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The New Mantra for Today’s Church

There is an often-told story of a real-estate agent who explained to his client the three most important factors in selling a property. “I would say the first thing to consider is location,” he begins, “followed closely by location, and last—but not least—location.” It may be an exaggeration to say nothing else matters in real estate, but this familiar quote drives home a point—location is not something to overlook.

If you were to ask me the most important shifts needed in church today, I would hold up three fingers and say … “participation, participation, participation.” I’m not saying nothing else matters. I am saying participation is a major element that is missing in churches today—and that we are getting ready to embrace once again. Culture has changed, and it’s not going back. The Internet has given people an opportunity to connect, interact and get involved. God’s people would like to participate in church, too. But churches will need to accept some shifts from within, because participation changes everything.

Participation changes the way we meet. If we are committed to allowing God’s people to participate, we can no longer line them up in rows and keep them silent during our meetings. We need to rearrange the seating to allow more interaction and involvement. We should share our stories and connect with one another. The time we spend sharing food and drink together will become more than just a coffee break at the end of the service, and take on a greater significance.

Participation changes the way we learn. Neuroscience has shown us that people learn best when they are actively engaged and involved—hands-on learning is more powerful than passive listening. Did you know that most adults are unable to listen effectively for more than 10-15 minutes at the longest? The Vatican has even recommended that sermons should only last around eight minutes, as this is the ideal length of time for listening without shutting down. We’re discovering better ways of learning, and we should start using them in our churches.

Participation changes the way we lead. No longer should the pastor do all the talking. It’s time to get everyone involved, get everyone teaching each other and to rediscover Christ’s leadership for the whole community. The payoff is enormous. When we move from performance to facilitation, we empower God’s people to have a voice, a value and an impact. We enable them to discover their spiritual gifts and use them to minister to one another. We release them to change the world around them.

The Bible compares the church to a body, with Jesus as the head, which will grow in maturity “as each part does its work” (Eph 4:16). The goal of church is spiritual maturity, not numbers. Every one of us has a part to play. It’s time for the church to prepare for participation.

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Kathleen Ward’s driving passion is welcoming outsiders into community. This involves drinking copious cups of tea and spending time with neighbours and new friends from other cultures and backgrounds. Her secondary interest is encouraging the church to move from performance to empowerment; from audience to community; from passive listening to active learning. She co-writes this blog with her best friend and husband, Kevin-Neil Ward