Saturday, December 02, 2006

Article #3: Rural Church Growth

You Reach Your Culture: Understanding Your Church and Your Community.

Most rural churches have already hit their peak and they are in a stage of decline. In my last article I wrote about life-cycles and how a church ages. Understanding your life-cycle is important because where your church is in it’s life-cycle determines your church’s culture. Church culture is important because it determines who your church will reach in the community. Many rural churches talk about reaching younger couples but are unwilling to change their church's culture because they are comfortable with their current life-cycle.

If your rural church is going to be one of the few churches that transition into birthing a new life-cycle you need to understand what is going to be required of you. The first requirement is to die to the current church culture. Your core church members must be committed to the fact, “The church we are is completely different than the church we want to become.”

Most rural churches make a mistake at this point. They will do a study and find out what the current church members like and want their church to be. I am challenging every church to do a study of what your future church members like and want their church to be. Your church must view the community as their future church members. Each rural church must understand who they are, but they also must understand who they need to become in order to reach their future church members.

Each church that desires to birth a new life-cycle must decide to become missional. For example, if I went to start a church in Mexico, I wouldn’t try to plant an “American” church. I wouldn’t preach in English, but Spanish. The whole style of the church would be Mexican. The reason is I want to connect the unchanging message of Jesus Christ with the Mexican people. Most rural churches aren’t missional because they don’t understand the culture of their community and therefore, they’ve created a church culture that connects with them, but with no one else. This isn’t about whether you sing hymns or choruses, but will the whole culture of your church connect with the culture of your community?

The next requirement is to determine who in the community is your future church members. Make a target group. Even though we desire for everyone in our community to accept Christ, we also understand that our community is made up of many different cultures. Which ever culture we create is who we will reach. If we decide to reach people who are 50 our culture will look different then if we are trying to reach cowboys that are 25 and listen to Garth Brooks. A church must determine who they want to reach in their community. This should come as a result of praying, studying of the demographics, and talking with people.

The next step is to study the target group. What are the values of this group? What makes them tick? What music do they enjoy? What language do they speak? How do they feel about traditional church? We need to learn as much as possible about them. The reason for learning this information is for the purpose of creating a church culture that will connect with them.

The next step is to create a culture that speaks to your target group. Every member needs to see themselves as a missionary and the reason your church is creating a new culture is to reach those future church members. Everything related to style and methods must be shaped by your target group. This process will lead you from the church that you are to the church you need to be.

The last step is to develop relationships with your target group outside the church for the purpose of sharing Christ in a community environment. If your target group doesn’t know your church members then they won’t know your church.

In closing, if a church doesn’t want to create a new life-cycle don’t worry about changing your culture. Don’t worry about studying the community. Old life-cycles are driven by the members you have, while new life-cycles are driven by the members you don’t have yet. No matter what, your church culture determines who you will reach.

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