There are two kinds of explorers, those who return saying “you should have seen what I saw” and those who return with a map. John Fremont was the latter, which is largely why a city in California is named after him and we still remember him.
When he explored California, Fremont took a cartographer along. The map they produced turned an exploration experienced by few into a travel destination for many.
Most people don’t like taking the risks associated with exploring but if you hand them a map they’ll consider traveling.
While I don’t explore mountains or rivers, I do explore ideas. For the past 1.5 years a group of friends and I have been researching an idea called Once A Month Church.
Here’s our map
Church is church
Context is everything. Regardless of what you may want the word church to mean, the fact remains that when you say church people think church service. Meaning, you can do whatever cool things you want to do as in being the church but you better not forget to do church somewhere along the line or people (church people that is) wont come along for the rest of the ride. This turned out to be the deal killer for me. I realized somewhere along the line that I’m fresh out of church service coupons. They got used up somewhere in the 80s and 90s.
I mean no judgey-ness. It is what it is. Church is largely a “service” for people who were raised in church. If you have positive childhood memories associated with Sunday school then “going to church” will on balance be something you want more of and want your children to have. Of course given the growing number of “nones” and “dones” the trend lines don’t offer much hope but at least for the next 50 years some version church services will remain in demand.
All that to say that I think Once A Month Church could provide an existing large church with declining attendance an alternative church service choice for the increasing number of people who are already attending once a month anyway. Don’t fight them. Surprise them with your leadership and service. Be authentic. Tell them you understand that they’re busy etc. Provide them a killer church service once a month. They will bring their non church going friends along just to show them how cool their church is and you’ll get the opportunity to meet people who otherwise would never consider darkening the door of your building.
Once a Month Church as a Church Planting Strategy Does Not Work
Merely providing a killer church service once a month for a brand new group as a starter strategy is a non-starter. If that’s all you’re providing for people then it’s simply too infrequent for people to stay connected. They’ll find a “real” church that provides the support services they’re accustomed to and then break away from that group once a month to hang out with you and your friends.
People Want Small Groups
I’m not saying they want to attend groups, I’m saying they want a choice of groups to attend when it fits their schedule. Actually all of us are like that, unless we’re either leading or lonely, we automatically revert to being the consumers our culture has trained us to be and which the church clearly models itself after.
If you have a cadre of small group leaders who want “just enough church” then OAMC could be a very effective model. If you are the “pastor” of OAMC you get to give these leaders permission to lead. Your job then becomes consistently meeting with those leaders one on one and leading a once a month church service. They develop people and you develop them. You provide the monthly ritual and they have something they can bring their friends to that isn’t small and intimate. These highly motivated innovators will hustle to grow their groups and to stay connected with people. This is where the real action is. OAMC is a powerful adjunct to this model of church. The OAMC church service is the symbolic centerpiece but not the actual centerpiece.
Leading a once a month church service and meeting one on one with small group innovators does not require a paid professional. I think a network of groups that gathered once a month could grow to about 150 in attendance without any paid people (excepting for child care and an online admin). The most important person to not be paid is whoever is thought of or called Pastor. Once that person gets money a symbolic social transaction has occurred that permanently changes the experience. Its not that money is bad or that the person couldn’t use the money its simply that given that the majority of people who attend church were raised in church they naturally associate payment for an exchange of services. This transaction numbs them and they begin to think like consumers. You can avoid all this simply by not being paid.