This is a guest post from Jeff Stott, Pastor of Genesis Church in Mexico, Missouri. We hope his story of how Genesis broke through the 200 barrier will be encouraging to you.
Our county is classified as 70% unchurched. Think about it: this means that 7 out of 10 families on my street are not connected to any church. To test this number, I walked out into my yard, looked up and down my street, and counted ten homes. Of the ten, seven were unchurched. At least on my street, that number was true. I would sit at a football game and think “700 of the 1000 people here are not connected to a church.” I would see the population sign coming into our town and think of the 8,400 people who were unchurched. To be sure, there were plenty of churches in our town and county. Some of them were doing some good work, but they were all very similar in style. But I, along with others, had a vision of a new church coming to town. One that would be outward thinking and bring a different approach to reaching and connecting with the unchurched.
On our first Sunday we started with a core group of 100 people. Over the next twelve months we would double in size. For many of the people this would be their first church home, and some were giving church a second chance.
In order to reach the 70% unchurched in our county we believed we needed to become outward thinking. By outward thinking, I mean thinking about what those outside the church thought about Christ and the church and how to connect with them. To be outward thinking meant we needed to consider the fears, assumptions, perceptions, and attitudes of the unchurched toward the church. In order to connect with the unchurched, there were several things that needed to be outward thinking in nature that we believed were crucial to breaking the 200 barrier.
Outward Thinking Leadership
Whether it’s a ministerial staff member, elder, or team leader, we wanted to make sure they were thinking about how their ministry connects with new people. Outward thinking starts at the top. This helped remove the barrier of only having an inward thinking vision. Having outward thinking leadership also guaranteed a strategy that would focus on connecting with new people.
Outward Thinking Ministries
This involves having events and activities that are in the community ranging from participating in a nursing home ministry, “sponsoring” an elementary school, participating in the town-wide Trunk or Treat, and providing small groups that meet at homes, offices, or restaurants throughout the week. This removed the barrier of doing everything in one location. In short, it gets us out in the community.
Outward Thinking Service
This deals with church on Sunday morning. We intentionally dress casually, use contemporary instruments and songs, decorate with modern lighting, use technology, and try to make the guest experience as comfortable and friendly as possible. This includes a breakfast bar, high tables to stand around for conversation, bulletins that are designed with the first time guest in mind, signs that clearly point to where you need to go or where things are, provide the Scripture on the screen or in the bulletin (most of the unchurched don’t bring a Bible to church). We also provide friendly greeters outside and inside.
Outward Thinking Language
Since our target group is the unchurched, we assume they don’t know a lot of church language. Without watering down the gospel, we try to stay away from churchy phrases or words that don’t make sense to them in our songs or the sermon. If we do use a churchy word, we define it for everyone.
Outward Thinking Technology
This deals with our website, online service, online Life Groups, e-newsletter, and how we use social media for advertisements and promotion. We try to make all these look as modern as possible.
Two Lessons We Learned Along the Way
It’s easier to start a church to be outward thinking than to turn an existing church from inward to outward thinking. I have pastored existing churches most of my life, and while there I worked hard at trying to help them become more outward focused. Some progress was made in each case, but the reality is starting a new church with an outward focus was easier than trying to turn an existing one around. By nature, I find that a new church plant is ultimately more outward thinking than an existing one.
The unchurched want to go to church. Those who eventually start attending don’t have a problem with Jesus or his church. They have a problem with how the Christians do church causing them to feel disconnected, uncomfortable, or unwanted. The people we have reached would not have felt connected to a more traditional style of church.
I’m in a small town in Missouri, but I found if you simply obey God and do what He is calling you to do He will bless your efforts. It was scary to make the shift to start a new church in a rural community, but unknown to us there were people who were praying for a new church and there were unchurched people willing to give God and his people a first or second chance. Whether you are starting a new church or revitalizing an existing one, go for it. God will provide!
Learn more about our Breaking the 200 Barrier resource. Dr. Stetzer will help you identify and overcome common barriers that keep churches from growing.