This is the second blog in a series: The Grass is Always Greener Where you Water it. As I write about the churches where I have served, I am using pseudonyms that will give me the opportunity to explore them a little more fully, without offending members or staff with my observations. Looking back now at the trail behind, I recognize that each celebration of a win, and each challenge (or epic fail) was directly related to how clearly the church understood its identity and calling.
I’m going to call the next church in the series, Metro Church. This church sits in the midst of an incredibly hip urban center, with a high value for the arts and style – not quite New York City, but cooler than Atlanta.
I want to talk about my experiences at Metro Church through the framework of what Auxano calls, The 4 P’s. These 4 concepts are the foundational source of attraction and stickiness of a church body when someone initially comes into contact with it. Everyone is looking for a defining, emotional connection to the church. We can not keep people from connecting to one or more of them. The essential question is, are they ever given the opportunity to connect with something more enduring?
>>p is for place
Metro church had a really great place. They were not exactly downtown, but close enough. They had a fantastic cutting-edge facility, great multi-use classroom environments, a top-notch cafe right in the lobby, super children’s areas, and even a skatepark out back. One of the core values of Metro Church was “Compelling Environments”, and they did it well.
When I first came to Metro, I resisted this value as purely attractional. It bothered me that there were so many people who attended because they were in love with the great environments, the musical style, the skinny jeans on the worship team, and the utter hipp-ness of the place. It definitely felt like you had to have a certain cool factor to attend Metro. They leveraged God’s provision of a great campus in every way they could – and to be honest, for a while, I struggled to find anything more meaningful than their focus on a relevant culture. In the sparse communication season of a deeper mission, people were definitely attached to the culture of the place.
>>p is for personality
This P happens when there is a particularly loved or charismatic leader on the staff at a church. People can easily attach the church’s identity and their sense of belonging to a staff member or communicator. Is it difficult to imagine the church being such a compelling place without that particular leader? Because the senior leader and communicator at Metro is so incredibly gifted, the spotlight on the vision had to shine so much brighter to keep it front and center as the identity of the church. If they had failed in that, the church’s identity would have revolved around the personality of a few key leaders. See Will Mancini’s article on Rick Warren’s health issues for a great example.
>>p is for programs
Metro Church did an exceptional job with this one. The culture of the church was one of change. Programs were always accepted as temporary expressions of the church’s mission. There were only a few rare exceptions where people invested their identity and commitment in one of the amazing programs at Metro. There was always very little fallout when a program was cut, or transitioned into another program. The staff really did a great job of making sure that people knew the programs were tools in support of the church’s vision.
>>p is for people
This is the trickiest of the 4, and happens to be the one that was the biggest challenge for Metro Church. When people become the central source of identity (a person’s emotional connection to a church at the deepest level), they experience severe angst when people they are personally attached to leave. We want people to experience true community in our church body. But when the people we are relationally connected to leave, our ties and commitment to the church should not dissolve. The purely sociological phenomenon of comfort and belonging that occurs when 10-20 people know you and miss you should never trump our attachment to God’s vision for the church.
Metro was constantly in a state of leadership flux because the relational attraction of the micro-communities at the church created stronger ties than people’s connection to the church’s vision. As the pastor that led discipleship and spiritual development, I was guilty of unintentionally reinforcing this by using small groups to strengthen these ties without dripping the vision as the motivating purpose behind the small group communities.
The 4 P’s are not bad. They are all good things. They are part of God’s provision to us, as His church. Tragically, it is easy to raise these 4 areas to a place of primacy over the vision without even realizing it. Because we want to leverage God’s provision to make the most of what He gives us, we reinforce people’s love and value of the place God has given us, the quality of our leaders, the excellent programs we use, and the people who help us connect. The problem is that even in the absence of a clear and compelling vision, the 4 P’s have enough power to drawn and retain people, masking the gaping hole in our purpose and mission.
I am thankful for Metro Church’s continual focus on the vital, unique vision that God called them to. I learned so much about the seductive danger of a church that could have continued growing just by been great at the 4 P’s – yet continually called people to refocus on God’s mission for His people in that time and place.
>>Which of the 4 P’s does your church struggle with? How do you keep your missional focus?