Tip 7. Avoiding the Golden Corral (Shutting The Back Door in Your Church, Blog Series)

In this blog series, I’ve identified 9 tips to help keep people from leaving your church (i.e., shutting the back door). I believe all 9 are important. In this post, I’ll address tip number seven:

TIP 7. Avoiding the Golden Corral (A.K.A.; Offer something for every segment).

Should a church cater to EVERYONE?

In short, yes, but maybe not individually. Now, this philosophy can easily get out of hand. This thinking is how many churches become the “Golden Corral” – a veritable buffet of ministries and programs; all subpar, all competing for limited resources, most with mediocre leadership, and all advertising a new fondue fountain in an attempt to convince you it will be delicious (ok, the last one might not happen, but I’ve seen it tried!).

So while churches should definitely avoid the buffet (like people should avoid Golden Corral), churches should consider segmentation programming. Here’s why offering programming for specific segments matters: If one family member hates a church, the family will eventually leave the church. And even if the family sticks it out, the children will bolt from the church (and many from their faith) at the first sign of daylight.

So what segments should a church build programming around? Here are a few things we try to consider at Watermarke to shut the back door. Or at least to make sure everyone at our church enjoys our church.

1. Children are people, too.

It drives me crazy when churches do not provide age-appropriate programming for children. I bet it drives the kids even MORE crazy!

When children are forced to sit in the adult service, it often creates a bad experience for everyone in the family (sometimes everyone in the row!). The adult service should be designed for adults. Which means it will probably be terrible (or worse, boring) for children. Which means children will begin to associate God to their church experience. Which means children who are forced to endure the adult service will grow up believing that God is boring and irrelevant. It’s a real life “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.”

The other option is to make the church service “safe for the whole family,” like Christian radio. Which is possible, but you just lost the opportunity to preach a ton of Scripture. And the entire Song of Songs/Solomon book!!

Push back all you want, but the statistics don’t lie. Children are fleeing the church in record numbers, and I believe that is due in part to the experience they are having in their childhood church. As I said in Tip 3: There’s nothing worse for the next generation than forcing them to endure church designed for the previous generation.

2. Students are not children.

Again, more master of the obvious, but this is important. Your family programming should be designed specifically for the age segments in your church. Therefore, we should create environments for babies that are different than pre-school children. Ministry programming should be different for elementary kids, middle school students, and high school students.

We break our segments into logical divisions, matching the breakdown in our public schools. The only difference is in our elementary programming, where we create separate large group experiences for k-2 and 3-5. The more segmented, the better, because segmentations allow for content specification.

3. Engage students as volunteers.

This is HUGE!! If you want students to love the church, allow them to own a part of their church!

We encourage every high school student to volunteer in one of our morning services (we offer specific high school programming Sunday afternoons at 4:30pm – InsideOut). Today, we have about 70% of our students volunteering – and they LOVE it. They beg to attend church so they can volunteer in THEIR church. And I bet you can guess how much their parents love seeing their teenagers volunteering in the church.

4. Consider skeptics.

This is such an overlooked segment in the community. Every church claims to be concerned with reaching people, but not enough churches have a plan to engage the skeptics they reach. We create Starting Point groups, a conversational small group environment where all questions are welcome. However you decide to engage seekers, starters, and returners, just make sure it is conversation-based.

5. Relationships for EVERYONE.

Most churches understand the importance of adult community relationships, but we too often overlook the stickiness of relational connections between children and students and their volunteer leaders. That’s why we structure everything in our church around groups. From preschool to high school, every child and student is connected to their peers and at least two small group leaders. These volunteer small group leaders serve weekly, and they relationally create such a sticky environment that no child wants to leave our church.

6. Make it fun – even for the adults.

Church was never prescribed to be boring. Christians should be the most joyful and fun people on the planet. Having fun at church is part of engaging people to return.

If people are leaving your church, instead of blaming them, take a look at what you are offering (too much, or not enough). The mirror usually has more answers than anyone else we see. If you create something great for every people segment in your church, odds are you’ll keep more people (and slam that back door!).

How have you successfully segmented the groups in your church? Have you ever experienced a great “Golden Corral” church? If you are leading a buffet church now, what would happen if you reduced your ministry offerings? Leave me a comment. I’d love to know how you are processing these ideas.

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