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What If God’s Church Programming Is the City?

by Austin Maxheimer

What is the purpose of your church’s programs? Possibly even more importantly, what are their side effects?

In From Couch to Community, we introduce the idea that groups need to shift away from the invite toward being incarnationally invitational. That means at least two things: (1) being present where people are, and (2) having all the things we do say, “Come and see Jesus.”

In the chapter  titled ‘Invite to Incarnationally Invitational’ we take some friendly jabs at church programming. While we know that church programming is well intentioned—and sometimes even effective—we also know that it has at least two unavoidable side effects: (1) taking the church away from where people who are far from God are, and (2) having the things we do say, “Come and see our church.”

Well, here’s a revolutionary thought for churches—Maybe God’s plan for church programming is already underway in the city. What if small groups served the city by simply being present in what was already happening, and what if they invited others to experience Jesus through being where unchurched people are—and creatively communicating the gospel while there?

If there is one thing I’ve learned through working closely on community development over the last four years, it’s that there is plenty going on—an endless list of events and activities in every community. Often the church comes across as competing for people’s time instead of helping them be present as the church in the city. At its worst it actually makes people feel guilty for not being involved in church programming.


When God sent his people into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, he took them out of the place they felt most comfortable and put them into a place full of people who needed to know God—which also happened to be the most influential city in the world at the time.

God’s simple strategy? For his people to be good citizens, build houses and live in them, have strong families, plant gardens, and most importantly, to pray for the city and seek its general welfare.

What if the secondary function of the church, after sharing the good news of Jesus Christ and creating disciples, was to help build a great city? What if the same time, energy, strategic thinking, and resources spent making a great church were poured out into the city? What if even a tenth of our volunteer hours usually spent inside the building doing church were spent outside being church?

And the big ”What if”—What if God has set up his ideal “church programming” in the city already and he desires us to be serving there?

If this challenged you in any way, here are five quick and easy steps you can take for action:

  1. Quickly evaluate your involvement. Do an inventory of where you serve and how much time you spend on church activities with the church building. Then gauge that time against other time consumers such as TV, Internet, other volunteer commitments, hobbies, etc. Be honest.
  1. Quit something. Of course, after the evaluation you might find you actually need to join something! If you aren’t helping build a great church, get with it! However, if you are on four different teams and leading two of them and the thought of adding anything else to your life sends you into a panic attack, then you need to open up some space to get involved in the city. Responsibly quit something.
  1. Grab a friend. Find a Christian brother/sister or two to go along on the journey with you. Christian community is meant to serve as a witness to Jesus. As you go about being “salt and light” in the city, it’s vital to have other Christ-centered people by your side. Plus it’s just simpler, easier, and more comfortable!
  1. Connect to the city. Now that you’ve evaluated your time spent, opened up space, and enlisted a partner or two, it’s time to get into the city. As mentioned above, there are any number of great ways and opportunities to get involved. But don’t only do something because there is a need. Do something that excites and energizes you. Connect to something you’re passionate about. Find your unique niche and add that value to your city.
  1. Help them win. Make sure that the gospel is your ultimate motive, but don’t make it your ulterior motive. Whatever organization or cause you join, it is imperative that your goal is simply to help that group succeed and excel in the work being done.

How would your city change if every church in it quit its regularly scheduled programming and joined in to support what the city was already doing?

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