Every easter, every Christmas—no, scratch that—every Sunday, we as leaders are faced with a dilemma: Do we go big, advertise, put on an amazing show and attract people who otherwise wouldn’t have visited? Or do we simply remain a faithful gospel presence, observing the important days of the Christian calendar, but avoiding any hint of spectacle? Can we trust the work of the Holy Spirit and the good reputation of a community of love to draw those who come?
What we win people with is what we win them to. Those who are drawn in by the smoke machines, the amazing technical productions or even the polished preaching of the quasi-celebrity Christian voice tend to stick around as long as those things remain available— or until they learn of another church doing it a little bit better.
Those drawn in by the reality and closeness of Christian community through love and radical hospitality don’t tend to be pulled away by other things. They’ve tasted the reality of church community and don’t feel the allure of smoke and mirrors. To be clear, I’m not condemning “excellence,” but I do question its priority at some churches. Is the reality of the presence of Christ among a people of love, inviting us to worship together as we gather around his table, no longer enough? Now, the music has to be louder, the sermon funnier and more engaging, the weekly activities bigger and better. There need to be a lot more exclamation points on our websites and mailings.
I’ve wondered what the people who start attending churches during the Advent or Easter seasons think as the spectacle dies down and things return to normal. Do they wonder what happened to all the production, the huge effort they saw expended? Do they feel caught in the middle of an ecclesiastical bait and switch? I would.
I never want to find myself on the hamster wheel of church performance, trying to outdo the church down the street or even trying to outdo what we ourselves did last week. Our staff sometimes jokes that if we ever find ourselves renting a helicopter in order to rain down prize-stuffed Easter eggs on a crowd, we’ll know we’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere.
We want people to connect with our communities, but we have to want them to do so for the right reasons. I just don’t buy the “anything to win souls” mind-set, especially when I see churches giving away cars, houses and even, in more than one case, AR-15 rifles to entice people to attend church. If you want to give away things, then give them in the love of Christ, without making a not- so-subtle play to boost attendance. Generosity is something we do in response to the gospel, not as a ploy to raise attendance.
If you want to draw people to your community, let the community itself (its love and unity and gospel ethos) be the draw, not the efforts expended by a small team of people to draw a crowd.
Anyone can draw a crowd—but it takes partnering with the Holy Spirit to build a community.
This is an excerpt from Ministry Mantras: Language for Cultivating Kingdom Culture, by J.R. Briggs & Bob Hyatt, 2016 IVP
Director of Equipping and Spiritual Formation