3 Things Churches LOVE That KILL Outreach

3. Too many churches love their traditions more than their children.

How can you tell? They persist in using methods that are not relevant to their own children and grandchildren. Far too often, church leaders, in an effort to protect the traditions of their congregations, draw lines in the sand on nonessential issues.

This is not to say that “tradition” is wrong. It depends on how you define it, but I think most will know what I mean. Christian scholar Jaroslav Pelikan said, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.” Churches that love tradition that way will choose their traditions over their children every time.

Too often, churches allow traditions to hinder their ability to humbly assess their missional effectiveness. Moreover, they allow traditions to trump the future trajectory of their demographic. I know of several young pastors who have been exiled from their local congregations because they didn’t fit the mold of what had always been the ethos of the leadership. Sometimes this is because impatient pastors try to force change too quickly. Other times it’s because settled churches resist change so forcefully.

Undoubtedly, there are always times to defend the traditional stances of essential doctrines in the local church. But we should not have a cultural elitism that hinders passing the torch to a new generation of leaders. If your church loves the way you do church more than your children, it loves the wrong thing.

It’s time to evaluate your church.

Love is good, and everyone wants a loving church. However, loving the wrong things leads you the wrong way. Loving what is good, including our context, Jesus’ mission and the next generation (to name a few things) moves the church in the right direction. The church should be always reforming, that is, humbly looking at itself and assessing its ability to reach people with the good news of Jesus. Sadly, many of the people Jesus devoted His time to would not feel welcome in our churches.

What about your church? What does its posture, behavior, practices and activities communicate to your community? I think all of us want to understand the culture and community we are ministering in so we can communicate the gospel with absolute clarity. To do this, we need to ask ourselves the hard but needed questions.

  • Who are we reaching?
  • Are we primarily reaching people who are like us?
  • Are we primarily reaching people who are already believers?
  • Are we primarily reaching people who understand Christian subculture and taboos?
  • What about the people who don’t have a church background?
  • What about the people who are unfamiliar with Christian beliefs?
  • What about the people who don’t understand church subculture and behavioral taboos?

To say we are unable to reach the lost because of our traditions or preferences is simply unacceptable and antithetical to the mission of God.  

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Ed Stetzer
Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books.

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