How the Strategy of “Community” Can Hurt Churches


I don’t normally work or write on church marketing strategy but I enjoy it and I believe churches, in general, are in desperate need of better marketing.

One of the strategies churches use for retention is to create “community” within the church. This is intentionally creating events for people to get to know each other and/or to create smaller groups that meet in homes throughout the week to foster deeper relationships with each other. This strategy is especially effective in larger churches where the pastors or staff of the church are just not physically able to build relationships with everyone in the congregation.

This strategy has taken off in the past fifteen (15) years and it’s made a significant difference in people’s lives. However, I was talking with a pastor of a medium-sized church last week and he paraphrased a statement from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that I believe is very important for anyone in church leadership to be aware of. He said, “Those who love the community, kill community. But those who love people, create community.”

Think about it. People who love the idea of the church community – getting together with people they know, the routine which is all good things but that love will kill community if it’s all about them. Death comes from decay or the absence of growth. People who love community for their own sake do not want the group to grow. They want it to continue to meet their own needs forever and that is simply not possible.

Guess what? If your church has visitors and those people can’t find a community within your church because people are not willing to open up their lives to new people, your church will never grow. The greatest breakthrough for a church is to have people invite and be accommodating to new people. It’s a simple concept but I would estimate that 95% of all church leaders struggle with how to do that effectively.

There is good news (no pun intended). Those who love people, create community. At a basic level, Jesus taught people to be other-centered and not self-centered. To put the needs of others ahead of themselves. If a church is able to effectively teach what Jesus taught (without putting people to sleep in the process) they are well on the way.

Here are three (3) other ideas to help.

1. Don’t allow “community” to become jargon.

Pastors and church leaders are surrounded by industry jargon like gospel, worship, communion, sanctification, and yes, community. They use these words all the time in meetings and communication throughout the week with peers, but the audience (congregation) don’t often understand the correct definitions. Make sure your audience understands your expectations of what “community” at your church is, what it should be and how it should play out. Keep saying it over and over again. When you and your staff are sick of it – keep saying it. Only when the security guard in the parking lot comes to you and says “I think it’s a bit much, don’t you?” – then you can stop.

2. Everyone should tell stories of new people.

Most churches leave the communication to the stage on Sunday mornings. I think communication leadership should be lived out in all staff and church leaders (paid or volunteer). Have staff take 30 seconds at the weekly staff meetings share about a visitor they interacted with. Make visitors and new members a key metric and mandate for all staff in every division…or better yet make it an actual role within the organization. Keep it top of mind. Tell stories about new people visiting and how you expect people to welcome and engage with them. NEW is a sign of LIFE. Is your church living or dying?

3. Over celebrate the correct behaviour.

How are you celebrating and reinforcing the behaviour of inviting and accommodating new people? In most churches, only 5% of the people are “bringers”. These are people who actually invite others to come and then go out of their way to ensure they have a good time or get plugged-in. Celebrate these people. Give them a reputation to live up to and make them a standard for others to understand what is valued. Mention them from on-stage. Create inspiring videos of them in action and post it online and in social media. Celebrate when small groups multiply and new groups are formed.

Community is a great strategy for every church to live out its mission. With every good strategy, the execution of it determines it’s level of success and that is determined by the leader – no pressure.

Enjoy the week!