Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Nobody Goes to Church

Seth Godin’s primary field is marketing, but he shares some ideas in his daily blog that must be applied to the church.  In a recent blog, he commented on “Marketing to Nobody”: 

Nobody wears a watch any more. Nobody wears a tie either.  Nobody shops at a bookstore, at least nobody I know.

The market of nobody is big indeed. You can do really well selling to nobody if you do your homework. In fact, most companies selling to nobody outperform those that are trying to sell to everyone.
In my reading, I come across a lot of information about declining church attendance.  I also read the comments of some that “nobody goes to church anymore.”  Declining attendance is pretty well documented but complete lack of attendance is not.  On any given Sunday (or Saturday night), millions will make their way to a place of worship and participate in the services offered there.  This provides an opportunity for the church to move these individuals from attendees to participants. 
Although I am a strong proponent of the church reaching out beyond its walls, I also realize (as Godin would say) that there are a significant number of folks within the walls who are prime candidates for deeper involvement.  If given the opportunity, they can become committed and involved disciples.
 The staff ministers of our church are taking seriously the questions to measure member engagement found in Albert Winseman’s Growing an Engaged Church:
  1.          As a member of my congregation/parish, I know what is expected of me.
  2.          In my congregation/parish, my spiritual needs are met.
  3.          In my congregation/parish, I regularly have the opportunity to do what I do best.
  4.          In the last month, I have received recognition or praise from someone in my congregation/parish.
  5.          The spiritual leaders in my congregation/parish seem to care about me as a person.
  6.          There is someone in my congregation/parish who encourages my spiritual development.
  7.          As a member of my congregation/parish, my opinions seem to count.
  8.          The mission or purpose of my congregation/parish makes me feel my participation is important.
  9.          The other members of my congregation/parish are committed to spiritual growth.
  10.      Aside from family members, I have a best friend in my congregation/parish.
  11.      In the last six months, someone in my congregation/parish has talked to me about the progress of my spiritual growth.
  12.      In my congregation/parish, I have opportunities to learn and grow. 

If a church can help participants to respond positively to these questions, all of those “nobodies” who cross the threshold will come to understand that they are “somebodies” to God and God’s church.


Jim Armstrong said...

I would suggest that there is another class of "nobodies", ones that are within the typical evangelical Christian church. The Willow Creek self examination in the last few years revealed a startling number of folks in their congregations that were dissatisfied, to the point of considering leaving. Their understandable response was a renewed emphasis on reading, devotion, and community. But I think they missed a group of "nobodies". There seem to be a fair number of thoughtful Christians whose faith walks are in transition, marked by exploration of questions that have characterized more turbulent eras of Christian history, and by exploration of more contemporary voices which lie outside the conversations of most mainline churches. Such conversations happen routinely in seminary settings, but they almost never "leak" into contemporary church life (unless the church falls in that "Progressive Christian" category). These "nobodies" often, consciously or not, are often "testing all things" relating to the foundations of their belief. They all too often feel alone in their questions and feelings, without the freedom in their present context to broach important questions that have been the "stuff" of major denominational schisms in times past. Yet they are at important transitional times in their faith walk, many making that critical (IMHO) transition from an inherited faith to a more personally integrated chosen faith (to use the terminology offered by Anthony Robinson).
[Parenthetically, I think the inattention to this transition in our younger folks, ...from a childhood faith model to an adult one, is a major contributor to their disaffected flight from church life.]
How to nurture these particular "nobody" folks in their transitional explorations is to be sure a bit of a Gordian knot, with its risks in many forms. But I would suggest that ignoring them essentially results in something akin to the "brain drain" being experienced by the more troubled nations in our world today.
Or so it seemeth to me. JimA

Ircel said...

Jim, thanks for your perspective. I think you have identified a group often overlooked in our churches.