How You Can Help Your Community Trust Your Church Again

POINT OF THE POST...

POINT OF THE POST...  This post is focused on how people outside your church see your church and, more importantly, what you can do about it. Here's a quick glimpse. Check out the entire post for some solutions: I subscribe to several research organizations like Gallup and Barna. Last week, Gallup sent an email with their year-end highlights that felt much more like lowlights. The article was titled "Highs and Lows of 2022, U.S. Edition." It was a synopsis of the "most momentous shifts in public opinion in the U.S. this year." Here are a few "highlights:" 1. Belief in God in U.S. Dips to 81%, a New Low 2. Americans Less Optimistic About Next Generation's Future 3. Media Confidence Ratings at Record Lows 4. Confidence in U.S. Institutions Down; Average at New Low Yikes. These data points should terrify and encourage you if you're a pastor or ministry leader. The terror is easier to see. We'll get to the encouragement in the post.  FYI: I'm working with many churches to resolve the cultural issues around reaching our community and growing our church body. I have a course I'm releasing soon, but I'm giving you access to the FIRST COURSE MODULE FOR FREE: https://gavinadams.com/product/free-module-remodeling-your-church-model/ Thanks, Gavin

POINT OF THE POST...

This post is focused on how people outside your church see your church and, more importantly, what you can do about it.

If you find this content interesting, I offer some options to take it further at the bottom of the post, including a free 30-minute Zoom with me.

Happy 2023!  🎉

Nervous laughter…

I’ll admit it. I’m a bit nervous about becoming about the new year.

The last couple of years has instilled in us (me) a firm belief that we can’t predict what a new year may bring.

Who’d have predicted the 2020 experience? How many pastors started 2020 with a sermon series titled “Seeing 2020” or “2020 Clarity?” You preached about hopes, dreams, and grand plans. And you spoke with such certainty and clarity! It was going to be the best year yet! 

We were all so cute back then. 

Several of my consulting partnership churches had 2020 plans for capital campaigns and facility expansions that were abolished. I assume every church saw something destroyed in 2020.

Then 2021 wasn’t a lot better. It was better than 2020 for most of us, but it could have been better.

It seems the general malaise is here to stay. 

At least for a while.

I subscribe to several research organizations like Gallup and Barna. Last week, Gallup sent an email with their year-end highlights that felt much more like lowlights. The article was titled “Highs and Lows of 2022, U.S. Edition.”

It was a synopsis of the “most momentous shifts in public opinion in the U.S. this year.”

Here are a few “highlights:”

  • Belief in God in U.S. Dips to 81%, a New Low
  • Americans Less Optimistic About Next Generation’s Future
  • Media Confidence Ratings at Record Lows
  • Confidence in U.S. Institutions Down; Average at New Low
Yikes.

These data points should terrify and encourage you if you’re a pastor or ministry leader. The terror is easier to see. We’ll get to the encouragement in a moment. 

NOTE: I’m planning to write more about these articles and what we’re facing in the coming weeks, but for this post, let’s consider the last one from the above list: Confidence in U.S. Institutions. 

Americans’ Confidence in Major U.S. Institutions, Like Your Church

From 2021 to 2022, no “institution” gained more confidence. That alone is a terrible headline.

The Gallup survey study went like this: “Now I am going to read you a list of institutions in American society. Please tell me how much confidence you, yourself, have in each one — a great deal, quite a lot, some or very little.

few institutions held their ground, more or less. Confidence in “Organized labor” remained unchanged against the previous year. Still, with a score of only 28% confidence, they can’t really brag. The institution holding our greatest confidence is small businesses and the military.

How about religion? Any guesses?

It’s not great. And it’s getting worse.

The category “The church or organized religion” scored 37% confidence in 2021. Keep in mind, this score wasn’t from non-believers — it was from ALL people surveyed. Then, a year later, confidence in organized religion dropped to 31%. That’s a 6% drop, or, in percent change, nearly a -20%. 

It could be worse. Congress scored 7% confidence. And that was before they couldn’t choose a Speak of the House. All joking aside, though, our churches could, and should, be much, much higher.

Let me rephrase this: We MUST become better.

How Should Churches Respond To a Culture That No Longer Trusts Churches? 

I suspect many church leaders will respond with blame.

We tend to blame what we don’t understand and feel powerless to change. In fact, blame is how we typically respond to negative trends in the church. “People aren’t like they used to be!” “It’s culture’s fault!” Or “I can’t help it if people choose stuff other than faith!”

But there’s a much better response than blame. Blame doesn’t get us anywhere or change anything. Blame does one thing exceptionally well — it positions US against THEM. This is quite a problem, seeing as THEY are the ones we’re hoping and praying to reach in our community. At least if we are trying to live out the Great Commission.

