Are you a church builder or community impacter?

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.

Did the Supermarket wreck the Church?

Post world war two the world began to change, according to a recent Freakonomics episode, when it came to how you purchase food.

Post-war marked the supermarket age. Northern hemisphere countries, inspired by the “innovations” in the U.S.A., began to have one-stop shops. Mass-produced products started to be in demand.

For this mass-produced revolution to happen, it meant that our food needed to change. For food to be efficiently produced, harvester machines had to collect tomatoes. That meant the tomato had to be genetically modified. They needed to be harder–more resilient. Chicken also began to be modified. Bigger breasted and lighter feathers. This meant more meat that looks better in a package.

These advancements were necessary to have lots of food for a little cost. More bang per buck. The problem is, food isn’t as nutritious as it once was, some have argued it’s even dangerous. However, it is a necessary evil if we want maximum food for a minimum price.

If you are a Gen X’er or Xennial like myself, it was our grandparents who built the modern world, hence their generational name “builder.” While they did an excellent job giving us infrastructure in a post-war world, the development of mass-produced houses, cars, and as we have spoken of, food has dramatically affected our lives.

I believe something happened similar to this with the church within the same period. This is not to say that our grandparents intentionally stripped the church of nutrition, not in the slightest. What I believe is that well-meaning Christians began to do work that had a tremendous impact, but the cumulative side effects (just as in the agricultural world) have been detrimental.

To become more productive (mass-producing Christians) and make the product cheaper (buy-in costs less), we have modified what it means to follow Jesus. Discipleship became a program. It is not that the big box megachurch is bad. It is that as anything thing becomes larger the small things that make it what it is, become increasingly more difficult to accomplish. After all, the kind of discipleship that Jesus and other followers modelled for us is not mass-producing, nor is it cheap. One might even call it inefficient.

With the industrialization of everything, the builders changed the world, not excluding the church. The neighbourhood church, like the mom and pop stores, faded away as society moved toward more efficient forms of church–the big box one-stop-shop church. After all, we can preach to more people, more revenue is pooled together, and it is cheaper.

What I mean by cheaper is that you can have all the amenities, maybe even more, with less buy-in. You can have the best speaking, music, and Sunday experience while giving less money and time. It becomes a lot easier to pull off “church” because more people giving less is more than fewer people giving more (time, money, and resources).

While this model has been successful at gathering crowds and more so introducing the character of Jesus, more often than not, it has offered light feathered, large breasted chickens, so to speak. It’s not intentional, but merely the design.

Is the solution to go back to the neighbourhood church? Maybe, but there’s a problem.

The problem lies in this, just as in our store analogy where the local shop begins to lose business and thus begins to copy the big box stores to sell the same product, they never can at the same price. The local store offers compromised food at a higher cost. The local church begins to make following Jesus into a Sunday experience while still demanding the in-depth relational collateral and workload of local church ministry. The price simply starts to surpass the return.

Neither of these speaks of the vocation in which Jesus has called us and the Holy Spirit has empowered us. The church, both large and small, has got into the business of running efficient service rather than the painstaking work of disciple-making.

In recent years there has been a push back in the food industry. People have been demanding free-range meat and non-GMO products. What is interesting is that people can taste the difference. If you’re really paying attention, you can even see the difference. To get this kind of food, it does cost more. Yet, those who have chased the products of how food should be, say they have discovered that it is worth the extra cost.

People are beginning to seek the same thing when it comes to a relationship with God and the church. As some Christians have sought and found the free-range non-GMO church, they have noticed that though it makes a greater demand on their life, it is genuinely better. There is a greater buy-in, the processes of making other disciples take a lot longer, yet the end product is much better (for lack of better language).

There is a contingent of churches and church leaders who are striving to usher a new healthier church back into the mainstream. They are trying to manifest what it looks like when Jesus said: “Go tell of the good news of God…baptize,… and teach them to obey…”

The fix isn’t the big box nor the local church. The repair is to reencounter the King of Kings, Jesus. It is His Spirit, the Holy Spirit the will reinvigorate all our churches. We need to hear his demand on our hearts again. As far as de-industrializing our churches, I honestly don’t know the solution. How do you produce quantity and quality?

Maybe you know. I hope you do.

We need to seek the Holy Spirit’s wisdom. Our big and small GMO churches have left people wanting more and allowed our culture to become morally bankrupt. We need a free-range church. We need to seek what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.