You’re unique, just like everybody else

 In Blog, Connection

Recently, friends of mine that had been long-term missionaries overseas came home. They had been gone for over a decade and the adjustment back to the U.S. was shocking for them. One of the stories he told was of being completely overwhelmed at the grocery store.  After gathering a few items in his cart, he walked down the cereal aisle and was like a deer in headlights. He looked up and down the aisle and then turned around, left his cart and walked out. When I asked him why he said ‘Do you know how many types of cereal there were? Over 300. I was used to having 2 different types to choose from.”

You might have the same experience driving through your town seeing all the different churches. In our hometown of Kansas City, there are over 2271 churches according to a study conducted in 2010. In that same year, the census showed 459,000 people in KC. That’s just over one church for every 200 people. With so many options, what makes someone choose to engage at your church instead of the church down the road? What is the unique DNA of your community?

Here are 4 questions to ask that will help you find the unique story that clarifies who you are and how to tell a compelling narrative about your community:

What business are you REALLY in?

The best brands leave a mark on culture and stand out from the crowd because they know that the product they sell isn’t the business that they are in. Sounds odd right? Let me explain. Nike is a worldwide brand that is known for its sportswear. That is what they sell. Nike is in the business of people’s untapped potential. When we hear Nike we think, ‘Just Do it’. This encouraging message tells us that we can be more, do more. Another example is FedEx. Yes, they ship packages, but the real business that they are in is the ‘Don’t worry about it’ business’. If you give us your package to ship, we will get it there; no need to worry about it.

At almost any church you go to, we have the same ‘products’. We have church services, Bible studies, small groups and more. But what really describes your unique business? Some churches are really running a field hospital for the walking wounded. They care for and heal those that have been wounded by relationships, the church, or life in general. A church in this business would say things like, “our community is filled with broken people”.

Others churches may be in the ‘exporting’ business. They are singularly focused on deploying equipped people to serve somewhere else. They spend their time supporting and developing missionaries that will go to the ends of the earth with the Gospel.

Who is your tribe?

You know the adage “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”  This holds true for our faith communities as well. Churches that try to be all things to all people are often not much good to anyone. To be clear, I am not saying that a church should be ‘only’ for a specific type of person. What I am saying is that your church should have an intentional culture. If your church is in the ‘walking wounded’ business, then your culture should reflect that intentionality. It should be a safe place to expose vulnerabilities, and have a culture that is patient with people who are recovering from being wounded. If your church is in the ‘exporting’ business, talking about missions, learning about other cultures, and developing relationships with others that are different from yourselves should be woven into the culture of your community.

Again, our churches need to have a posture of extravagant welcome to others, but if we know who we are as a faith community, it provides our visitors with a clear picture of the community they are joining.  We want to hear from people things like “I know I’ve only been coming here for a few weeks, but I feel like  I’m at home – like I’m with family.”   Your church isn’t for everybody, but you should be able to identify the cultural traits that make your community appealing to some and less so to others.

What are you becoming?

Church isn’t about status quo – it is intended to be a movement. That means that if I come to your church 5 years from now, it shouldn’t be exactly the same as it is today. Apple didn’t build a computer and then say ‘good enough’. They had a vision that expanded well beyond the issues of ‘today’ and cast a vision for an alternative future. As a result. They have and continue to revolutionize how we use technology to connect, create, and learn.

As a church, we need to have a clear vision of the world that looks different than what most people see today. This vision should guide how we use our gifts, our time and our resources as a community. Having a vision that drives you is what keeps your community from stagnating. It can provide the organizational direction and requires that we involve our people in reaching our aims.

How are you telling your story?

Knowing your unique positioning, your people and having a vision for the future is a great start. If you fail to share all of this with individuals and the broader community, little will come of it. There is a reason that Jesus told parables. People connect with stories. They are emotional and energizing.
Telling your story happens in all of the ways you communicate. It is in how you plan your gatherings, your posture to others, and in every other form of verbal and nonverbal communication. In the business world, they call this brand alignment. Metaphorically speaking, it is the soundtrack to all that you do. It is infused into the walls and seeps from your pores. This type of alignment begins with leadership and makes its way through the staff, members and community as a whole.

Your church has a unique role to play in impacting your community and beyond. Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself: everyone else is already taken.” Great advice for churches. Reaching your fullest potential begins with an honest and thorough examination of who you are and who you want to become.

What is something that you love about your church that sets it apart?