Rather than blaming culture for behaving like culture, perhaps we should engage with culture in a way that draws those far from us and God to us and God.

What Comes Before Confidence? 

Confidence is a quality of trust. Therefore, trust is a prerequisite we must foster.

Unfortunately, people don’t trust what they don’t like. And this is where we must begin.

There’s a fundamental problem in our church culture today. Too many churches, pastors, and Christians view the Great Commission as a great war. It’s as if they see everyone on the other side of faith as the enemy of their state. Seeing people far from God as the enemy positions us to fight. Seeing them as souls Jesus died to save postures us to love. Those are our options. 

In our current world, we have an enemy, but it’s not culture, those far from God, misbehaviors, sinners, or political parties. Our enemy is The Enemy. You are in the “Lord’s Army” (cue the song from Sunday School and VBS), but we must stop fighting against anyone God is for. That’s everyone, by the way.

Every time we treat or see people as enemies, the real Enemy wins a small battle.

Sure, God will eventually win the war, but I can’t help but wonder how many needless casualties we’ll allow along the way simply because we chose to unleash friendly fire on those we struggle to love.

If we want to experience more “wins,” we must become likable to those we’re so used to fighting. And in doing so, we put the love of God on display. Not to be hyper-spiritual, but this is what Jesus did for you. He gave his life for us without any assurance that we’d even acknowledge his sacrifice. He didn’t see us as the enemy. 

How you treat those not like you determines how those not like you like you. Or don’t like you. 

We Can’t Force Christians To Be More “Likable,” But We Can Do This…

We can’t force Christians to behave better, but maybe we should preach a bit more about how to “fish for men” without using truth bombs.

But seriously, what can we do about the lack of confidence, trust, and likability?

Maybe only a little individually, but we can do some things organizationally.

Companies and businesses (like small businesses that have all that confidence) have been doing this for decades. They begin the to-be-customer experience with an assumption that non-customers (strangers) do not know about them OR like them. Great companies institute a customer journey that starts with helping non-customers like the company, product, and/or service.

It’s a simple yet powerful concept. Companies understand that likability is the first step to trust, which leads to confidence and becoming a customer who, if handled correctly, can become a raving fan.

Graphically, it looks like this:

My friend Wayne Mullins at Ugly Mug Marketing wrote a great business book on how this works.

It’s Time To Remodel Your Church Model

Until a decade or so ago, most people in your community liked and trusted your church. Christianity was cultural then, and most community members had more confidence in your church. 

Not all, but most.

But no longer. Hence the terrible and progressively worsening confidence scores.

For your church to accomplish its mission in today’s culture, you must adjust your church model back to where people are, not where they used to be in 1995.

If you can’t build likability and trustworthiness into your church engagement journey, your church will perpetually remain an institution in your community that is not liked or trusted by the community.

How? That’s the million-dollar question.

Let’s Remodel Your Church Model (for less than a million dollars)

Actually, it’s much cheaper than a million dollars.

I’ve spent the past two years studying and constructing a new church model to address the death of cultural Christianity and the lack of confidence in organized religion. It’s “hybrid,” but SO much more. Digitizing an outdated model only creates a digital version of a non-working model. 

Several churches are currently implementing the Church Engagement Journey model and seeing great success in attendance, baptism, giving, volunteerism, and group participation. More, they are seeing increased diversity, non-believers in the room, and skeptics asking questions about faith. 

I’ll repeat it, the secret to ministry in today’s culture is moving the model back to meet people where they are, not where they once were. 

If you want to start the new year with a new, better ministry model, there are several ways I can help:

  1. Done By You: As you study the customer journey graphic above, consider how your current church model is helping strangers like you, friends trust you, etc. As you adjust your offerings to better support an incremental journey with sufficient on-ramps along the way, you’ll discover a new and better ministry model for our current culture. Also, I have a NEW COURSE coming soon that directly addresses this model. You can watch the first module of the course here: FREE COURSE MODULE.

  2. Done With You: I offer MASTERCLASS EXPERIENCES on various topics, including how to Remodel Your Church Model. Subscribe to the blog to ensure you hear about this soon-to-be-released opportunity. Space is limited, so grab your spot when the Masterclass opens.

  3. Done For Your: I limit my consulting engagements to ensure each client receives my full attention. If working together more actively would serve you and your church best, schedule a free 30-Minute Zoom call with me or reach out via email.

You Do Have One Other Option

Irrelevance. Not to be Debby Downer, but the gap between how you execute your ministry model and what your community needs is the measure of relevance. The greater you allow this gap to grow, the less missional success you’ll experience. And the more unchurched your community becomes.

Your mission is too important to see it become irrelevant. You can do something about it, though. It will take some effort, determination, and change. But it will be worth the time.

I’d love to help you in any way that works for you.

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