We have covered a lot of ground on the Outside Focused Church in the past couple of weeks. Now, let's take a deeper look at some of the changes that can be made to create such a culture.
Today is the third part of our Outside Focused Church series. Stay tuned for next week when we will be interviewing one of our staff members that survived the transition to the “outside focused” church.
The Original Team
This week, we are going to begin with how I introduced this concept to our original Lethbridge staff. Now, I had an advantage. A few of the staff already knew me. We had met at a number of conferences and they were familiar with the way I did church because I would teach it. So, we already had kind of a head start. I came in and began casting the vision of what church could look like if we began to reach the lost. I promoted the vision of Victory Churches which was to “reach every available person by every available means at every available time with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Then I asked, “Are we doing this effectively?” and “What should we do differently to get better results?” We had some great discussions.
Next, I gave them books to read and took them to conferences where they could learn about other churches that were getting the results we desired. We talked about what those churches were doing, how they were doing it and how we could implement their best practices into our own church. It really was a lot of fun and the team was great in contributing to the process.
Altering the Service
I then began coaching the Service Programming Team into the cultural shift of becoming “outsider focused”. We started with our services and made immediate adjustments to the order. We inserted a welcome at the beginning, which served to welcome everyone to the service and to explain the order of everything so people knew what to expect. Following that, we altered the length of our music portion of the service. We became much more focused on the words we were singing and the excellence in which we were singing them. Music is such a great tool because it is a universal language that everyone understands. So, I felt that if we could raise the standard here, we would then begin to attract more and more people.
Further to all of that, we shortened the length of the messages and added a salvation call at the end of every service. Doing this had a number of results. Firstly, we saw people getting saved every single week. But secondly, we noticed that when we did this every week, our people became a lot more confident in inviting their unchurched friends and family to the service. This is because they knew that each and every week, there would be an opportunity for salvation and this in and of itself caused the church to start growing.
Like I discussed last week, we moved the offering to the end of the service. We felt that unchurched people had preconceived fears about the church just wanting their money. So, we moved the request until after the bulk of the service was over. This seemed to make a huge difference and in fact, we saw our giving go up almost immediately.
Streamlining and redefining the elements of a weekly Sunday service chips away at what a lot of the churched culture holds dear. As someone who grew up in the church, there were many things I had to give up that I would have preferred to keep, in order to most effectively reach the lost. I am a musician and a worshipper so cutting into that time and style was difficult for me. A lot of the complaints we received were from churched people about this, and that made it all the more difficult for me to make the changes. But, I was determined. After studying churches that were reaching the lost and those that weren’t, I saw a marked difference in how they did their services. I did not want to compromise the message or the Holy Spirit, but I did want to reach the lost. And I feel that we have found a great way to be both Spirit-filled and seeker sensitive.
Taking a New Direction
I had been pastoring for almost ten years before I really committed to being outsider focused. I was very disappointed with the results I was getting and frustrated that our church wasn’t reaching the lost or impacting our community. I had this preconceived idea that the church was for churched people. And yet, I saw church people who were not growing spiritually and were just going through the motions in their walk with Christ. In my frustration, I began seeking an answer.
Firstly, I looked through scripture. I noticed how the church in Acts was outsider focused and at the same time, growing and maturing in their walk with Christ. Then, I began studying the churches in Canada, in particular, the ones that were growing and reaching the lost. I did my best to learn everything I could and started to make some changes in my church. When I started seeing results trickle in, I was hooked. I went all in and have been all in since. There is no way I could go back to doing church like I used to.
In my experience, I didn’t really think about particular personality types or ministry gifts and their effect on the process. For me, I looked at the influencers in the church. Who were the people that everyone went to when they had a problem or complaint? When I discovered who these people were, I worked with them first; on the vision and how we were going to implement changes. Then, when we made changes and people had questions or concerns, they would go to these people naturally and the influencers would be able to explain the “why” behind it and their support of it.
We did a whole lot of research. We read some awesome books on the subject like Thom Rainer’s book Surprising Insights From the Unchurched and Andy Stanley’s Deep & Wide. Then we did our own research by talking to our people about whether they felt comfortable inviting their unchurched friends and family to church. When they answered “No”, we asked “Why?” and began making changes immediately. We constantly probe our congregation about how comfortable they are inviting the unchurched to our services. We also ask them what their friends and family thought of the service. Those answers helped us craft services that are both for the churched and the unchurched.
Vitality of Creativity
Creativity is a big part of what we do here. But, we aren't just creative for creativity's sake; we do it for a purpose. There are two main purposes of creativity in our church:
- Creativity creates a greater level of expectation among those that attend. I believe the greater the expectation level, the greater the anointing level. Look at Jesus’s own ministry. When the expectation level was low in his hometown, he was unable to do miracles. However, when the expectation level was high, he moved with great power. So, we always want to be aware of the expectation level and do what we can with creativity to keep it high.
