Dan Dick has another good post at United Methodeviations. Talking about growing a church, he observes that mainline churches tend to go after the same group of people over and over again. We have trouble moving beyond the middle class folks just like us. He identifies other populations we should consider if we really want to grow our churches.
The first group, those of lower income and tending to have less in the way of formal education, are the primary group of non-church folk we have around here. We do a really poor job reaching them. Dick observes that churches in general are sometimes willing to do ministry to them, but since they have little to offer (think here of “money to support our ever more strained budgets”), we rarely want them to join us.
The folks I know in this group are often genuinely interested in Jesus. But the church – at least as we currently do it – is culturally distant from them. They feel like they don’t fit in. I think most of our folk would be happy to have them here, but I don’t think we’re willing to make many changes to accommodate them.
One tactic we keep talking about is what is popularly called “contemporary style worship.” In conversation with Dave Herman last week, we observed that neither of us had experienced much in the way of United Methodist “contemporary worship” that felt more recent (culturally speaking) than the 1970s. I suppose this is to be expected, since most of us in leadership have been so immersed in church culture for so long that we’re not open to any other ways of doing things.
But I find it curious for a couple of reasons. On the one hand, in our church, and in many others, there is at least an undercurrent of resistance to “contemporary worship.” One of the complaints I’ve heard is a fear that it will steal folks away from the already existing services. Yet on the other hand, we design our new services to so they’ll be attractive to the people we already have. Do you see the irony here?
My idea is to design a worship service that our current people don’t like, yet is culturally relevant to the people who are not now here. After all, we’ve already reached the people who are here (except maybe the younger generation who come as captives of their parents, who will leave us as soon as they can – but they don’t get a say in what we do anyway). If we do something our current folks like, we’re missing the boat.
So how do we do this? I think that designing a worship service for outsiders will require that the design team be dominated by those living on (or very close to) the borders, folks who are following Jesus, but not at the center of church life, folks who still have at least one foot in the world. These folks will have significant relationships with outsiders (unlike most of the rest of us) and have Jesus working through them to draw people in.