Thursday, February 21, 2013

Strategies for 21st Century Church Attendees

Our overseer sent an article to his church leaders and those of us around the U.S. who are his colleagues. It was about the trends of church attendance in America today. I responded to him with the following:

I loved the article. It definitely describes the dynamics we have encountered. I took special note of the mid-size church attendance drop and the large and small church attendance increase.

I have my observations which are:  Small church churches and large churches require the least amount of personal time to be volunteered to the church.

Small churches don’t have a lot of activities going on. Larger churches have a larger volunteer base and thus require less time of the individual volunteers. People’s lives are extremely busy and the church is thought of as place to go on my day off or my time off.

Our other observation is that today’s mind set is drastically different than what we experienced from 1990 - 2004.

So far, ALL ( no exaggeration) of the people who have come to Urban Life Church from other churches have been burned out citing excessive volunteer activity, working in everything from children’s ministry to hospitality. In some cases they were required to spend their own money over and above tithes and offerings, to support the internal church ministries.  We haven’t encountered one single person, coming from a mid-size church, who was not in burn out mode. All they have wanted to do, when they came to our church, was sit and receive.

So my observation is that small churches (like ours) and larger churches tend to grow due to mid-size church burn out.

We have also observed that in the understanding of people today, the local church is just one of a myriad of options for resources for personal development, family issues, counseling and financial assistance. People today can access literally hundreds of other organizations, support groups, and information beyond the scope and realm of their local church.

Today's new and young Believers come with a mindset in which no ONE place or ONE set of people are the primary or even secondary resources for all of their needs.  Even for spiritual needs, they seek a myriad of resources ranging from Joyce Meyer to Oprah.

Next, we have observed a decreased spiritual literacy. For instance, we made a surprising discovery when our teenagers were thrilled to watch Bible story movies on DVD  that are designed for ages 4-8 years old. They had never heard the stories of the Bible and they loved these animated movies.

So we were forced to drastically change our methods and approach to teaching basic Bible doctrine to the level of the people of this era. What we think of as being ministry for children is actual ministry for teens. What we think of as being ministry for teens, is actually what we need for the majority of the congregation.

We found ourselves needing to implement completely radical strategies on Sunday mornings, like hosting a conversation with people instead of presenting a sermon or teaching. Normally, conversation and video clips would be done with the teenagers in a local church, but this strategy became a powerful ministry for our adults in the main service on Sunday mornings.

However, after we did that for a while, attendance again waned as people moved on to other things and went to other places.

Which brings up our final observation about the people of this era: The attention span is very, very short. This is not just the teens and the children. It’s EVERYBODY. That’s because that is our culture today. Everything is a quick status update, a quick Twitter statement, or a quick breaking news sound byte.

We learned that the more we fight against this reality, the faster they’re out the door and moving on to the next thing.

We have dealt with this by playing a 30 second or 1 minute video clip to open the service. We sing only two or three songs in our worship. We don’t elongate the songs. The older members may not like that, but if you want to keep the majority of the folks engaged, we learned that you have to keep it moving. You have to keep the exhortations and encouragement that's done in between the songs, down to just a few seconds. We keep the service moving.

We also take a break for refreshments and fellowship in between the worship and the teaching.

When I teach, I use video clips from today’s events to open up a sermon. I especially use PowerPoint to keep the audience visually engaged. I use large pictures and very little text, unless I’m reading a scripture. I always post the scripture in the PowerPoint so people can read it for themselves.

Finally, I try to keep the sermon moving because I fully understand; the mental, psychological and spiritual capacity isn’t there for the super deep spiritual meanings.  Now I know why Jesus told stories. The ability and desire to grasp deeper understanding  won’t come until we gain their trust and can engage in personal dialogue and instruction.

Honestly,  I cannot determine when a person will be ready for deeper understanding because church attendance is still very sporadic. However, Jesus didn’t seem to be in any rush to make that happen, so we’re not going to rush it either.

So there’s a quick review of my personal observations and some of our strategies to deal with a cyber space, facebook, iphone, ipad, internet-driven generation.