August 16, 2007 Featured Article


When Will They Ever Learn...When Will They Ever Learn?

by Ken Johnson

Ken Johnson, President & CEO
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Do you remember this song by Peter, Paul and Mary—Where have all the flowers gone, Long time passing? If you are my age I’m sure that you do, but if you are younger then it won’t mean anything to you, so I will have to help you understand. I just finished reading an article with the following headline: Lutheran church putting faith in area ad campaign. When will they ever learn that they have to first get their churches ready for guests? Regretfully most mainline churches don’t have any idea how to make that happen, so they start at the place that should be their final marketing effort and then when the guests arrive there is nothing there that would entice them to stay.


Any business that began their marketing effort with the sale of the product before they invented or refined the product would be out of business in a matter of days, and the same is true of the church. It’s a waste of marketing money—in biblical terms it’s not very good stewardship of the Lord’s money. A couple of years ago the United Methodists did the same thing spending millions of dollars on a marketing campaign and from my remembrance they didn’t attract many new people but even the ones who did come didn’t stay.


What is it about beginning a campaign from the beginning that the mainline church doesn’t understand? I know part of the problem is that they don’t want to admit that they are light years behind in their worship, evangelism, etc., etc. and won’t admit that what they are selling and how they are selling it is not working with the general population. Trying to tell the citizenry that they know what being a Christian is and the Evangelicals don’t, will never be a winner for them and they don’t know how to get out of the rut.


The first thing they will have to do is return to what the Christian faith is all about and that is centering on Jesus. There are so many mainline churches, and I have visited many of them, that focus on a generic god and leave Jesus out of the equation and honestly that is a turn off for many people who have been raised on the Bible and the Jesus of the Bible. Why is it so hard to believe that Jesus was really God in human form walking on earth?


I have visited so many mainline churches that are just social clubs for their members and they wonder why no one wants to join them. The only reason they go to church is to have their once a week get together with their friends and if someone from the outside tries to horn in then it becomes a major crisis. The church is a glorified “social club.” You know, I may be wrong, but I don’t think that is what God wanted for the church.


The first thing that these churches need to do is put the Bible back into the center of everything that they teach and live. They will need to make Christ the center of their lives and the life of the church which will be difficult to do but is a must. Regretfully, the mainline seminaries have gotten so far away from who Jesus was and why He was on earth that it will be hard for many of those mainline ministers to turn their lives and thinking around. Honestly it will also be hard for those ministers who have lead their parishioners down the wrong path for so long to convince them that they now know what they are talking about. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that it is impossible; I just think it will be difficult. With Jesus as the center of your life anything is possible.


About 28 years ago I moved to Hastings Nebraska to begin work as the Director of Music Activities at Hastings College and along with that I became the Director of Music at Hastings First United Methodist Church. At First Methodist I had the distinct privilege of working with Dr. Bob Townsend. Bob was just a few years away from retirement and had just recently found out what it really meant to be a Christian. He had attended a conference in Kansas City where they plainly spoke The Word and Bob for the first time heard The Word and turned his life over to Christ.


The rest is history, and wonderful history at that. Bob returned to Hastings and turned the church upside down. The way he lived his life was so different, not that what he had done before was so bad, that now he was living, teaching and preaching the real, true Word of God. The people of the church began to understand his transformation and follow his lead and the church became an exciting Christian witness in the community. So I know that it is possible to make the needed changes.


I was only there two years, but I know of at least two young men who, because of his leadership, went into the ministry and they are both still involved in leadership in the UMC of Nebraska. I’m sure that there were more young people who followed Bob’s lead into the ministry after I left.


This is just one example, although I could sight many more, and I’m sure that many of you could also. So what are you waiting for? When will we ever learn to begin at the beginning and not at the end when we begin marketing? Get busy and turn your church around, become the church that God wants you to be. Make sure that you are focused on Jesus Christ then lead your church to that realization and get on with winning people for Christ. Become a leader in your community. Begin working with other churches and be the kind of example to all people that God wants you to be.


I can guarantee you that there will be members of your church who will think you have gone off the deep end and leave the church, and you can’t worry about them. Winning people for Christ is your number one Calling. So go for it.


You have to get out among the people to witness, you can’t win people for Christ in your office, going to committee meetings, making home visits to your parishioners, or making hospital calls, although you will need to do some of that. You need to get into your local Starbucks, McDonalds, Wendy’s, Applebee’s, Gunther Toody’s or wherever people congregate in your town and begin spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ.


Cut your board down to four or five people, (you will probably have to rewrite you Constitution and By-Laws) cancel most committees, find four or five potential leaders to mentor, spend a limited time on your messages, and spend the rest of your time out in the community winning people for Christ.


This is just an aside, but most Gunther Toody’s restaurants are perfect examples of how we should greet regular attendee’s and guests to our churches. Place people at your front doors that will sing a greeting, or at least make it loud, and from many people so those regular attendee’s or guest’s feel welcome. Also, make sure that those same people are at the door when the people leave telling them to have a good week and inviting them back next Sunday.


Go to this site and get your free copy of the 26 page White Paper entitled Why Isn’t My Church Growing?

Let me know what you are doing in your church to win your current members for Christ and then tell me what unique things you are doing to win other people in your community for Christ.


© 2007, Ken Johnson, President and CEO of The Ken Johnson Group, LLC, Church Consultants. To contact Ken, or for permission to reprint this article, send an e-mail to: ken@thekenjohnsongroup.com


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