The algorithms on social media are an amazing thing. On Facebook for "occupation" I dropped in there, "pastor." Because, well, that's what I am. As a result my newsfeed is flooded with stuff about "church growth."
Every day I see another post about how to grow your church. I take a few minutes and give each one a look and it's the same stuff.
"Here's a can't miss marketing plan..."
"Here's a service where the best writers will craft your sermons for you..."
"We can create for you a website guaranteed to bring people to your church..."
It's all the same.
The other day a "Church Growth Guru" (what even is that and how do they have enough money to financially boost EVERY single post?) asked a question, "How do you get more people in your church engaged in the life of the church?"
I thought, "Finally! This will be well worth my time." I dropped into the comments section to see what was being said. Almost every single comment was something like, "We have created this program/campaign/preaching series to get more people to do things," or "Instead of referring to people as 'volunteers' we refer to people as 'leaders' and 'co-ministers.'" Almost every comment of was some variation of those two ideas.
When all you have is a hammer...
One of the things that I noticed from working for a building-centric congregation was that the building was considered one of the most significant, if not the most significant, tools in our ministry tool box. As leaders would plan for the different seasons of ministry we were implicitly trying to figure out how to use the building.
Have you ever heard the saying, "When all you have is a hammer, everything is a nail"?
The church building is often a "hammer."
To be fair, I haven't ever heard anyone say explicitly that the building needs to be the center of our ministry planning. But, what happens is that it is this overwhelming tool in the toolbox and you can't escape it. Every ministry question becomes a nail and the building is the hammer.
So, how do you leverage it? You create programs. You think about how to get more people to the building. You realize that to get more new people to come to the building, you need more of the people you already have to bring them. Which means that you need them engaged in the programs that you create to draw people to the building.
Annually, there's a conversation that gets had in many congregational leadership teams, "Our folks are exhausted!"
It turns out when people are running around doing stuff every single night they get tired.
So many people in congregations around the country are trying to be deeply involved in the life of the congregation, but also have kids involved with school activities like sports, service clubs, and a host of other things.
Many times, these come into conflict.
I can't recount for you the number of conversations that I have had with colleagues that say, "I tell our people all the time, you must choose attending the church event over that other <insert non-church event here>."
There is much lament that occurs with pastors and other church leaders about the fact that people will allow their kids to participate in sports or other things instead of coming to youth group. And this is just one example.
Do Nothing Church
What if we could put the hammer away? What if we could engage our imaginations just a bit? Could we take a different perspective to what engagement looks like?
I believe that we can.
When we decided to create a local congregation that was going to intentionally not have a building, we also decided that we would intentionally not have programs.
You could say, we were going to be a "do nothing church."
Yes, you read that right.
Do nothing church.
We gather intentionally on Sunday evenings for a meal and scriptures and prayer and communion. Beyond that, we don't do anything.
As I look around my community I see lots of organizations that folks can serve with. Almost all of them are in desperate need of people to help. So, instead of re-creating these important organizations through the auspices of the church, the people in our congregation go and serve "out there." And, as their pastor, I try to think about I can encourage and support their efforts.
I am utterly amazed by the depth of connection that the people whom I pastor have within our community.
They are taking with them grace, compassion, empathy, and love into a world where those things are desperately needed. They are freed up to live as ambassadors for Jesus all over the place.
It's amazing how much the people in my congregation do being part of a do nothing church.
A New Score Card...
If you're a pastor or church leader reading this, I challenge you to consider a new score card.
What if you tracked engagement not by how many people show up to your programs or building throughout the week? What if you tracked engagement by what the folks in your congregation are doing out in the community by being involved and engaged in local organizations?
I'm telling you, it's beautiful.