“I’m not sure our members would like that.” During a recent discussion, this statement was made by a session member as we talked about a new direction for a church in the Presbytery. I’m not sure our members would like that. Have you ever made that statement? Or has such a thought come to mind as you pondered some new idea for your church? I know I certainly have said and thought it as a minister serving a small congregation. It’s a natural reaction to ideas that introduce something ‘new’ to your church members. It’s completely normal to want to protect that sense of community, that sense of caring for each other that makes you a ‘church family.’
As many of you know, how you frame the question determines the answer.* How would those who attend your church respond to a new idea? For example, as a Matthew 25 Presbytery, we want to encourage churches to serve the least of these. That could mean starting a food bank or taking food to places the unhoused gather. Doing so, could be uncomfortable for many folks and/or considered a lot of work. Suggesting a project to feed the homeless could elicit the response, “I’m not sure our members would like that.”
Some of you may be thinking, “Lee, feeding the hungry is not my main concern, I just want to see our church continue as a church. We keep losing members. How do we attract new members?”
You asked the right question when you asked how to attract new members. But perhaps a more nuanced question would be what do we need to do that’s within our power and resources to attract new members when everything we’ve tried for the past few years hasn’t resulted in more folks joining and participating in the church’s ministry. How can a church grow when everything we tried hasn’t resulted in the church growing in numbers or ministries? Framing the question in that way allows you to explore new ideas and try new things if those in leadership accept that the past attempts at growth have not worked.
Accepting the past and the need to change is difficult. We like things the way they have always been. It’s comfortable. Perhaps framing the question differently may help as you explore ways to change. Some questions to ask: what do young families do with their leisure time? What types of activities are young people engaged in? Can we partner with another community organization to accomplish what our church would like to do but doesn’t have enough person-power to accomplish? What are the needs in our community and where and how can we organize to meet those needs? Do a little research. Read a few articles. There are lots of stories about smaller churches with few and older members who have found a new lease on life. May these stories inspire you to action and help you to answer some of the questions noted.
Every church is different and unique and must determine what works for them. But to start the conversation with a response “I’m not sure our members would like that” may not be very productive. Reframe those questions and see what happens.
Why do we want to grow our church and our ministries? One simple directive from Jesus: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
*I recently read this book which provides examples of how questions were asked that helped to solve business problems. What’s presented has a direct bearing on church work. Questions Are the Answer: A Breakthrough Approach to Your Most Vexing Problems at Work and in Life by Hal Gregerson.