Excuses, excuses. We’ve all heard them. They all stink. Church leaders are not strangers to excuses. Like a teacher staring at a student who just claimed, with a strait face, that the dog ate the homework; church leaders are often left looking at members wondering to themselves, “do you really expect me to buy that?”
Wouldn’t it be nice if people told you the real reason they weren’t coming to church? Or, why they’ve been part of the church for over a year now but haven’t plugged into a group?
As easy as it is to dismiss a person’s excuse because it didn’t fit with our expectations, perhaps a better approach would be to distinguish between the bad excuses and the legitimate barriers.
The reality of today’s world is that it’s not as easy for people to connect and engage as before. Sunday is no longer the de facto day of rest that people set aside to attend weekend worship services. Many well-meaning people have things that come up – soccer practice, family brunch, golf tournaments and work are just a few of many things people might not be able (or willing) to avoid on a Sunday morning.
Rather than throw our hands up at people’s lack of commitment to church, it might be more beneficial to identify these barriers and find new approaches to make sure that people are engaging with the message of the Gospel. Like Paul, we can (and should) become all things to all people. Certainly adjusting some of our meeting times and communication formats would be included in that. Weekend services are an important tradition and expression of worship, but the Church is more than a set of meetings; it’s a Body of people.
So, how do we increase engagement and commitment in an ever-changing culture? Here a few things you might consider:
- Pick service times that enable you members to attend: mid-week and Sunday or Saturday evenings might be a good time to schedule worship, study, or fellowship gatherings.
- Find new venues: coffee shops, members’ homes, and classrooms might offer a more appropriate setting for smaller groups with flexible schedules.
- Offer services that your members are interested in: small groups, classes, video training, and online courses all lend themselves well to people’s hectic schedules.
- Provide childcare: a big barrier to many young families attending services and groups is lack of affordable and trusted childcare.
- Create media: let people hear and watch your messages, and read your posts and lectures online, when and where they can.
- Target your messages:instead of shot-gunning a Sunday message to all demographics, consider crafting “mini-messages” that are geared toward specific demographic groups.
- Get creative with service styles:if you have the ability to run multiple services, experiment with new ways of worship that introduce exciting experiences for your members
- Foster relationships: when people feel connected to others in the church, they will have a stronger pull and priority to overcome their barriers and make it a point to attend.
- Add value to your messages:if all you do is ask and tell, you might be missing an opportunity to relay messages that can have lasting impact and value for a person’s life. Consider what interests your audience, what would give them real value, and approach your communication from there.
Church leaders make excuses, too. It’s easy to play the blame game and say it’s “their” fault for not getting engaged in the church more. It’s easy to dismiss the real challenges and struggles people face when genuinely trying to connect in a church whose format and services haven’t adapted to an increasingly mobile, sound bite culture.
There is a lot of noise out there; a lot of things people are listening to. To capture an audience and increase engagement, help your church members by removing the barriers. When the barriers are removed, people will have a better opportunity to hear the timeless message of the Gospel and start to experience the life change that accompanies it.