Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Gathering for the 80%

My friend Alan Hirsch has been very helpful on many placing future lenses on me. As a seer, thinker, describer of future affairs, he keeps probing with strategic questions on how we view, respond, prioritize the not-yet-Jesus lover. I guess coming from a secular Jewish background, he cannot help himself.

Although it varies from city to city, country to country, culture to culture, the ratio of churched, exchurched and unchurched, does influence how we do our gatherings. I know, we do not want to be overly attractional in our mindset, however we would all agree that the weekend gatherings are still a pivotal part of our window to the world.

If the ratio in our city is something like 10% churched, 10% exchurched and 80% unchurched, where is our focus? Most churches focus passionately seeking to recruit the churched, as well as the exchurched. The gathering anchor points, seek to answer the questions that these folks may ask: Are we 'reformed' or are we 'charismatic'? Are we 'traditional' or are we 'hipster'? Are we 'missional' or 'attractional'? All these little categories tend to influence us hugely.

But what if we focus on the 80%, how would we do our gatherings differently? Let me propose this line of thinking passionately. [My cadre in the kingdom - Todd Proctor has been very helpful in this regard]:
  • The Welcoming Team [from parking lot to the door, from ushers to coffee servers] are to be stirred to see their role in bringing people to faith in Jesus - they are the gate keepers of the kingdom, the line of first contact - with authenticity and true affection, they are to love guests to the gathering,
  • The Worship needs to be far more unchurched sensitive. The believer worships every day. They are found in His presence whether in the car or in the bedroom. To now be sensitive to others are acts of missionary sensitivity not compromise. The unchurched do not worship. To be sensitive to them is to honor them and acknowledge their presence informally. An hour of endless 'worship', one song after the other, may bless the believer but lose the unchurched even before the word is preached.
  • The Songs selection is always of important consideration. There are those that are current and prophetic to the communities journey. There are those that are strong in theology and substance. All of this is good. But by considering the unchurched may I propose that we front load the gathering with a short set, especially of hymns, ancient and modern. The postmodern mind delights in feeling connected to the ancient. The unchurched understand there will be hymns - even if they have only seen it in Mr Bean or Will and Kate's wedding. The rear book end of the gathering, can be far more spacious and exploratory. It is a response to the word preached. It can have elements of reflection and mediation - with breaking of bread being very empowering. This way we can get in both the ancient and the Spirit led spontaneous without losing the guest. Dear elder, stand at the back of you gatherings and I suspect you will be surprised at how different it is back there.
  • The Announcements are community times - each person who speaks, let them introduce themselves, so the unchurched may know who they are and why they are doing what they are doing. Let the announcers be good at their task both in cultural sensitivity as well as effective communication. A moment to celebrate the ordinary believer is a moment well spent.
There is obviously much more in this conversation. These are intro thoughts to help transform the lenses with which we as leaders go into our gatherings.


  1. This is great stuff, thank you. However, what do you say to the accusation that this is not what the church in acts was about? The Christians in Acts seemed to meet in church as refuge and family to go back out into the world and 'do life' as Christians. It seems like they didn't use church as a fishing net. This isn't meant as a criticism, but a genuine question.

  2. Good comment Tim - there are so many examples in the scriptures of people coming to faith in their gatherings, so it was certainly not simply a huddle to catapult us into the world nor nor is it an inhouse gathering of the community only - for that we could simply be in heaven [that tends to be a charismatic type mindset]. I think the Father is restoring a greater sensitivity about the not-yet-believer [the reason the son of man came to seek and save the lost...] lets keep our conversation focussed on reaching these precious folks for whom Jesus died - we focus in on ourselves very easily.

  3. Chris, what comments would you make about preaching to the 80% - length, content, style etc. thanks Stephen

  4. Jesus was pioneering a 'new' redemption story to his hearers. To the Jews, he loaded his talks with stories, framing them in accounts common place to them - temple, sons, sheep... they got him because he got them. Similarly with the Gentiles. Paul is a second example worth emulating. I will write more on this later.
    Use examples that are today's marketplace conversations - be a student of life, business, entertainment, leading stories...
    Thread the gospel throughout the account. Keep Jesus the big story.
    Be honest about your capacity - most preachers are truly only 30 min preachers - about 5 % can preach for 45 min and 2% are honestly amazing for 1 hr regularly
    Know your hearers - culture, age, education, marital status,
    Land in a response - communion, reflection, meditation, worship
    More to come...

  5. Chris, I was reading a similar article just this morning by a pastor in the USA - funny that
    Anyway, I have just wanted to add a few exerts from his article to bolster your own - whilst I agree that the "first touch" experience goes a long way - i think it also pays to be creative and shrewd

    Ministers/Pastor think it is wrong to be shrewd. But Jesus encourages it. Shrewdness is a “worldly” wisdom.
    “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16).
    Some ministers are so “spiritual” that they have no practical wisdom in dealing with the world. Overly spiritual pastors have criticized churches that use multimedia presentation or coffee shops to bring in the yuppies. But these pastors should have been shrewd in trying to grow their churches, instead of being critical.
    I will be the first one to admit: coffee shops are not spiritual. Multi-media is not spiritual. Elaborate productions are not spiritual. Playgrounds for children are not spiritual. Car shows at church are not spiritual. Yet we have all these things, because they attract and keep people. They may seem unspiritual—which they are—but they are not sinful. There is a difference between something that is unspiritual and something that is sinful. Sin leads people away from God. Unspiritual things are neutral, neither bringing people near God nor driving them away from God.
    McDonalds builds playgrounds to sell food. Playgrounds are not their business—food is. But to sell the food, they built the playgrounds to attract parents with kids to the restaurant. Our church business is giving the “food from heaven” but the playground was a shrewd way to draw families to our church.