Church Growth - Minding The Competition
by John Foster
In my last article I looked at where the Church can add value from within; this article looks at the external forces that frustrate the mission of the Church.
Jack Trout’s book “Differentiate or Die” talks about survival in an era of killer competition. With the massive choices that people have these days why choose your Church?
Professor Michael Porter of Harvard University describes “5 forces” of competition. I suggest competition is “anything which prevents us from fulfilling our mission as Church” and Ephesians 6:12 (in a different context) points out that the source of our opposition is not always obvious.
Most obvious competitors are other churches “competing” for the same people, with their rival events, their Sunday worship and their theological stance etc. Of course, if all the other Churches in your town closed tomorrow you’d fill more seats on Sunday. However, because our passion is for The Kingdom of God, other Churches are not really competitors – we might see them more like “friends in the same fight”. A Baptist Minister recently prayed that everyone else’s Church would be more successful than his own – great prayer since his Church is booming.
Other factors present the Church with real competition.
Our mission is often frustrated by a lack of resources (plentiful harvest and few workers). It’s more than money! People seem to have less time and it is often difficult to get volunteers. Litigation horror stories, child protection, health & safety and just the struggles of life today squeeze people’s willingness to cooperate. At the same time life is more demanding; when organising an event these days, more effort is required such as disability provision – ramps, large print, printed orders of service etc. I don’t suggest it’s wrong, it’s just extra work needed, even when no one comes needing it and provided by fewer willing people.
STRATEGIC TIP: We can’t avoid legal compliance but we needn’t moan about it for hours. Don’t argue legal compliance - just do it and move on to enjoy the real work. Collaboration can avoid duplication of effort.
Fewer willing people means that they have more bargaining power. Gone are the days when people would quake in their boots when the Superintendent was due to call. Old Ministers talk about being posted to places without choice but with fewer Ministers and Preachers these days they have a greater bargaining power for their personalpreference.
The very people we seek to serve can frustrate our mission too. Preachers have also to be entertaining because people are used to seeing professional presentation right in their living room every evening on TV and we live in the world of the sound bite. Whatever hymns, songs or chorus’ you choose for your service somebody will moan; in this pick and mix society people want what they want, none of what they don’t want and you are expected to serve it to them.
In the past even the offering was easier; pass the plate and place the cash. The cashless world of the plastic card doesn’t stop giving but it makes life more complicated.
Town Centres have given way to the shopping mall, the owners who control these privately owned “streets”. Our local shopping mall has a sex shop (so they tell me – ehem!) but their security guards kick beggars out, don’t allow street collections and won’t even allow so much as a church poster - because it may offend people!
There are so many other things more important than attending Sunday worship - for some folk. The church started many football clubs for the lads (even my own beloved Manchester City) – the same clubs that now compete against the Church by arranging their games during worship time (for the TV money).
Broken families mean Sunday may be visiting time for Dad or Mum. Sunday shopping is a substitute activity to rival keeping the day special; the mission of the Church is frustrated and society is impoverished because of it.
Potential New EntrantsL~
As if existing activities weren’t enough to slow our mission, even the fear of new entrants can be debilitating. Where Christianity is booming the Churches think nothing of building new facilities and investing in bold mission. It takes faith on a different scale to invest heavily in a decline.
A coffee chain in our town has started evening Christian meetings in their trendy, modern, central location and if I’m honest I prefer this setting to our Church Hall for my discussions with pals over coffee – even though the coffee is 4 times the price.
The opening up of civil venues to rival Church weddings means fewer opportunities to meet new people; fewer opportunities to plant seeds. I was called to faith in Jesus whilst casually attending a baptism ceremony. I hope that God would have used another way had I not gone to that Church on that day – or did He know I’d be there all along?
When a modern mega Church opened up in one town it sucked all the young folk from their local Church for miles around. Even though many made it extra to their local worship, it undoubtedly took money and energy from the local Church.
It is important to look carefully at your competitive forces, in your context and location. The solution to a problem may not lie in the same direction as the source of the problem and if you turn this whole article around, your Church could be the new entrant into some innovative areas of mission.
God chose Saul, one of the biggest competitive forces against Christians at that time. He got him on the right agenda by introducing him to Jesus and with a spot of rebranding; the new Paul used the same energy for God’s work.
Dr John Foster in a Local Preacher from Barnsley. He is Managing Director of a large bakery om the town and received an MBE in 2011 for services to unemployed people - for his voluntary work helping disadvantaged people into various careers. John has anhonoraryy Doctorate from Sheffield Hallam University for his achievements in the food industry.
METConnexion, Summer 2012, pp12-13