Becoming a Low Bar/High Bar Congregation

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Only 20% of North American congregations are growing (1 in 5). In fact, only 5% of North American congregations are growing primarily through evangelism (1 in 20). Congregations that are growing primarily by connecting the disconnected tend to be low bar/high bar churches. They have a low cultural bar (it’s easy to walk in and be assimilated) but they have a high discipleship bar (once in, the expectation for Christ following is clear and challenging).

Here’s how to create a low cultural bar:

  • Keep the dress code casual.
    • Low bar congregations tend to dress down so visitors are comfortable no matter what they may be wearing.
  • Extend unusual hospitality
    • Unusual hospitality includes great greeters, good signage, a clear and simple explanation of everything taking place, and easy connection points into the life of the congregation.
  • Avoid inhospitable questions, language and assumptions.
    • Some of those questions, language, and assumptions may include:
      • Are these your children…is this your husband/wife?
      • Where do you work?
      • Are you related to ___________?
      • Please turn in your Bibles to _______________.
      • If you are interested in joining a small group, please contact ___________.

Here’s how to create a high discipleship bar:

  • Make clear that God loves everyone where they’re at but too much to have them stay where they’re at.
    • High bar pulpits hold in balance conversations about justification and sanctification.
  • Clarify exactly what is expected. Here are six expectations to consider:
    • Pray and reflect on the Bible every day, expecting to meet God.
    • Promptly act on nudges from the Holy Spirit.
    • Participate in a small group of believers for growth and accountability.
    • Faithfully give of your time, talents, and treasures for Christ’s Kingdom.
    • Befriend someone on a journey to God.
    • Bless those in need locally and globally.
  • Create training events and accountability.
    • Challenging people beyond the level of equipping is ministry malpractice.
    • Once equipped people must be held accountable for commitments made.

Is yours a low bar/high bar congregation?  What evidence supports that claim?

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Thanks for the article!

I think these type of distinctions are very helpful. I just shared this with our Elders as we just dealt with the unpleasant but necessary realities of Church Discipline.

Over 9 years ago, we set out to plant a new/restarted Church uniquely designed to make room for people who had been outside or returning to the Christian faith. At the time, we believed that in an established church setting, it’s often an unwritten policy that a person must not only fully believe and understand the truths of the Christian faith, but must visibly be on the road to becoming Christ-like in their daily life. Only then could that person fully belong in a Church community.

Knowing that paradigm for ministry creates a toxic environment for anyone ‘new’ to enter into a Church community, we turned that process on its head and created a place where anyone can ‘belong’ to our Church, without first believing. We trusted that in the Lord’s timing, people would become more and more like our Savior. The Lord blessed our efforts and we can all think of several individuals who ‘only at RedArrow’ could they feel a deep sense of belonging in a faith community.

However, the unintended consequence of this effort is that we have an extremely diverse congregation that bring a wide variety of belief systems and Biblical understandings. This is all well and good until the time comes to put people in positions of influence. It is in those settings that Biblical ignorance and spiritual immaturity really begins to surface. 

It's now clear to the Elders that there was a small group of people in our Church that wrongly believed Christian fellowship should look more like a 'social club' or a 'service league' and less like a transformative force for good in a broken world. When we pointed out the 'high bar' of expectations were those given by God Himself, several walked away from the Church preferring to be conformed to the patterns of this world. If nothing else, we have learned to be more intentional about highlighting the reason God calls His people to righteous and holy living; out of gratitude for what Christ has done for us.

Thanks Ben for your insightful and helpful comments.

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