More churches are trying to bring into their congregations’ people who have little or no experience in churches. They are finding the process challenging and frustrating and even unpopular among their own members.
So why try? That’s the point of this post.
I’m guessing whoever first uttered “opposites attract” wasn’t a church member. We don’t need a deep data to know Sunday is still the most segregated morning in America. We want to develop relationships with people who are our confession of faith and values.
Who, then, do churches attract?
Historically, churches were most effective at reaching the spouses and children of their own members. Next, congregations added people from their own denomination. Finally, churches attracted Christians raised in other denominations, but wanted something different in a church.
In mainline churches, for at least a century, those three groups made up a vast majority of members in almost all congregations.
Why Not Just “Keep on Keeping on”?
For a number of entangled reasons, a vast majority of churches in America are declining.
Millennials are waiting longer to marry. When they do marry, Millennials are waiting longer to start families. The families are smaller than in previous generations. Singles and couples without children are less likely to participate in a church than families with children.
“Denominational loyalty” and “congregational loyalty” are oxymorons. Members leaving a church are just as likely to join a congregation of another denomination as of their own. Also, they might invest their new found free time in:
- Volunteering at a non-profit that supports a cause close to their hearts.
- Working a part-time job on the weekends.
- Participating in a recreational sport.
- Spending more time with their children’s travel teams or artistic endeavors.
- Binge watching favorite shows via the internet.
As governments and media shifted from tolerating to opposing orthodox Christianity practices, nominal members started disappearing from the pews. As I have previously outlined, today there are more people with “no specific religious affiliation” (so called “nones”) than Roman Catholics or Baptists in America.
What’s So Urgent?
To some extent, the sense of urgency reflects new generations of church leaders. If you were born in the 1940s or 1950s, you likely thought America was a Christian nation. Baby Boomers saw little need to emphasize congregational outreach, let alone to evangelism.
Generation X and Millennial church leaders are much more likely to view the United States as a secular society. Christians – certainly conservative Christians – are a minority in America. Younger leaders see a much greater need for intentional outreach to people outside the church.
Another factor is the escalating cost of operating a church. Aging facilities are expensive. Church members give to multiple charities and benevolent organizations, not just their congregations. Insurance costs are rapidly rising. Just like every other area of life, more people are required to fund a congregation today than in 1978 or 1998.
The final factor is governmental and media promotion of lifestyles and values that run counter to biblical Christian belief and practice. Some conservative churches are reacting by insulating themselves from society. Other conservative churches are perceiving a greater need for their friends, family and neighbors to know and follow Jesus. These churches are starting to reach out to people very different from themselves.
Look for a future post on why reaching people very different from current members is so challenging. Until then, why do you think churches are trying to attract new and different people? Leave your thoughts in the comments are shoot me an email.
For further content on this topic, consider the following:
Five Shifts for Reaching the “Never Churched”