What do the NFL, the Grammys, and the local church all recently have in common? They misunderstood the purpose of the event and mistakenly misused the platform.
So much has been changing over the last few decades in our US culture but most of the Church hasn’t really made the shift. I’ve recently been studying how we changed from a Christian to a post-Christian society and from a modern to a post-modern society. The combination of these two shifts should have every pastor in America changing the methods and even reconsidering the reasons for everything they do. While this topic needs a book to discuss it properly, let’s just look at one example for now; Community outreach.
In the past, a church planting pastor or one trying to grow a small congregation would consider a community outreach event his first method. That’s not a bad thought but considering that attractional methods no longer work in a post-modern and post-Christian society then you understand why the events arent effective.
Our typical method for community outreach involves an event that includes a speaking element near the end. A leader hopes to convince people to give their hearts to Christ today. The challenge with this is that the listeners have only met them at that event and have only been relationally connected for the last hour or two. Considering some hands were raised we wonder if it was under some sense of obligation. Because if you look at church attendance or try to identify individual life transformation the following Sunday, there is little to no increase or change reflecting the number of hands raised at the event. This brings me back to my original statement. The church, like the NFL and the Grammys, no longer understands the point of the event and the use of that platform.
People watch NFL games to see football. They listen to musical artists to hear music. Fans are not interested in their entertainer’s political, social, or theological views. When people attend an event that the church has advertised as providing food, fun & games, music, and prizes, they aren't really interested in our political, social, or theological perspectives. Therefore, the church needs to rethink its methods and its message. We must stop attempting to communicate an outreach message using a 1950’s method. Let’s consider an incarnational community awareness event as a first step to evangelism, rather than using an evangelistic community outreach to attract people.
It has been said many times before, “people must know how much you care before they care about what you know.” A modern and Christian society perspective would believe we need to always go fishing by including a presentation of the Gospel when with a group of people far from Christ. The challenge is these “fish” already see the treble hook. This post-modern and post-Christian society is just looking for something that smells fishy and they aren’t biting that.
An alternate idea would be to create community awareness events to practice Jesus’ method of incarnational ministry. John 1:14 says that the Word became flesh and dwelled among us full of grace and truth. Incarnational ministry dwells in the community rather than invites them to the church. It leads with grace and truth, not Gospel presentations veiled with food and games.
Let’s create moments away from the local church and out in our community so that on Monday when people asked them what they did this weekend, they light up with excitement and can’t help but describe the event and the unique church that sponsored it. Here is an out of the box idea for Christmas.
Sponsor a community or city-wide Christmas decoration contest depending on where you’re located. Best house decorations win $100 VISA gift card to spend on Christmas. Anyone can register online or by email simply by providing address and contact information. Second prize can be a 20lb turkey. You can promote it at a town council meeting, the Chamber of Commerce, and by telling the local paper or TV/radio stations. You could invite the mayor or police chief to be part of your judge’s panel. If you really wanted to go all out, you could have a small group of carolers go to each house on the contest night after the judges have passed by and sing a 3-minute carol mashup. People will be talking about it for weeks leading up to the event as the talk with their neighbors. It will be talked about in public spaces for a long time to come.