Average. Normal. Common. Usual. Those words don’t usually describe someone who goes above and beyond.
In and of themselves, these are not bad words. In fact, in some ways they can be good words. Take the word “average,” for example. By definition it means that roughly 50% are better than you, but at the same time 50% are worse! How’s that for a positive outlook. It’s the old analogy of seeing the glass as half full or half empty. Average means the glass is half full! And that’s not half bad.
But being average brings with it a variety of challenges, especially when leading a church or a major ministry. Being average doesn’t bring the accelerated change and vision so many of us as leaders want to see. We want to move beyond average. We strive to be unique. We don’t want to be known as common. There is a tremendous amount of appeal in being UN-usual.
In contemporary society and in the world of the Church and Christian ministry, it is expected that we find ways to differentiate ourselves. No one wants to be the same as everyone else. Businesses do this when they market the things that set them apart from their competitors. Their marketing may include gimmicks or quirky things for which people will remember them. Others may choose to focus on superior quality, low price, excellent service, or any number of other differentiators. The fight for the attention of the consumer is fierce, with significant efforts going towards anything that makes them unique.
So what about our churches? Should our churches find ways to differentiate themselves from other churches? Should we as church leaders talk about our “competition” with other churches and other believers with regard to church life and culture? Whether or not we choose to use the word “competition,” it is absolutely true that across America, there are thousands of churches from which potential congregants could choose when looking to establish a church home. What would make them choose our church over any other church nearby? Do we need the large-scale, expensive campaigns that some groups undertake in order to generate larger attendance figures? Perhaps not. But it certainly is worth considering how we might soulfully differentiate our own church and its congregation from others. It is worth thinking about our own church’s passions and how they might appeal to people in our community. If our desire is to love and minister to as many people as possible, what is the best way to draw them in?
One way to differentiate ourselves is to go beyond the usual, the average, or the expected. Let’s just say that everyone expects a church to be welcoming and friendly. Many expect churches to offer programs for children, students, families, men, women, and single adults. We can assume those things will be present everywhere. So what is the something extra that will differentiate us from the rest? What would it take to truly go above and beyond the expected and set us apart from others, beckoning new members to give us a try?
While there may not be any guaranteed, sure-fire methods to distinguish ourselves from the rest of the pack, perhaps a couple examples might spur some thinking.
1) Chutes and Ladders!
One church recently made some renovations to its building. In the process, they created a check-in space in one of the main entrances specifically for families with children. As a part of the physical relocation of the space, they installed a twisty slide from the main upper ground floor lobby down to the lower level where the kids classrooms and activities take place. While this was not a cheap undertaking and certainly had no obvious spiritual impact on the life of the children who use the slide, they felt it was worth doing. This one change has been an important part of the church letting families know they are important there. Parents can feel safe and secure leaving their precious children in the hands of a caring and competent children’s ministry staff. This twisty blue plastic slide and all that it represents helps to create a unique point of entry for the community.
2) Time to Make the Donuts!
Another church in the suburbs made the decision to engage people who park in the church’s “Park-n-Ride” parking lot on weekdays to catch the bus downtown to their offices. These people are on church property five days a week, but never darken the door of the church itself. So, seeing an opportunity to reach out and enlisting the help of friendly volunteers, the church began offering free coffee and donuts to those riding the bus one day a week from 5:30-8:30am during the morning commute. During colder winter weather, the church lobby is open so people can wait inside rather than out in the cold. Lots of conversations about “Why do you do this?” have taken place. Friendships are built over time. Some people even decided to begin attending the church as a result of those conversations and the kindness shown. A cup of coffee makes all the difference in an otherwise monotonous weekly grind. This church went beyond the expected and lives are being changed as a result.
Those examples of “going beyond” are not gimmicks or promotional tactics, but are instead genuine efforts to reach out and demonstrate in tangible ways the vision and mission of these two churches. What opportunities do you see around you to go beyond the usual? How can your church, with just a little effort, set itself apart? Give it a try! Do something out of the ordinary, outside the norm, or even the unexpected, and see what the response is. If you are doing it with a heart to serve, the response will likely be positive.