When people ask about Meck’s growth, or ability to penetrate the unchurched, they are looking for a silver bullet. A single program, method, or approach that they can take, implement, and see similar results.
Here it is.
Our secret sauce.
We really are on mission.
We really are turned outward.
We really are after the unchurched.
Think of it like you would a car assembly line:
At the beginning of the line are the raw materials and parts needed to make a car: wire, engine, tires, chassis. Then, as those materials progress down the assembly line, a car is made. At the end of the line, the vehicle is rolled off for service.
The dilemma is that many churches are specializing in one short segment of the assembly line:
There is no effort to collect the raw material needed to build cars, and there is little effort to roll finished cars off of the line for service on the road. Their mission is simply a maintenance program for existing cars where windshields are washed, fluids are checked, and tire-pressure is monitored. The goal is to keep cars that have already been built well-tuned and polished for the showroom.
Yet that is what is killing so many churches.
The mission cannot be simply to keep Christians happy and growing. Nor can it be about attempting to lure believers from other churches by having glitzier services and better programs. No longer can the mission be about us – it must be about those who have yet to become Christians.
But that’s the problem.
We like the mission being about us.
In Greek mythology, Narcissus is the character who, upon passing his reflection in the water, becomes so enamored with himself that he devotes the rest of his life to his own reflection. From this we get our term “narcissism,” the preoccupation with self. The value of narcissism is the classic "I, me, mine" mentality that places personal pleasure and fulfillment at the forefront of concerns.
And it is just this spirit which has invaded our thinking.
A spiritual narcissism has invaded the church.
Eavesdrop, for a moment, on how we talk:
“I want to go where I'm fed," not where we can learn to feed ourselves, much less feed others.
“I need to be ministered to,” as if ministry in the life of the Christ-follower is something that happens to us, instead of something we make happen through us for others.
We walk out of a worship service and say, "I didn't get anything out of it," as if that was its purpose – our edification, instead of God’s.
Where did that come from?
It wasn’t from our Leader.
He didn’t talk that way.
“I did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give my life as a ransom for many.”
“Whoever wants to be first must become last.”
“Whoever wants to be great among must become the slave of all.”
“Not my will, but thine.”
Yet a spiritual narcissism has invaded our thinking where the individual needs and desires of the Believer have become the center of attention. Which is why most churches have, as their primary focus, reaching and then serving the already convinced. So the mission isn’t making disciples, but caring for them.
This is an uncomfortable truth. Because almost everybody who follows Christ, and almost every gathering of those Christ followers constituting a church, says the same thing: “We want to reach the world for Christ.”
Yet most don’t.
So where’s the breakdown?
When questioned about His own missional emphasis toward those on the outside of faith, He said:
“Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what the Scripture means: 'I'm after mercy, not religion.' I'm here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.'" (Matthew 9:12-13, Msg)
The problem? According to Jesus, seemingly long-term “insiders.”
In other words, scratch the surface of a sacrificial, pick-up-your-cross, to die is gain, eat my flesh and drink my blood, Christian,
…and you have an it’s-all-about-me, spiritually narcissistic, turned-inward, meet my needs, feed me, consumer.
Again, listen to how we talk:
“Of course I want to reach lost people,”
…but I’m not going to see us change the music.
…but I’m not going to lead a capital campaign to raise the money.
…but I’m not going to park far away.
…but I’m not going to risk stirring things up right now in the church.
…but I’m not going to attend at a different service time.
…but I’m not going to start a new church.
…but I’m not going to stand for the pastor dressing casually.
…but I’m not going to give money to launch a new site or relocate.
…but I’m not going to watch someone on a video.
…but I’m not going to put in fifty or sixty-hour weeks.
…but I’m not going to let them start playing drums.
…but I’m not going to change how I preach.
…but I’m not going to give up my favorite seat.
…but I’m not going to turn things over to a bunch of 20-somethings.
…but I’m not going to attend on Saturday night.
…but I’m not going to…
You fill in the rest of the blanks. I’m not even suggesting this list is what a church should do. But it does betray our spirit.
The problem with outreach today is that the most basic and elemental issues related to outreach are resisted by the very people who say they want those unchurched people to come and find Jesus.
So our secret sauce is simple. It’s in a four-word mantra we say to each other all the time around Meck:
“It’s not about you.”
It’s about the person who isn’t even here yet.
Don’t like the new music?
It’s not about you.
Don’t like the new style of worship?
It’s not about you.
Don’t like the new dress code?
It’s not about you.
Don’t like what we’re doing with video?
The new website?
It’s not about you.
It’s about them.
James Emery White
Adapted from the 2015 Church and Culture Conference. Click here to purchase mp3s of this and other #CCConference2015 addresses.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.