The #1 objection church's have to forming an assimilation strategy
The movie Field of Dreams debuted in just a few theaters on April 21st, 1989 in hopes to gain more of a summer audience. It gained such a growing and epic following that it showed in theaters nationwide through December that year. With it's iconic line, "If you build it, they will come", this film left a Mark on American men that still resonates with them whenever it's brought up in conversation. Without exaggeration, lives were changed by this film, movements were born, and the American Film Association recently listed it as the 6th greatest fantasy film ever made (The Wizard of Oz being #1).
This film's tagline reminds me of churches when they wrestle with forming and implementing a well thought out assimilation strategy to connect guests. I hear many objections to implementing an effective strategy including:
- "It takes energy away from outreach" (a paradigm issue)
- "It demands an alignment that our staff and volunteers are just not willing to devote themselves to" (a leadership issue)
- "We already have one" (an alignment issue)
- "We're a friendly church, so we don't need one" (a denial issue)
Someday I may address each of those listed above in a post but today I want to expose and explore what I see as the most detrimental and maybe even most common objection. It is unusual because it is rarely stated as much as the ones I previously listed since many churches are unaware that they have this objection to a well-formed assimilation plan. This objection come in the form of a belief that is usually embedded in the church's culture, fostered by the lead pastor, and is therefore shared by the staff and leadership. It goes like this:
"If we just preach the Word, God will grow the church".
It sounds so good. So biblical. So Godly, doesn't it. I have leaned into this one and fostered it in churches I served in. It comes from a famous quote of Jesus when he said that "On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it" (Matthew 16:18b). I do not dispute it's truth, just our detrimental understanding of it.
Our interpretation goes something like this: If we faithfully preach his Word (the Bible), Jesus himself will build his church (make it grow). Therefore, we have no need of a well thought out strategy for welcoming and incorporating guests into our faith community (striving in the flesh). The Spirit of God will do it as we faithfully preach His Word. Do I have it right for the most part? As a former adherent, I think I do.
Here are some of the questions that exist for those who hold this belief:
- If your church is not growing, are you changing the content or style of your preaching since Jesus said he would build your church if you are "preaching the Word"? There must be something wrong with your teaching if the growth issue is as simple as this objection says it is.
- Are you willing to say that Jesus is not keeping his word when a church faithfully teaches the Bible and yet struggles to survive in a community filled with people who don't yet know Him?
Here is the crux of the misunderstanding for me. It lies in the belief that we don't have to do anything as members of his body to grow the church, especially in relationship to the guests God is drawing to it weekly. The Word will do it for us (or Jesus will if we faithfully proclaim it).
So I have a new question for those who believe that members of the church, rallying under a well formed assimilation plan, is like trying to accomplish in the flesh what only Jesus can accomplish himself:
When was the last time Jesus came down and preached a sermon at your church?
He hasn't? Well of course he hasn't because we also believe that there are people who are called and spiritually equipped by God to deliver messages in our church. They thoughtfully pray, prepare and execute messages toward that end.
So how is it that we don't believe that those wired with gifts of leadership, hospitality, mercy, helps and administration (amongst other gifts) are not designed by God, like the preacher, to thoughtfully prepare a plan and execute it to the good end of connecting guests to Christ's body?
Let's go to the root of the misinterpretation. Jesus didn't say, "Upon good Bible teaching and preaching I will build my church". The passage doesn't even talk about the Bible, Christ's message, the gospel, preaching or anything like that. It was talking about a man's confession of faith in Jesus. Faith in Jesus as Lord...that is the Rock that He will build his Church on.
Jesus builds his church on the faith and trust of individuals who will follow him in this missional adventure. Gifted uniquely like snowflakes, Jesus brings in a new reality through them. If the pastor can do it with preaching, led by himself and overseen by elders, perhaps Jesus is waiting for the same from those who are gifted to run a well crafted assimilation strategy that the whole church participates in, led by staff and overseen by the pastor. Jesus builds his church through the members of his body, not a part from them. Notice the last 6 words of this verse that describes how Jesus builds his Church:
"From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work". -Ephesians 4:16
The bottom line is this: if Jesus isn't going to build his church by coming down and preaching a sermon for you, he isn't going to build his church by coming down and connecting your guest for you. It's not his job, it's yours.
If you build it, He will come.
Imagine a church where a 24 year old man says, "I have been a part of 2 other churches and I never made it past the auditorium. This is the first church I have ever been a part of that I felt wanted me to be involved behind the scenes and that I actually had to hold up my hand at times to say, 'Stop. We're moving too fast!'". That comment came in Next Steps at my church and it is one of the most encouraging comments I have heard this year about how Eastside is impacting guests, much less young adults.
So build it. I dare you.
If you need help, contact me. In my next few post, I will be breaking down some profound assimilation takeaways from Horst Schultze, former President and COO of Ritz Carlton Hotels. It will give us Sherpas who help others make this climb a lot smarter in what we do. Until then.
- How does naming this misbelief about how Jesus builds his church impact you? Do you agree or disagree? Does it make you feel excited? Frustrated? Discouraged? Empowered?
- On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the worst, how much does your church's culture adhere to or excuse itself with this misbelief?
- What does your Pastor believe in regards to this objection? Would he champion you and your team if you brought him a proposal that was well thought out and doable? List what his objections might be.
- Craft a response, strategy, or consideration for each of your Senior Pastor's potential objections. Craft a vision for what a well thought out assimilation strategy could do for your church, your community, and the Kingdom of God.