Are churches becoming more and more like fast food restaurants today?
Megachurch pastor Brady Boyd asks readers the tough question that has plagued many pastors and congregations alike, touching upon a rather sensitive subject for most religious leaders.
“Have we, as American pastors, given up our calling as shepherds and unknowingly become fast food entrepreneurs who are building a religious business and not a church?” the Colorado pastor posed on his blog.
Witnessing the ever-growing trend for pastors to be focused primarily on the numbers – number of people attending their church – Boyd desired to shift the internal conversations happening among leaders and spark some honest debate on the subject of church marketing and mass numbers.
“Church is not a product to be consumed like a gym membership, but rather a holy gathering of sinners who are becoming saints because of grace,” he penned. “We want to be what Eugene Peterson calls ‘a company of pastors’ and not a company of shopkeepers.”
In efforts to refocus church leadership, Boyd outlined three key questions, supplied with his own answers, to evaluate the state of the church: Is it wrong to use marketing for our church? What do we really want? And do we really know the stories of our people?
Attempting to answer his first question, the New Life Church senior pastor wanted to clarify first that marketing was not “evil or carnal” in itself, “as long as [leaders were] not solely leaning on worldly principles while forgetting the primary disciplines that truly build the church.”
Emphasizing personal witness and prayer as the “engine of the church,” not marketing itself, Boyd reminded leaders that it was the “unseen work of the Holy Spirit birthed in prayer that really [gathered] the lost.” He did not, however, discount the effectiveness of banners and local media to gather people as well.
While the gathering of people was not in any way damaging or misguided, the former English teacher wondered if leaders were only focusing on the number of attendees, rather than the growth of existing members.
What is it that leaders really want, he asked.
“I know what most church leaders would tell me if I asked this question. They would say they want to make disciples, reach the lost, and help the hurting. And they probably do. But what I hear leaders talk about most are attendance numbers and because our mouth always betrays our hearts, I suspect we have focused too much on how many are attending rather than how many are growing.”
Boyd stated that his church in particular, which was formerly led by the Ted Haggard, stopped focusing on overall weekend attendance numbers about 18 months ago.
Instead of obsessing over attendance numbers, leaders at his church in Colorado Springs are concentrating on a different type of number – the number of baptized members for one, as well as the number of people partaking in mission trips, the number of people joining small groups, and the number of people becoming servant leaders.
The result? “A liberating release from the temptation to compare [themselves] to other churches and a freedom from the impulse to perform solely for numbers sake.”
What Boyd desired was not for people to tell him about attendance numbers, but to tell him about stories, i.e. “accounts of redemption, healing, restoration and rescue.”
To the 44-year-old pastor, how many members were thriving was much more important than how many were attending.
“In a neighborhood restaurant, there are lingering unhurried conversations about stories,” he shared. “In a fast food restaurant, there is a hurry to get to the next customer with short blurbs of discussions about a numbered meal on a well-organized wall menu.”
“Everything in a fast food restaurant is about efficiency and excellence. Time is the master and we are the slaves.”
Revealing that church for the past 2,000 years has been centered on the story of Christ, Boyd challenged leaders to continue to do so, “pausing to remember [Christ] in the sacraments and interludes to celebrate the stories of a persecuted but joyful people.”
Church, he concluded, has always been about the gathering of the called out ones, not the gathering of potential customers, who leaders hoped would have a great consumer experience.
While Boyd did believe in excellence and efficiency, which fast food restaurants epitomized, it should not, he stressed, be at the expense of relationships and stories.
“We can do both – tell stories and build relationships in an environment that is warm and inviting.”
Currently, New Life Church is undergoing a series entitled “This Is My Story,” where over the next six weeks, pastors and leaders from around the world will share their story.
This week, Jimmy Evans, a pastor, Bible teacher, and bestselling author, is scheduled to share his own testimony.