For a while, everything was going smoothly. We saw some “pastoral droll” as we learned about church growth at conferences we attended every year. We tried to role model a church doing well as our gold standard in ministry. We promoted “McDonaldization of our church”. We tried to reduce our ministry to a repeatable formula. It was meant to have been easy. Now we are struggling to let go of those glory days.
Church 1.0 was location based. It used to be about ABC (Attendance, Building, Cash). George Barna founded the Barna Research Group Ltd., a marketing research firm located in Ventura, California. Since 1984, the year I accepted Jesus, Barna Research has conducted many market research. Barna (2002 research) figured out that worship services are a poor magnet, and few care about programs. People are attracted to intimacy, authenticity, and the feeling of belonging.
Church 4.0 is a Phygital Church. The physical and the digital have amalgamated. It is about DEF (Discipleship, Engagement, Faith-building community).
Both the event-driven Church 1.0 and the personality-driven Church 4.0 are hungry to measure success by the number of visits, likes, and followers. It is a mistake. In December 2002, George Barna published, “Grow Your Church From The Outside In: Understanding the Unchurched and How to Reach Them.”
Barna wrote, “Most unchurched people figure they have gotten along just fine without church, and until someone gives them reason to feel otherwise, they will remain spiritually unattached.”
I rephrase, “Most churched and unchurched people have gotten along just fine…”
We now need to focus on the engine. Before the pandemic, we were so busy, we forgot to change the oil. When the cold night arrived, our spiritual temperature was challenged. The car wouldn’t start the next morning. Let me refer to church membership as the engine. Don’t make your membership process cheap. In researching churches, Barna learned that it’s not about what churches do or who their pastor is that matters. It’s about how its members care. I should add that membership isn’t about numbers, but about involvement. Set high standards for anyone wanting to identify with your church family. It should mean a lot more than just showing up.
The 5,000 feasted on loaves and fishes. Twelve people followed Jesus the next day. Jesus preached but it drove people away in anger. We know God is at work. The key is to help people see his fingerprints. We cannot experience God just through loaves and fishes. Membership will be small when you stop giving away the loaves. This is where the truth about spiritual formation will be most apparent. That is the only number that really matters.
Here are five areas to consider as standards for membership:
- Assessing personal relationship with God (water baptism) and His people (small groups)
- Examining integrity through interviews, mentoring, and commitment (lifestyle agreement)
- Evidence of growth and development (pathway to spiritual formation)
- Commitment to the cause (volunteer, servant leaders)
- Generosity (giving to the cause represented by the church community)
Jesus fills our nets when we cast them in the water. Is your church budget directed internally or externally? Is the emphasis on Sunday services or a healthy lifestyle during the week? Are your church visitors attending events or part of a community?
As Church 4.0 transforms, church leaders should be open to changing anything but our core values and distinctive biblical beliefs. Programs that don’t meet our strategic goals should be removed. Your online church should be treated as a sub-congregation. The size of the online church is irrelevant. The focus has to be on how someone can be engaged for both retention (first 90 days) and spiritual growth (beyond 90 days).
Change is inevitable but it is not impossible. Church leaders have struggled with changes in church events. It is now becoming increasingly clear that it’s necessary to adopt a strategy that is based on unique resources and limitations. Church 4.0 leaders are going through a transition. It is messy, frustrating, and hard. With 5G, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence (A.I.) about to create a tsunami of change, the hardest part might still be in front of us.
As we move forward, change is essential to our growth strategy. No program is so good that it will never change. Change is the price of vision. Spiritual growth is not meant to be comfortable. When churches embrace genuine concern for the outside, growth is possible.