There is one word that can ignite a range of emotion in a range of people unlike any other. There is one word that can make you roll your eyes or make you roll out of bed in the morning. That word is “church.” But it’s the word before that word that most likely indicates a person’s relationship to church. Everyone you meet places a word before the word “church.” Words like “that,” “what,” “your,” “this” or “no” church. But there is one word I want as many people as possible to put before our churches and that’s “my” church.
People that put “my” before church are saying, “I belong here. This is an indispensable part of my life. I’m invested. You can count on me. This is my church, and these are my people.”
As a leader, the question that keeps me up at night is this: How do we lead people to become “my church” people?
During our USMB summer convention, I was asked to talk about unity and diversity as it relates to the Mennonite Brethren family of churches. There is one thing that unites us—more than that, one thing excites us. In Luke 15, Jesus tells a trilogy of stories that highlight God’s concern for lost people. Take a look and what you’ll find is that God searches for the lost and celebrates when they’re found. The local church is God’s primary vehicle in this search and rescue mission.
I know we are united by that mission, but we are diverse when it comes to method. It’s not enough for a church to have a great mission statement; churches have to create a great culture for lost people. We at South Mountain Community Church have a road map for leading people to become “my church” people. This isn’t the only way, this is just our way, but if something jumps out at you, consider including it in your way. Here’s our way.
The SMCC road map
We’ve recognized that all relationships have a level of trust or connectedness as well as a level of expectation. Every relationship, including a person’s relationship to your church, falls into one of the four quadrants. Each quadrant has an emoji describing life in that quadrant.
In Q1, upper left, a person experiences a low degree of trust but a high degree of expectation. This is a miserable place to be. When people have high expectations for you but no real relational connection to you, it feels like people just want something from you, not something for you. You feel forced, pressured and controlled. Churches are notorious for putting high expectations on people without connection with people. This produces people who are cynical, jaded and negative toward church. I’m sure you know someone in Q1.
In Q2, lower left, a person has low expectations and low trust placed on them. This quadrant describes acquaintances, not friends. In Q2, typically there aren’t negative feelings toward church. Q2 people are simply indifferent toward church.
In Q3, bottom right, you have low expectations and a high level of connectedness. These people are often raving fans and church is fun. These people know others and are known. These people aren’t necessarily Christians although many of them are. These are the people who would say, “I love what I experience at your/this church.”
The best relationships happen in Q4, upper right. In every Q4 relationship there is a high level of shared connectedness and a high level of shared expectations. More trust always beats less trust. More connectedness always beats less connectedness. The only ways to have deeply meaningful relationships in which we get to influence each other for good are the ones in which we give each other permission to expect certain things from us. These are the types of relationships we want with our spouses, kids, employees and co-workers.
Jesus invites us into Q4
A Q4 relationship is the type of relationship Jesus has invited us, his followers, into. Look at what Jesus says about discipleship in these famous words known as The Great Commission: “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age’” (Matt. 28:18-20).
Discipleship happens in Q4. Jesus has high expectations for his disciples. They are to obey everything he has commanded. These are people who, because of their relationship with Jesus and because of their relationship to church, bend their wills, bend their schedules, bend their finances and bend their routines to engage. These are the people who say, “This is my church; these are my people. I’m an owner; I’m invested; and you can expect things from me.”
Everyone that walks through the doors of your church falls into one of these four quadrants. When it comes to a method of discipleship, here’s why this matters. If you are a church leader, underline this next part: You cannot move people to Q4 without first moving them to Q3. If you try, you will sadly push more people into Q1. Our goal at SMCC is to make it as easy as possible to get as many people to Q3.
How do we do that? We invite people to connect with no strings attached. We invite people to give us enough time to earn their trust. We don’t try to control people. We allow people to grow at their own pace. We give people permission to belong before they believe. We let down the expectations and create environments that make it easy to connect to others. By doing this, people can move through all four quadrants. We have seen it happen for 20 years.
Now, this is where churches like ours are sometimes critiqued, as if we only want to get people to Q3. But that’s not it at all. We just know that if we try to lead people to Q4 without Q3 we are back to Q1.
This is our road map.
What’s your road map? If you don’t have one, you need one. I believe the MB family is united by the idea that our churches can be a part of seeing the lost found. This happens when churches have a clear pathway to Q4 Christianity. My hope for your church is that more and more people will say, “This is my church, these are my people and Jesus is my Lord.” I know you want that too. However, great intentions are not enough. What’s your method? What’s your road map?
This article is adapted from the keynote address Eric Nelson gave at the 2018 USMB National Convention in Salt Lake City, Utah. The theme of the convention was “Celebrating our diversity and unity.”
Eric Nelson is executive pastor of teaching and ministry at South Mountain Community Church, a multi-site church meeting at four locations throughout Utah—Draper, Lehi, South Jordan and St. George. The church also has a Spanish language congregation. After a 10-year career in student ministry in the Pacific Northwest, Nelson and his wife, Carrisa, moved to Utah to plant SMCC Lehi. The Nelsons have two children.