The vast majority of churches in the West rely on their central Sunday morning service as the foundation of the community. If the service stopped, most of the community would disperse for another service somewhere else. How many people would remain together would be purely a result of existing relationships.
Because the event, or the service, is the single most important piece of churches, we rely on them as the primary witness of the community. Churches used to explicitly operate, and many traditional ones still do, under the assumption that the role of the congregation begins and ends with inviting a newcomer to a service. The professionals will take it from there.
As a church planter targeting the outsiders, people who would otherwise not connect into the most contemporary church services (which in Christian-speak simply means the service with the best Bethel tunes and the most relevant preaching), I have concluded something: events no longer work to attract unchurched people.
There’s no version, no matter how cool, of a church service that will be the magic bullet to attract the sociological “nones”. It just doesn’t work. And that’s coming from a context where we’re doing a very cool brand of church targeted to the outsiders in the urban/arts community.
Stop pouring resources into events or services for the sake of mission. It won’t work.
Now what is has worked to do is re-attract lapsed “dones”, Christians who have left the church for a variety of reasons. It has also compelled those questioning their faith to remain in the fold. But if I had to give it a rough estimate, most of our events are 45% Christians, 45% Christian “dones”, and 10% “nones”. Maybe 10% is good enough for you, but for us that’s a lot of effort for nones.
Having said that, we don’t do events to attract the “nones”. There’s no bait-and-switch. But we have noticed that events are only good to offer a brief taste of what the gospel has to offer, and nothing more.
So what’s the answer as culture shifts away from finding answers in a church service?
Church services aren’t bad, but we have to use them as a leverage to continually build community identity. For us that’s an identity of mission. We are all called to embody the character of Jesus in the places and spaces we belong. The way to connect with the outsiders? It’s not through event, it’s through the commissioning of all of the existing Christians to clearly identify their own calling to living alluring lives in the world beyond the church community.
Relationships is the key, not the event.
Do what you have to do to build and have the longevity to give relationships a time to unfold, and a new church movement will have a chance.