Updated: Nov 14, 2019
By: Russ Johnson
I spent 14 years leading conventional churches. I got to see two traditional churches make a shift, plant a growing church, and create a culture in a significant city that led to 50 missional communities and three new church plants. I am thankful.
There was just one thing I couldn't shake: We weren't reaching those uninterested in our church gatherings.
At first, we thought upgrading the Sunday service would reach these people in our community, but we soon found offering something different only works for the 30% open to "something better." For the rest (the 70%), we had one question:
Jesus told us to make disciples, but how if people aren't interested in our church forms?
In the search for answers, we found a few things. One thing, in particular, has proven to be true over the past five years is this: people are interested in those who are interested in them, not those who are trying to count them.
Yes, people who are uninterested in the church can smell someone a mile away who is trying to recruit, assimilate, and count them in some form of church.
In seeing this, it became clear and has shown to be true once again through our inquiries this past summer, that the people who are reaching those who have no interest in the "church" are those who have no church brand to build. To be clear, we don't believe there is anything wrong with naming and branding an expression of the Church. We are just saying that we have found a lot of movement happening where people don't have a name or specific brand to promote.
How does that happen in a day where brand building seems to be paramount? And how could not having a brand to build be valuable today?
According to our findings, it's not that people didn't set out to be an expression of the Church with no name as much as it just happened. In their words, "We got so busy loving our neighbors, building friendships, and discipling those open to Jesus, we just never had the time to focus on what to call this thing." Those who did eventually move things towards naming and branding their communities of faith—the expressions of the Church they were leading, the people who joined in were opposed. One new disciple, Shayla, captured well the heart of the hesitations we heard from town to town:
"The conversation and efforts here were always about Jesus and loving others, never about some leader and what the church needs to do next. That's why I'm here. If it was about 'my church this, and my pastor that,' I would have never come around, much less joined. After all, if the Church is 'the body of Christ' in the world, then it already has a name. Does it not?"
In Shayla's case, and many like her, it was ironically a Church family not having a name that led to her learning about life in Jesus. She was hungry for hope, looking for love, and open to learning. She just wasn't interested in what has become "church." It was in meeting some people who were free to love her because they were free to BE the Church with her that she found herself asking questions, questions that led to her eventually finding life in what Jesus has done and declared.
NOTE: To learn more about some of the insights we gained in this discovery, check out our podcast at: https://www.thetablenetwork.com/resources / (P.S. if you aren’t in the mood to laugh, skip forward to about 10 minutes into the podcast)