What if we erased everything we know about the institutional church as it today, and way it has been conducted for years, and actually began reimagining ministry as it was intended before it became an organization? What if we started simply with the Scriptures — the Old and New Testaments — and our understanding of people today, as well as our present technology level and culture? What if we were not limited to ‘do’ church like generations past did it because that’s the way we’ve always done it? What might ministry look like if we started all over and just did what God told us to do (Love God and love people)?
A few years ago, several ministers and leaders in various churches did just that and I was honored to be part of this group. After much time digging in to the Scriptures, we came away with a renewed picture of God’s desire for people. Clearly He wants to be in relationship with us, and without a doubt He wants us to share real relationship with each other.
So if that’s the simple desire and goal, how can we help make that happen right now where we live in 2019? I have listed a bunch of characteristics that we believed to be conducive for building relationships — with people, and with God:
GOD FOCUSED— Even though many have been turned off by overly religious and legalistic people and bad church experiences in the past, they truly desire to grow closer to God. They’re fascinated to see how God works today among their neighbors. They deeply hunger for companionship with the real God who loves them. And they crave authentic relationship with Him.
FRIENDLY— People crave other people who exhibit authentic warmth, kindness, care, openness, and pleasant conversation. Friendliness cannot be mass-produced. It’s experienced mostly in small groups or even one on one.
HOSPITALITY— Relationships grow in a welcoming and nonthreatening atmosphere. People who understand real hospitality make other people feel comfortable with an offer of food and drink, introductions to other people, and help finding a comfortable place at the table as if they were not just a visitor but that they were invited and expected.
FAMILIARITY— Especially when visiting someplace new. People typically appreciate a degree of familiarity, from the get-go they feel like they belong or have a place. They don’t have to puzzle over when to stand, sit, gesture, or sing unfamiliar songs in public.
SMALL— Relationships naturally flourish in an intimate setting rather than a crowd setting. (That’s one reason you won’t find a 5000 person capacity Starbucks with stadium seating!)
CONVENIENCE— People are more likely to spend time with others if it fits within their schedule—on a day and time that’s convenient in their already busy schedules. And it helps to offer a location within their established traffic patterns if possible. A bonus is if there was a method to watch/interact even when they could not be present at the services (Online streaming).
REAL-LIFE FOCUSED— People want to talk about the everyday life issues swirling around them — from pets to raising children to purpose to peace.
CONVERSATIONAL— Most people at some point want to participate in the conversation. They want to share their thoughts and experiences, ask questions, interact, laugh and even cry together.
STORY-BASED— People are captivated by the real stories of those around them. And they love to tell their own stories. Story is the language of the human heart. People like listening to stories, but not so much to lectures.
Now if all that is correct or even if it’s just partially correct, as church leaders we must ask ourselves what can we do to facilitate those things in our churches. And we must also ask if our current church model and structure/practices actually seek to meet any of those very real cultural needs? Are we as a church willing to actually do WHAT EVER it takes to reach those that are not in relationship with God? Or, are we more concerned with maintaining the time honored methods that were at one time relevant and revolutionary but not so much for today’s people and culture?
Please don’t misunderstand me, traditions are precious and in many cases wonderful, after all nostalgia is a very powerful emotion and brings many people a measure of comfort. But if they are no longer effective for reaching people in our culture today we must ask: What is the most important objective? Maintaining tradition or making a difference in people’s lives?