June 22, 2015 Tony Morgan

Programs Do Not Reach People

People make up a church. It’s not a building. It’s not a worship service. And it’s certainly not a program.

Let me put this into simple terms.

  • If you are trying to reach young families, then you need to become a church that young families want to attend.
  • If you are trying to reach retirees, then you need to become a church that retirees want to attend.
  • If you are trying to reach Methodists, then you need to become a church that Methodists want to attend.
  • If you are trying to reach people who are unchurched, then you need to become a church that unchurched people want to attend.

Unfortunately, that’s not typically how churches operate. Let’s pretend we are a church of primarily green people. When we look outside the walls of our church and into our community, we notice there are many, many blue people. In fact, there are far more blue people than green people, and the population of green people continues to shrink over time.

Because of that, our church decides it needs to do something different to reach blue people. With that, the church places an ad on ChurchStaffing.com and hires a blue pastor to start a blue ministry. The blue ministry meets on Wednesday at 7:00 pm every week. At those gatherings, they sing blue songs. They teach what the Bible has to say to blue people. They plan special blue events. Once a year they do a blue retreat. They even have t-shirts with blue logos.

The only problem is that everything else our church does is for green people. The worship services are designed with green people in mind. We sing green songs. The teaching is only for green people. The classes, the events, the home groups and everything else the church does are for green people. All the leaders are green. The staff is green. The senior pastor wears green jeans. Once a year, we’ll do an outreach event for blue people, and twice a year we’ll get excited when they show up for Easter and Christmas.

At this point, we could blame the blue pastor and try to find a different one. We could blame the blue people for not acting like green people. We could blame the government for passing blue laws. (Let that one simmer for a moment.) We may be green with envy as the growing church down the street reaches more and more blue people. We could pray for a blue revival.

The reality is that if we want to become a church that reaches blue people, we need to become a church that blue people want to attend. That will necessarily reshape our mission, vision and strategy. We will have to design every environment with blue people in mind. We will have to raise up blue leaders. We will have to use blue language. The green people in our church will have to sacrifice their preferences. Some green people may even leave the church. When they leave, their green money will go with them.

That’s when most churches realize that it’s not worth it. They decide it’s a lot easier to hire a person to start a program than it is to change the existing way of doing things.

The only problem, of course, is that programs don’t reach people. People reach people.

In other words, if you want to be a church that reaches different people, you have to become a different church.

Paul said it this way:

“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.  To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” — 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NIV

I’ve watched way too many churches attempt to chase a demographic of people by launching a program. For example, if they want to reach singles, they try to create singles’ events. If they want to reach people outside the church, they offer evangelism training for their people to witness to those outside the faith. If they want to reach young adults, they try to launch a separate service targeted to young adults. The list could go on and on. Whatever the demographic of people, churches have tried to create programs to reach them.

Programs don’t reach people. People reach people. Are you willing to sacrifice your personal preferences and also risk offending church people so that some may be saved?

I hope so, because it will take a different church to reach different people.

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Tony Morgan

Tony is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of The Unstuck Group, theunstuckgroup.com. For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church (Dallas, GA), NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). He's written several books and articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and Pastors.com.
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