As a newcomer, John sat amongst the small group members listening to their Bible Study discussion. The conversation and friendly banter centered around the experiences they shared together in the past. While John was happy that the group had deep relationships, he felt a little left out as he could not identify with their shared, past memories.
In the many churches I’ve connected with, this is a common phenomenon: some groups are very familiar with one another and there is little effort made to genuinely connect and bond deeply with newcomers. As a result, newcomers may feel welcomed initially, but eventually still feel excluded from these well-established relationships. Unfortunately, this works against growth and such a church, while having deep relationships, may become a “church with walls” to newcomers.
What Erects these ‘Walls’ in Church?
- The comfort of familiar friendships
Most of us would rather maintain a comfortable community of stable, mature and familiar friends who encourage one another. There is great inertia in welcoming new people into our friendship groups. It almost seems like “starting over” in relationships.
- Lifestyle patterns that lack space for newcomers
People’s lives are already full, with church activities, family commitments and work expectations . There is very little emotional bandwidth to care for someone new. Caring is perceived as yet another task rather than a genuine desire to reach out.
- Lack of a conducive outreach-environment in church program
Members receive a clarion call to reach out through 1-2 activities a year like Christmas and Easter. However, the rest of church-life is un-geared toward reaching pre-believers. For example, the church may hold on to certain traditions (e.g. liturgies, cell group structures etc.) that a newcomer find difficult to understand and appreciate naturally.
When a leader seeks to encourage the church to reach out to new people, these patterns tend to “pull-back” on such initiatives and require an entire culture-shift!
Helping Your Church To Navigate This Pull-Back Effect
How to break down the ‘walls’?
Breaking the walls require a significant change to lifestyle, family routines and stepping out of comfort zones. It requires time, patience and a move of the Holy Spirit to convict people!
Here are some practical tips:
- Appeal to both the heart and mind of our members
Showcase to your members that outreach can work and is sustainable. Aim for a small, successful outreach effort (e.g. 1 Alpha group) and share the statistics and observable impact. Such efforts speak to the mind.
To engage the heart, share testimonies of members who tried reaching out beyond their comfort zone and how it changed their lives.
- Identify & close the outreach skill-gap
What are the main gaps that your congregation faces in outreach? For example, it could be not knowing how to share the gospel or how to transit conversations into spiritual things in a natural way. Whatever it is, training, encouraging and assuring people will empower them to take the steps of faith!
- Connecting various programs strategically to build momentum & outward-orientation
Most people need a supportive community and resources to sustain an outreach lifestyle. Hence, linking multiple events (big and small) together to build momentum and outward-orientation is better for sustaining an outreach lifestyle than one-off outreach events.
“We took time to devote 4 months of pulpit time to teach on “loving the lost” and rebranded our Christian Education to have workshops that were targeted to move people toward outreach. We held our church anniversary by inviting a Media-Personality guest speaker for our first time…culminating in holding Christmas parties at the Cell Group level, followed by an outreach Christmas Service and Carnival! Though our people had been so comfortable with one another for a long time, we managed to help them look outward through a lifestyle of outreach through intentional programming!” (Ps. Tan Hock Cheng, Shekinah Assembly of God Church)
True outreach comes from a changed culture and social dynamic to be inclusive rather than exclusive.
For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. (Ephesians 2:14, NLT)
Despite the differences in thinking, culture and social behavior between Jews and Gentiles, the purpose and power of Christ moved those rooted in Him to overcome the walls of culture. May his Purpose & Power move us to overcome the differences in culture, thinking, and social behavior to reach people in the community–to be a church without walls!
Hear what other Pastors and Leaders say
“When people have a truly inclusive culture and mindset, they will bring outreach into their families and marketplace, even partnering with other churches and organizations to reach people. “
Pastor Keith Lai
“The issue is no longer either fellowship (with believers) or evangelism (towards pre-believers). The real question is: Do you value those whom God value? If lost people matter to God, then they must also matter to us!”
Pastor Tan Hock Cheng
What Do You Think?
What other factors have contributed to the ‘walls’ built in your church? What has your church done to navigate this ‘pull -back’ effect? Share your thoughts with us, and let me know if this post has helped you!
We will be blessing 5 readers of the blog with Ps Philip’s upcoming book, so leave a comment below and we will be in touch with you!
 Please note that comments submitted, if helpful & edifying, may be integrated into a future book for the resourcing of churches
Rev. Dr. Philip Huan is the Principal Consultant at ChurchLife Resources, and is passionate about helping churches and leaders become strong and healthy!