Over the weekend I took a train to attend a local festival in the most hipster neighborhood in Charlotte. In recent months this neighborhood has become of much interest to me for a variety of reasons. It is probably the most interesting area of Charlotte that I have ever been. All within a five mile radius one can find public funding housing, the country club, and everything in between. This area is made up of hipsters, the low end of society, the wealthiest in society, and there are numerous ethnic groups represented.
Being in ministry and many conversations revolving around church planting and what it takes to reach certain communities I have started doing some research on the area. Charlotte is considered a fairly churched city, although there are still many needs and the need is growing as the look of the Charlotte population changes. This particular neighborhood has a local Presbyterian congregation, a Lutheran congregation, a United Methodist congregation, a couple of Baptists congregations, and a non-denominational congregation.
It is a good thing to have so many churches represented, but in my brief study I have started to wonder how well these churches are keeping up with their changing community. I cannot speak for all of them, but I know at least three of the above mentioned are struggling. This is a large reason that I attended this festival over the weekend, to observe how the four churches represented interacted and loved their neighbors.
It is not my place to speak for the community, but as an outsider I observed churches more concerned with marketing than forming relationships. I am not saying that everything that these churches did was wrong because I saw many good things, but overall I got the sense that they were more there to get their name out there, not form friendships by loving their neighbor.
Joe Thorn is spot on when he says, "A Christian will always have an agenda (actually, more than one) in every relationship. In my friendship with non-Christians I desire to and work toward sharing the gospel, seeing them come to faith in Christ, and join a healthy church. But I also desire to love them as a neighbor and be a good friend. My ultimate agenda is any relationship is to reflect the glory of God and his gospel. To this end I work at making friends in my city."
Aside from anything else, a key piece missing in these churches is valuing the forming of relationships over the marketing of their particular church. I am not saying that there is anything inherently wrong with marketing on some level, but at the expense at building relationships there is something wrong.
If we frame everything that we do with love through the forming of genuine friendships with those in our communities then you will not need to put much effort into your marketing because the gospel will speak for itself. Sure, you will still tell people about your church, likely invite them, and hopefully tell them about Jesus and the gospel, but within the realm of genuine friendships, which allow you to speak openly and freely.