Quincy Brown says most churches are focused on answering questions related to their own survival rather than answering the life questions that people beyond the church really care about. The question needs to shift from saving the congregation and its traditions to helping people feel at home in a world awash in chaos by following the path of Jesus.
What questions is your church seeking to answer? This might sound like an odd thing to ponder. Or the question can feel a bit off-putting. If you haven’t considered the question, I don’t think that you’re alone. Many congregations are so busy moving on to the next program or event that’s on the calendar. Without an assessment, the programming calendar will continue to be full of things that they are always doing.
Most churches are answering their own questions
In most churches that I’ve worked with questions go something like this:
- How do we get new people in the church (who will honor our traditions)?
- How do we address our shrinking congregation that has either plateaued or in decline?
- How will we survive if we don’t have the annual fundraiser?
All the energy focuses on finding immediate answers. Often, these answers need to be quick so that the congregation can turn itself around and continue to do the things that it has always done. But what if the exercise of seeking answers to stop the decline and plateauing is misguided? What if decline and stagnation is a symptom and not the problem? What is needed is a story shift that moves from saving the congregation and its traditions towards a refocus on the church’s mission and aligning everything to it.
What questions are people outside your church asking?
So, what are the questions that people outside the church are asking? To answer this question, congregations will have to get outside themselves and into the community. While it’s clear that a congregation will not know what’s being asked without engagement, one thing is certain. They’re not asking about how to be justified or to have their sins forgiven.
The good news is that people outside the church are asking about life. What it is and how it can be found. We have answers to guide people on this quest! It isn’t that justification and forgiveness of sins aren’t important, but rather it’s that people are not versed in these issues and are not interested. People outside the church (and yes, quite a few insiders too), feel confused and overwhelmed in a consumer world that’s increasingly noisy, busy, and constantly changing. Yet they long for a story that helps them to feel at home in a world awash in chaos.
The path of discipleship
The church’s mission is to make disciples and teach them to obey everything Jesus taught. For most churches, the challenge is how to structure itself to help people embody the promise of life change for community impact that transforms the world. To put it another way, the Bible commands us to make disciples but does not give us a cookie-cutter approach on how to do it.
For a congregation to change its trajectory from plateauing and declining, it must have a discipleship strategy that moves away from multiple programs to a pathway of next steps for people to become disciples. The first-century Jewish world of Jesus influences this shift of emphasis from programs to a path. During that time, a disciple followed a rabbi to master the rabbi’s teachings and to imitate or practice the way the rabbi lived, prayed, studied, taught, served, gave, and bore witness to an intimate relationship with God. To be a disciple of a rabbi meant to become like the rabbi and follow his steps.
If your congregation is answering the questions that people outside the walls of your church are asking, then you can have an impact in their lives.
The full version of the article “What Questions are You Trying to Answer” originally appeared on the website of the North Georgia United Methodist Church. Quincy Brown is offering a 1-hour online CEU course on this subject on November 5. Learn more.