasiums and strip malls, do not “feel” like sanctuaries to longtime worshippers.

While established churches have buildings, not all meet the expectations of worshippers today. Far too many churches are in residential areas with no dedicated parking lots. Sanctuaries and worship centers are too dark with poor sound systems. Those with projectors likely have outdated equipment.

Financial constraints impact outreach.

New church starts are cash starved. Member offerings lag behind member giving in established churches. There are no endowment funds to cover funding gaps. Mission churches must staff for growth, which means adding staff before the church can afford the staff. Each phase of a church plant requires a significant increase in funding, such as going from renting space three hours on Sunday to renting a seven-day-a-week facility. There are few funds for outreach.

Established churches are increasingly experiencing financial constraints. A majority of congregations are plateaued or declining, which slows the growth of offerings. At the same time, Generation X and Millennial members are giving more causes than general funds. Meanwhile, the costs of staffing costs and facilities have significantly increased. This is especially true in mature or aging congregations.

The inability to provide programs desired by people looking for churches.

New church starts lack the facilities and funding, leaders and volunteers. They also are often mono-generational, with young families making up the majority of the membership. This means new churches can’t offer a wide range of programs, which hurts outreach.

Churches with fewer than 90 in weekly worship attendance often face similar challenges. They lack leaders and volunteers. The churches are mono-generational, although the families are at the other end of the age spectrum. The churches can often afford a building and pastor, but they can’t afford outreach or programs.

Members are inwardly focused.

A good percentage of people join a mission congregation because their needs are best met in a small, intimate fellowship. Another percentage join because they can know everyone and be known by everyone. These same members fight against new people coming into the church because growth could cost them what they value most.

A high percentage of established churches are also inward focused. Aging congregations are inward focused largely because of the season of life shared by most members. Smaller churches are inward focused because they are struggling with survival. Until the members feel their church is secure, they won’t look outward. Most inward focused churches have always waited for people seeking a church home to find them. The idea of going out to reach new people feels foreign, even wrong.

I fully realize the above could feel like getting doused with freezing water. It’s even more bracing when I share it with churches in person.

But there is a good reason for sharing it. New church starts have figured out ways to overcome the challenges and reach out to the community. You can read some of the ways here.

How is your church reaching out to the local community? Share it in the comments or shoot me an email.


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