by Joseph Barkley, Lead Pastor, Radius
I love how much recent attention we’ve given to the “smaller” life of our modern church experience. Returning to our conversations around “missional models,” “relational ministry” and “small groups” is long overdue. We are uncovering how much better we are relationally, how well people feel known and seen and how much greater our flexibility and responsiveness can be in smaller cells.
The higher-attended and higher-complexity worship services received a lot of past airtime for various reasons—from healthy and strategic to evil and arrogant. It’s tempting to devote our bandwidth elsewhere.
One potential risk in this thinking is reducing (or even flatly ignoring) the power of larger—often weekend—gatherings. Nearly every study reveals that, by miles, the larger (often weekend) gatherings are more appealing to those without church experience. They can feel anonymous as long as they want to. They are empowered to make up their minds before feeling “put on the spot.” They can appreciate a greater diversity of impact than they would encounter in smaller groups.
In addition, the strengths of smaller circles (like groups) and larger, “cultural” events (like services) can be wonderful compliments to each other when they function at their best.
In Los Angeles, we continue to see God use larger, weekly services to change lives, and, for that reason alone, I believe they are worth continued reformation and attention.
While it’s true that, whatever the world is over, Los Angeles was “over it” first, we’ve found great fruit by employing 3 habits that any church in any context could utilize.
Excellence earns trust
I am not the first leader to observe this, but by applying excellence to everything we do, we are telling people that they are worth it, and we can be trusted.
Excellence isn’t perfection.
Perfection is an unattainable goal that values results over people.
Excellence is an approach to everything you do (big or small, grandiose or intimate) that communicates the value of people.
What I will tell our teams is that our attire shows how much we value attendees time. The grammatical accuracy of the slides subconsciously tells a potential giver how well we steward finances. The way we clean our bathrooms tells visiting parents how well we’re treating their toddler in a room they can’t see.
The people Jesus died for are worth our excellence.
You don’t have to agree, but you should understand
If you are really on mission, you absolutely should be hosting people who don’t follow Jesus. Every. Week.
It follows, then, that every week you should have people in your midst who don’t agree with everything you sing about, talk about or represent from the platform. Even people who follow Jesus disagree with each other all the time!
What a disaster when we take disagreement and add confusion.
Without the constant, tedious refining of everything we say, we risk leaving out people who might otherwise be curious and open. Worse yet, we risk obscuring the very life-changing news we most desperately want them to hear and respond to.
To illustrate how confusing our most common language can be, here are excerpts from recent conversations I’ve had.
“‘Worship’ sounds like a bloody cult practice to me. What do you mean?”
“I thought ‘gospel’ was a music genre.”
“The only ‘services’ I’ve ever been to are funerals.”
Leaders: be militant about this. Don’t tolerate one confusing word without explaining it or replacing it.
Bonus! When we share the same content with updated language, we also empower the Jesus followers in our churches to talk understandably in their regular context.
Transparency with wisdom
The most common feature people tell us they appreciate about our gatherings (we do regular surveys) is our transparency.
What they might share is that it’s refreshing to hear someone with a title and a microphone admit how they’re still growing and how they still fall short.
What they won’t necessarily share is what kind of transparency they are getting every week from me, our hosts and our music leaders.
Much can be gained from being an open book. It’s disarming. People can imagine that you are on their level in some way. You combat the perception of pride or judgementalism.
But we must never forget the responsibility we have. Our desire is to prompt people forward in their faith, closer to their Savior, deeper in their maturity. In order to do that, we must be vulnerable from the vantage point of wisdom.
Share the stories and how you’ve grown through them, how you’ve learned from them, how you’ve reduced the destructive effects of them.
Then, you’re not only identifying with people, you’re helping people.