- We are always looking for the most effective way to communicate the pure message of the Gospel so that even the most unchurched person in the room can grasp the truth. What’s relevant in communication is constantly changing. We live in a very fast paced world and with things like social media, what is relevant is always different. So, to combat this ever-moving target and to fulfill our vision, we engage every sort of demographic we can in the creative process. We use young and old, men and women, the long-time churched and newcomer, and so on. By doing this, we learn how to more effectively communicate to as many people as possible. Before I had any staff, I did this by running ideas by people in my congregation throughout the week. I would even run parts of my message by people to see if it would resonate with them like it did with me.
Creating an Atmosphere
Apart from the services, we also made changes to our facility. But these did not happen for a while. In fact, it was less than just three years ago that we did the renovations. We waited because facility renovations are expensive and we were not ready to invest in that level of change too early. When we did, we intentionally wanted to create an atmosphere that was similar to the culture we wanted to have. We met as a design team and discussed what we wanted the facility to feel like. What we settled on were ideas of a warm, inviting, and modern environment. We travelled to different churches as well as public buildings like art centres and hotels until we had the concept of what we wanted in mind.
It was amazing to see what happened in our church once the renovations were complete. Immediately after they were done, people seemed to stick around a lot longer after the service just to visit with others. Our attendance grew more rapidly in the last three years than it did in the previous four. I think it was because the facility matched the culture and people were more comfortable inviting their friends to church.
Getting People to Remain
Follow-up and discipleship were a major issue right off the bat. We were leading many people to Jesus, but the vast majority of them weren’t staying and getting plugged in. That’s why we developed the “My Victory Starts Here” course and why I wrote the book. We needed to find a way to disciple our new believers effectively and in a simple enough way that they would remain in the church.
Unchurched people can get involved in the church immediately. Obviously, we don’t give them ministry positions, but we do encourage them to serve in the coffee shops, on the setup teams, by greeting, etc. They are more likely to remain and hear the truth taught if they are engaged and volunteering somewhere.
MyCityCare is one of the most visual pieces of evidence of how we impact the churched and unchurched in our communities. It is our way to meet the needs of those around us. We have many projects that we take on within the year that allow us to do just that. It has proven to be a great way to change the community’s perception of the church. Instead of being a weird group of people who hide away in their own building on Sundays, we are a group of organized, concerned citizens who are actually impacting our community. We have had many, many people begin attending our church because of MyCityCare and it also gets our people active in our cities, keeping their focus outward.
One of the major factors that concern church boards and leadership at every level is that changing the way “it’s always been” can affect attendance and finances. We can mess with the methods all we want, but when messing with the methods negatively affects the attendance and finances, people talk, and sometimes, people walk. I read a statement from Andy Stanley in his book 7 Practices of Effective Ministry that said, “We need to focus more on who we are trying to reach than on those we are trying to keep.” That statement hit me as a pastor. I realized that most of my time, efforts, and church finances were dedicated to those we were trying to keep, instead of on those we were trying to reach.
This doesn’t mean we should ignore the insiders or their concerns. It just means that the “why” must be clearly communicated in everything that we do and that we must make sure our motives are pure and focused on reaching people for Jesus. Jesus faced a lot of criticism from the churched who complained about who He was reaching. However, He had a clear focus and said His purpose was to seek and to save those who were lost. At the same time, He took the time to work with insiders like Nicodemus and others as well.
A while back, we implemented 18-minute messages in our services. This is quite the challenge. It is a lot tougher to preach in 18 minutes as opposed to say 45 minutes. It takes me a lot longer to prepare the messages because I have to be precise and focused throughout the entire thing. But, the reaction from the churched and unchurched has been awesome. They have been very responsive and we have seen our online downloads of the messages skyrocket since shortening them.
I have received multiple hesitations from other pastors about this change though. They’ve said that change is hard and they may receive pushback from their congregations after a change of this magnitude. This is a good example of the importance of preaching the change before implementing it. You must change the heart thinking and culture before you will be able to effectively change the systems and general structure. The people need to be passionate about reaching out and need to see a future where their loved ones get saved through the church. There will always be some resistance, so it is important to have your plans settled in your heart first.
Relationship with God
Over the past couple years, I think these changes have brought me a lot closer to God personally. It is difficult to explain but I think there is a level of peace in my heart that I didn’t have for a long time as a pastor. I believe it is because I know I am fulfilling the great commission and am participating with Him in building His church. I can tell that my prayer life has changed because my prayers are a lot less “God bless me, God bless my church, God help me,” and more “God I pray for this person, God give me the words to speak to this person, God give us boldness to keep going.”
I keep pushing myself to explore every opportunity to create churches unchurched people love to attend because, quite frankly, I love the church. I wasn’t always able to say that. In fact, for most of my life, I simply tolerated the church. But, now that I have seen what the church can become and the impact that it can have in lives and communities, I am absolutely in love with the church. It has the potential to be the hope of the world, on a mission to reach every available person, at every available time, by every available means, with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, by creating churches unchurched people love to attend.
- Surprising Insights From the Unchurched by Thom Rainer
- Deep & Wide by Andy Stanley
- 7 Practices of Effective Ministry by Andy Stanley
- My Victory Starts Here by Kelly Stickel
If you have questions you would like answered in an upcoming podcast, please email firstname.lastname@example.org