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Building Relationships vs Building Exposure

“If your church closed its doors tomorrow, would anyone in the community notice?”

By Tim & Linda Sitterley, Regional Director and Pastor.

Tim:  As a regional director, I’ve asked many of the pastors in my region the question listed above. It’s an unpopular question, known to pastors throughout the Christian world.

It’s a relevant question on a couple of levels. A 2021 study from Lifeway Research (based on data from three dozen denominations) found that 4,500 churches closed in 2019, while only 3,000 were started. GCI is not immune to that trend. Nor are we immune to the decline in attendance that began long before the recent pandemic. The 2021 Faith Communities Today study found that the median worship attendance for churches in the U.S. dropped from 137 people to 65 people over the past two decades.

But let’s bring the question even closer:

“Does anyone in your immediate community know your congregation even exists?”

When GCI congregations meet (hide, is often what it looks like) in non-GCI churches, schools, Masonic halls, etc., or meet on a day other than the traditional day of worship, the real question deals with exposure. Does the community know you exist?

This question of exposure was one I asked the leadership of the GCI River Road congregation my wife pastors. I asked it often when they replanted the congregation in a new (to them) building in a new community with a new name.

Linda:  Tim often brought up the subject of visibility and exposure as we went through the process of relocating. I suspect he asked the question, in part, because he was never satisfied with the answer when he previously pastored this congregation. The River Road congregation was originally the Eugene, Oregon church, the founding congregation of our denomination. And yet, after almost seven decades in Eugene, I doubt more than a handful of individuals knew we even existed. And if they did know, it was likely for the wrong reasons.

Tim fought for signage at the Methodist church building we previously rented on Saturday. We had streetside signage at the Church of God Seventh Day (COG7) church we moved to when we made the jump to Sunday. But only once that I’m aware of in all the years Tim was the pastor, did someone walk through the doors of a worship service because they saw our sign. So, his question was valid.

When we made the move to Junction City, a small community a few miles north of Eugene, I knew we needed much more than a sign. Yes, we were now located on one of the two major routes between the two communities. And yes, people noticed we were renovating a historic church and paving the parking lot. Neighbors would stop by often to inquire about our plans and who we were. But for the most part, people flew by at 65 miles per hour (or worse) with little more than a glance at the fancy new sign we installed.

We clearly needed to pray for more than a sign.

Tim:  Linda hit the nail on the head. As the pastor’s wife, she had a front row seat to watch attempt after attempt fail to gain a clear visible presence for our congregation. We did events well. Our haunted church at Halloween was epic. (We still have a collection of life-sized skeletons in our storage.) Our Easter egg hunt drew neighborhood children by the dozens. But as successful as they were, each event was a one-and-done and did nothing to encourage church awareness—and certainly not church growth.

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One thought on “Building Relationships vs Building Exposure”

  1. Building Relationships vs Building Exposure is a beautifully crafted testimonial of adult learning. The vulnerability in publicly stating, “And nobody came—literally, nobody. Looking back, I can clearly see that this epic failure was exactly what we needed at the time” attests to a growth mindset by learning from our “mistakes”. When we deny or failures to define us, miracles happen. What a sweet fragrance of Jesus working in your midst through the holy spirit.

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