Over the past few weeks, we’ve looked at the what people are wondering when they visit your church. As we have said, the questions have changed. Once, people wondered what the music was like oe if the preaching was any good. But these issues only matter to churched people. The folks we are trying to reach have something else on their mind.
Already, we’ve discussed the first three questions: 1) Can I find friends here? 2) Is this a safe place? and 3) Will this place add value to my life? Now, let’s look at the fourth question. Can this place help my life matter?
Significance is the desperate hope of fragmented people. They’ve lost confidence in the more traditional ways of finding life’s meaning and are searching for some way to make a difference. So when they come into church, they aren’t looking to get busier with a bunch of new programs and events. They are, however, looking for ways to make their life count.
Interestingly, the mindset has changed significantly. Baby-boomers have brought the “bigger is better” attitude with them to church for years, but a new generation doesn’t think this way. They don’t see that compiling our resources will help us do bigger things. They simply want to make a difference, even if it seems small by baby-boomer standards. This shift in thinking presents enormous challenges to the next decade of church life as missions giving and large investments in facilities struggle to maintain current levels. Younger people aren’t impressed with bigger and they don’t want to be a small cog in a wheel that imperceptibly turns. They want to matter–and “smaller ponds make the fish feel bigger.”
Today, younger people want to be involved. They don’t just want to write checks. They care about projects and specific missionaries. They want to go and participate, rather than stay at home and send somebody else.
Here’s some realities that shape their thinking:
First, even unchurched people have ideas of what a church should be doing. The days of caring for spiritual needs while ignoring suffering and injustice in every day life are over for the local church. If you aren’t trying to help the people right in front of you, today’s unchurched person will write you off as a social club–and maybe they should.
Helping people is what unchurched people think the church should be doing. And if they visit your church to find you are only caring for the folks in the building, well, they won’t commit to that.
You have to be making a difference in the social needs around you. As a pastor, I saw this so plainly when some of my young adults asked if they could use a small part of our property to plant a community garden. They wanted to grow vegetables for people in need. My baby-boomer thinking couldn’t envision how they could make even a small dent in the need of our city, but I said yes. That year (and the next) I watched as dozens came to participate. Though only enough vegetables to help a couple of dozen families were harvested, the level of participation in the effort was extraordinary. And the joy it brought to these gardeners was beyond anything I could imagine. They wanted to make a difference, even if others might think the impact was small. It wasn’t small for the families they helped.
Remember that purpose drives participation. If I know why we are doing something, I’m far more likely to buy into that purpose and make the effort a priority. People follow vision, so where there is a vision to make a difference, people will give their best.
And frankly, nothing is more important in discipleship tan involvement. People grow as they do. If discipleship at your church is only a classroom experience, you’re not going to get very far in the work of making disciples. The real lessons are learned “out there” where the importance of message and ministry meet the pavement.
People are very busy with their own lives. But if you give them an opportunity to invest a few hours in something that really matters, they will jump at the chance. Those who want to simply write a check so others can do the work are a dying breed. Today, people want their lives to matter and they want to see the impact of the work of their hands.
A final note. Don’t assume that every point of involvement your church offers will fill the bill. If the effort doesn’t seem to matter beyond our own little circle, the people won’t find it satisfying for long. Open the door to real opportunities to make a difference and you’ll likely be surprised how quickly people sign up.
It’s what they’re looking for–a chance to feel their lives matter…