Are you building a church or reaching a community? Neither one is wrong, but they are different. You can build a church and reach a community; you can reach a community and build a church. They are are not mutually exclusive.
The difference lies in the approach. When you build a church, where people come from doesn’t matter. They could live on the other end of the city or in a different county, but they are a part of your church. Building a church has more of a macro approach. It might be more aimed at a demographic (i.e. young families, single professionals, boomers…jk) within a region. Building a church is contingent upon gathering a crowd. You then use that crowd to reach more people with Jesus. Naturally, within this church, you have people from many different areas who can take Jesus to their community. Awesome, right! They build a church and reach a community. The primary cause is to attract people to your church. The effect of that cause, hopefully, is to reach communities.
The other approach is to reach a community. It is pinpointed not so much one demographic over a broad area, as it is trying to reach the people (even boomers) in a community, town, borough, etc. If you reach enough people with who Jesus is, you attract a crowd, and a church can grow. The primary cause is to reach a community. The effect of that cause, hopefully, is to build a church.
The subtle difference isn’t so subtle. When we take the wrong approach to a community, it causes frustration, burnout, and even kills the ministry. Some neighbourhoods in large cities need and want specialized care. Maybe they feel segregated from another district who seems to get all the attention. Perhaps you’re in a rural area where there are no surrounding communities to draw. Try building a church in a community of a thousand, and it might be tough sledding. Yes, there may be people who travel from outside your ‘hood to attend whatever your gathering is, but you will miss out on reaching the community right in front of you because your net is cast too wide. In business, you might say, “Know your lane and do it well.”
However, you could find yourself in a municipality with a transient community. People may take pride in their community, but they are willing to travel across town or into a different city to have the amenity that they want. If someone became super focused on a specific area in this context, they could be throttling their growth. In business, you might call this diversification.
Where this can get challenging is in the comparison game. Pastors, boards, and parishioners always have, and it appears they always will compare themselves to one another. While both approaches goal is ultimately to reach people, they are different and cannot be compared. You might say you cannot compare Walmart to Patagonia. While one seems to literally sell everything, the other has a particular focus. You might like the example of Karl Vaters, who compares these types of churches to Ikea and Starbucks. There is one Ikea per million people where there might be a Starbucks in every neighbourhood. They both want to reach new customers, however, their approach is different. Starbucks doesn’t want you to drive across town for your double mocha blond roast with extra whip. They want you to go to your neighbourhood shop to the barista who knows your name. How bad would it be for business if Ikea were to set up shop in each district? That would be insane!!!
Yet so often in our church world, pastors don’t apply the right model. They want the numerical growth of this church or the neighbourhood impact of that church. While in either model, you can eventually have both, and it is something to build toward.
If your church is in a small community, a niche demographic, a segregated borough, remember what God has called you to. He has called you to reach those people. Never ignore the one for the hundreds you might wish you had.
If your church is in a city or a commuting municipality, remember that you have an opportunity to throw a broad net to reach out to many different people in different places. God has called you to that region. Never tunnel your vision so narrow that you cannot see the forest for the trees.
Finally, please…learn from one another. Church builders learn how to reach communities from community impactors and apply the principles to your small groups. Community reachers learn from the church builders on how to scale the impact you are making so that you can grow and multiply to reach other communities and people.
We are all a part of the kingdom. We just must remember which is your part.