There was a deli/corner grocery store where I grew up named ‘Troutwine’s Market’ (I don’t care if they’ve since named it ‘Steve’s). This market had a strategy for attracting customers that went a little like this: They would mark down the price on a few key staples – milk, eggs, bread – lower than the bigger chain stores. Then, they would have a price increase on some other items in the store as a way to offset the costs. It’s a form of ‘bait and switch’. “Come in for our cheap milk (and pay more for the yogurt)”.
It’s something that a lot of churches try to do. Tweak one or two things here and there, but keep the same basic culture everywhere else. Churches want young adults, so they try to draw them in. But they don’t want to change to reach them, so they try to preemptively compromise.
“We started serving coffee before the service (so don’t mind our 100 year old songs).”
“We have a young pastor who wears jeans when they preach, (so don’t worry that our children’s ministry hasn’t been updated in thirty years).”
“Come to our family movie night (so that we can ask you to help out in our nursery on Sunday morning)”
“We started using powerpoint, (so it’s okay that we haven’t redecorated since 1972)”
“We play one upbeat song during the worship service, (so you can help run a committee)”.
Eventually, Troutwine’s needed to revamp and update. They changed their name, their look, and their marketing. Why? The other stores started to have lower prices and a larger selection. The other stores committed more to reaching the customer base, which meant that Troutwine’s ‘bait and switch’ approach stopped working.
And so will the churches.
Churches may be able to make a couple of small changes and get some interest. A coffee bar, new paint job, and an occasional movie may get some attention, but sooner or later, guests and visitors figure out what’s up.
And they’ll go somewhere else.
Or they might not go anywhere else.
More and more, people aren’t concerned with “what” your church does (movie nights, young pastor, etc). They’re more concerned with “why” your church does it (to keep the church open vs. connecting people with God).
So when you change a couple of things to lure people in without changing the internal culture of the church, it feels like a bait and switch. But when you make changes to accommodate guests and visitors, even if they’re not done really well, if the changes happen for the right reasons, you’ll connect.
It’s the difference between being internally focused and being mission minded. Christ gave the church a mission to reach new people, raise disciples, and baptize people from all nations. If it takes changing the music, worship time, paint job, and so on to do it, then so be it.
But having a ‘Black Friday’ like event at your church doesn’t work. Having ‘Children’s Sunday’, where you sing contemporary songs once a year, only brings them into church once. It doesn’t build a relationship.
There is a single question that can help every church leader (clergy and lay) figure out if they’re missional or internally focused.
Why do we sings these songs or worship at this time? Why do we have the offertory this way? Why do we do the mission trips we do? Why do we have the decorations we have? Why does the pastor preach the sermons they preach?
‘Why’ will reveal your hearts true intention
“We sing the songs because we like them” vs. “We sing these songs because our neighbors like them.” “We decorate this way because we like it” vs. “We decorate so our guests are comfortable and welcome.”
If you make your church a place where people disconnected from God can connect with Him, your church will grow. If you keep your church a place where only you can connect with God, no new pastor, worship service, or music will help you.
So church leaders, why do you want to grow and reach new people? Why does your church want young families?
Is it because you want to help new people connect with God? Or is it because you don’t want your church to close?
If you’re committed to connecting people with God, then commit to doing everything you need too. Change the worship service, redecorate the sanctuary, and try new ministries and missions. Go nuts.
If you’re scared your church is going to close, you’re going to continue to half-commit and try to bait and switch people. You’ll continue to try to change “just enough” to stay open. But it won’t work.
If this is your church, I want to urge you to pray and seek God. Pray for courage and faith to follow God’s will for your church, and step into that will. God doesn’t want churches to close, because churches are intended to be a place where people connect with Him.
But you can’t obey God and fear at the same time.