Last week’s post covered the five levels of people within a church. The levels move from those who are completely unaffiliated with a church to those who are actively leading the church. Some might further delineate the levels (and I think we should in many ways), but for the purposes here these five will work. The idea then is to consider how to get people to move from one level to another. Ultimately, this involvement is for the benefit of the Kingdom, but the church is the tool God has chosen, so, in effect, the idea is to get people more involved within the church. This idea is known as assimilation.
Assimilation is a big word that people often accuse Christians and, in this case, particularly church leaders, of using. Ok, that’s fair. But for the millions of Star Trek fans, the word has meaning in that one of the Federation’s major enemies, the Borg, often says to a new species, “Resistance is futile” where resistance is related to the idea of the person and culture being assimilated into the “collective” known as the Borg.
In a sense, the same idea is true of the church. In one sense, we are told to have the mind of Christ (Philippians 2.5), and become the body of Christ which is similar to how the Borg operate. However, in another sense we maintain our individuality, which is against every notion of the Borg. Parallels do exist and I believe those parallels are, in part, why some people fear the church. That is, I believe more people are favorable towards Jesus than they are to the institution of the Church, but if it was Jesus who said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16.16), then the fear is against what Jesus has designed. But the problem is not with what Jesus has designed, it is what man has done to the design. And thus, the parallel to the assimilation techniques of the Borg.
The reality is that a true follower of Christ must be connected with a church – or should desire to be. After all, it is the Church which is called the Bride of Christ and while the Church does consist of all who truly believe, the New Testament does share any idea of a believer not being a part of a church (except for the Ethiopian in Acts 8 who likely became a part of a church once he was out of the desert!). Nearly every expression of “you” in the New Testament is in the plural except for references within the letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. Thus, we are meant to be in community, and therefore assimilation into that community is necessary.
So, how can that happen? Well, let me provide a couple of thoughts on those outside the church and those not serving this week. Next week, I will look at the other levels as those levels are focused on building onto a foundation that already exists rather than on establishing a foundation. The ideas here are general and therefore will not work for everyone or for every church. And again, it must be understood that Jesus allows us to maintain our individuality within the collective He is building, so any church that seeks absolute conformity (instead of unity) has misappropriated the intent of Jesus.
To begin we must start with those outside the church. Helping these individuals to engage with the church begins with an introduction or clarification of who God is. Some will know about God. Some may hate God. But any effort to “move” them along the continuum must include helping them to better understand God. This group is not interested in going to church (and maybe not even going TO a church), but might be interested in discussing or witnessing a debate on some aspect of culture or morality. Such a step is only a first step, but it can be an important first step.
Of course, some of those outside the church may have a little more connection. These individuals might enjoy some fellowship with certain people, but are not overly interested in matters of the church. Finding ways to meet and talk about life is often beneficial here. Watching and discussing movies or hosting parties for various sporting events can be helpful here, particularly if done in a home.
The second group are those who have some connection in the church, but are not actively involved in serving. Many reasons for this exist, and unfortunately, leaders often assume they (we!, as I am all too guilty of this) know the reasons. For instance, I have tried to be very intentional in communicating (over-communicating in my mind) certain ideas. And yet, I am often amazed that I have missed the mark in making a connection with others.
One way to combat this issue is to allow those who are not actively serving to share their reasons. Doug Thumma and Warren Bird share the need for churches to form a Listening Team in their book The Other 80%. This team can get the necessary feedback that can help a church know definitively (as people are honest) why people are not involved and devise plans to allow them to increase their involvement.
In the last few paragraphs, I have communicated an idea or two about how to assimilate the people in these “levels” towards greater involvement within the church. But in each situation, that assimilation has not been at the expense of the person’s individuality. Finding topics of interest to discuss and seeking an understanding of why people do not serve are both aimed at learning what is important to others while maintaining the mission and integrity of what the church has decided is important (her mission). Again, if a church’s mission is to love God, love others, and make disciples (and it must, at least, include those elements), then the general approaches above fulfill each part of that mission and allow people to maintain their integrity, personality, and other individual characteristics.
No approach is perfect. After all, people turned down Jesus in the flesh. So, not everyone will respond or even respond when we think they might. But as Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, some will plant, some will water, but it is God that provides the growth (1 Corinthians 3.6). So, let us do what we are called to do and let God work as only He can on the hearts and minds of others.
In next week’s post, I will focus on the prospects of increasing the involvement of those who are already serving.