Mentality Shift: Do Programs Really Attract People?

For several decades there has been a strain of thought that the most effective way to attract people into church is to have exciting well-designed programs. Perhaps there was a time when that was an effective strategy, but I have my doubts that it is an effective core strategy today. Certainly well-run programs can be a valuable part of church life, but they can never be the core of church life. This is true for both practical and spiritual reasons.

On the practical level, who needs more commitments to fit into their schedule? There may be some people looking for such things, but at least for many people living in our area the bigger challenge is too many commitments rather than not enough. There are so many good and worthwhile things to be doing. As a church we can offer some things to do that are meaningful, and some people will take part in them, but the church is not designed to be a civic activities center. Many activities that at one time were church-sponsored now have other groups that focus on that activity exclusively and so can be more effective than a congregation can be at doing that activity effectively.

What the church offers that is not offered elsewhere is the salvific healing of Christ at work in the world today. That hope is the center of all that the church does. The work of the church is to invite people into participation with that divine reality. This happens most effectively in worship and Christian education/formation. It is found most clearly in the disruption from the hectic pace of life through moments of peace. This peace is encountered in prayer, worship, service to others, and reflective learning. These are not programs, but rather holy moments of connection and care. These activities bring people into connection with God at work and form them into disciples of Christ. Too often programs focus on keeping themselves going or how they make us feel rather than on the formation of disciples of Christ.

Church programming is at most secondary in attracting people. In and of themselves they do not open us to God, and they often fill up already overbooked schedules. More important is the spiritual fervor of the people of the congregation. Are the people of the congregation authentic in their faith? Does their love for others shine through? Are they passionate about what Christ has done in their lives? If you want to attract people to faith, be people of faith. That is infinitely more important than any particular program ever could be.