A.A. and the 12-Step Program has a special place in my heart because that’s where I first became open to “spirituality.”
It’s also the first place I experienced grace from people. I remember opening up my heart and really letting people know what was going on inside of me.
And the strangest thing happened… nobody judged me! They didn’t even give me “concerned” looks.
It was like they were saying,”Josh, it’s OK. You’re not alone. We know what you’re going through. And you’re not a bad person.”
It was certainly an “attractive” culture. And later on I learned that this was part of their “growth strategy.” In other words, the founders of the program made a deliberate decision to focus on “attraction rather than promotion.”
You’re probably familiar with A.A.’s “12 Steps” but they also have “12 Traditions” they use to govern their groups. And Tradition 11 is all about attraction vs promotion. It reads:
“Tradition 11: Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion. There is never need to praise ourselves. We feel it better to let our friends recommend us.”
The crazy part about this “attraction growth strategy” is that it worked in a big way. In fact, as of January 1, 2015 there’s an estimated 2 million people in A.A. in 175 countries.
After attending well over 100 A.A. meetings and even more church meetings, I often think about some things churches could learn from A.A.’s culture. And this whole “attraction over promotion” is one of the most important.
And if you’re a Christian reading this and you don’t think there’s anything to learn from a “secular” institution like A.A. then you’re probably right. 😉
However, if you’re willing to do things differently. If you’re willing to think outside the box and experiment with new ways of growing your church or ministry then keep reading. I’m going to share some ideas that I hope will help.
1. Make a Decision to Be Attractive
Everything starts with a decision. A commitment. It doesn’t matter if you know how to do it or if you feel capable or confident right now. The first step is to make a decision.
Because it’s going to be really hard if you believe that the only way to grow your church is through promotion. In other words, if you think the only way to grow your church is through:
- “Door to door” proselytizing
- “Getting involved in the community”
By the way, I mention “Getting involved in the community” because often this “involvement” is motivated by a hidden agenda to promote a church instead of really just help meet a genuine need in the community).
Now, I’m not saying that any of those promotional strategies are “wrong” or bad. I’m just proposing that there’s a better way. This is not about right vs wrong. We have to stop thinking about everything like that.
Instead, I want to suggest that there’s a way the church can become attractive to the world once again.
I believe God’s Presence and His Kingdom and very attractive to people. It’s religion that has become so repulsive to so many. If you believe that then I’ll ask you to consider making that decision to embrace “attraction rather than promotion” to grow your church.
2. Form an Attractive Culture
What does this mean? Well, let’s first talk about what it doesn’t mean.
It’s not the things listed on your “About Page” on your church’s website. It’s not your Mission Statement, Statement of Faith or even your stated Core Values.
Culture is much more real than those words. Culture is the atmosphere people come into when they spend time with you and the people in your church. Sometimes, what’s written on a church’s website is acuratley reflected in the culture of the church but most the time it’s not.
If you don’t believe me then try this little experiment: visit 10 different local church websites and read their “About” pages (you’ll find most of them all start to sound the same). Now go visit each one of those churches and you’ll find that there’s a different culture in each one.
How’s that happen?
Well, duh, just because we write something or say something doesn’t mean we’re being honest.
So if you want to form an attractive culture in your church then you have to decide what you’re really going to value as a people.
For example, going back to my A.A. example, one of their values is “acceptance.” This is talked about, and practiced, heavily. So much so that when I walked into an A.A. group I actually felt accepted. Nobody had to tell me this was part of their culture. I didn’t read it on their website. I experienced it.
And that’s how culture works. It’s what people experience more than what they hear. And pardon me for the cliche, but it’s “caught not taught.”
So what values do you want in your church? Acceptance? Love? Honor? Hope?
You have to decide and you have to really go after those things. And go after the substance of those words, not the concepts and theories. Make it real!
3. Believe God is Good
I don’t know anything that will repel people more than preaching a God who is not good. Who wants to go learn about a God who is pissed off and ready to judge all these people who put Him in a bad mood?
Now, most Christians would say “God is good.” But that phrase has become such a cliche people don’t even know what they’re saying. In fact, after I got saved I observed a peculiar contradiction amongst some of my fellow churchgoers.
Here’s what would I saw:
One person, would say, “God is good.” And the other person (or small group of people) would respond. “All the time. God is good.”
I was like, wow, did they practice that? It’s kind of weird how they all talk in unison. But that’s cool they think God is good. I think He’s good too… I mean I haven’t had a drink or drug in like 30 days. He’s great!
But then I would talk to these people and quickly realize they didn’t really believe God was good. Or if they did they redefined “good” in such a crazy way…
“Yes God is good but that doesn’t mean He won’t allow sickness and tragedy and even use things like earthquakes and tsunamis to judge rebellions people.”
I think I hold to the more traditional definition of good. It’s more closely associated with smiling faces, happiness and joy. Not death, destruction and judgement.
I hope this give you something to think about. I really believe God’s people can create atmospheres and cultures that are very attractive to unbelievers.
And by the way, to those of you who think this is just another way of saying I think your church should be “seeker friendly” let me say this: I believe in preaching the “Good News” with boldness. I believe in allowing the Holy Spirit to have His way, even if it gets messy. So I’m not saying you try to just please people. I’m saying that if you’re willing to form a culture that reminds people of heaven then you’ll start attracting people you would have never reached had you just relied on promotion.