God’s business or just busyness?

A church I know was running a large and successful Christmas outreach program and one of the church members involved invited her neighbour. She came along and enjoyed it and, afterwards, said to the church member, “That was a great story about the baby in a manger. I’ve never heard it before. Did you write it?”

In the face of such a growing culture gap between Christian churches and the broader Australian society, there are some important questions we need to ask. Are we, in our churches, regularly interacting with unchurched people about the gospel in a relevant way? Or do we have a lot of activity directed towards – but not a lot of meaningful relationships with – unchurched people? Do our church members have unchurched friends who would turn to them when difficult or good things happen to them?

In my Church Planting and Church Health consultancy work, I have discovered that most churches are very busy with lots of worthwhile ministries. I have also found that most of these churches will fall into one of three groups. Firstly, there are churches with a range of ministries for children, youth, worship, small groups and more. Their primary focus is to meet the needs of those who are part of the congregation. The second group of churches target both their congregation and their local community with similar ministries, but also welcome local community members onto their properties through activities such as playgroups, craft groups and men’s sheds. A third and more rare group of churches intentionally target their community with activities such as concerts, barbecues in a park, and family festivals. These churches may or may not hold services that more traditional churches would recognise.

In all these churches, amongst the busyness of church life, we often forget to ask the vital question, “Are we actually meaningfully engaging with the community members who attend any of our activities? Have we got to know them in their personal lives?”

It is not uncommon to find churches running very necessary and helpful ministries, successfully serving their local community, but have no meaningful relationships being formed. Sometimes the church members who run the programmes can have great fellowship with one another as a team, but they are not connecting with the people from the community who attend. One reason for this can simply be that church members are so busy running the program; they don’t have the time or the energy to connect with their attendees. However, this vital fact gets lost amongst all the activity, which creates the illusion that great evangelism is being done.

There is a way this problem can be overcome. I know of one particular church with a large proportion of young preschool children in their congregation. Initially, they considered commencing their own playgroup but, upon reflection, realised there was already a playgroup in their town. The ladies made the deliberate decision to join the town playgroup instead. There, they took the opportunities to build relationship with many women from outside their church. At last report, four women from the town playgroup had become Christians as a result of their relationships with the women from the church.

Another reason for a lack of connection and meaningful relationship-building can be that church members running the activity do not know how or do not feel confident to connect with an unchurched person. They don’t know how to begin a conversation with them. This is something that can be overcome with some training. I have successfully used “Operation Encounter” which teaches you how to move a conversation from talking about your favourite food to spiritual matters. Another useful training tool is “Just Walk Across The Room”.

So, what’s the solution? How do we ensure all the time and energy we pour into ministry is fruitful? I would suggest that every church does an Annual Audit of how effectively their ministries really are in reaching and building relationships with the members of their local community. An audit could simply look like this: Divide the church ministries into two lists based on their primary target group (congregation or community) then ask how many people have responded to the gospel through each community-targeted ministry in the last 12 months. From there assess whether and how the ministry can be made more effective, or whether it is redundant and some hard decisions need to be made.

In the last generation, the world around us has changed dramatically but the Gospel of Christ remains “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” My encouragement is that, as churches and individuals, we become strategic in how we share it.

“God’s business or just busyness?” by Philip Bryant. Philip is Church Health and Church Planting Consultant for Baptist Churches of Western Australia. prac11.