In-n-Out Churches – Ryan Albaugh

It’s widely said that doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.  While I wouldn’t say that we (the church in America) are insane, I’d say that there is some truth to the saying, as we look to move forward in a post-Christian culture.

For a lot of us that grew up in the church, this is a sad new reality that we’re living in.  We’re used to the church being a part of our routine, we’re used to the family, community, and spiritual direction that we have received in the church over the years; and we grieve for those that have left the church or have never known the church.  But while we may be sad that the “good ol’ days” are behind us (by definition they always are), we still are trying to live out the mission and vision of the church today, to call seasoned believers into a deeper relationship with Jesus, and invite new believers to join the journey.

This is where we often get stuck, where we often dig into the “insanity” of returning to the things that used to work while expecting the results to change today.  In some sense, this is just human nature, we long to be comfortable and doing what “worked” before is a natural inclination.  

Unfortunately though, moving forward is next to impossible while we’re looking back.  So, if we’re to be faithful to our calling, to make disciples in all the earth today, what are we supposed to do?

Great question, I’m glad you asked.  Over the last couple of years, God has been laying on my heart what it means to move forward with the church, and here are three of the top insights I’ve picked up along the way.

  1. I’d rather be In-N-Out than the Cheese Cake Factory.

I talked a little bit about this on the episode with Josiah and Byron.  And, unfortunately, I think that this, being the do everything cheesecake factory, is an “easier” route to take for those of us that are in full-time ministry.  We get paid from the church, so we feel like we have to do everything and say, “yes” to everyone’s ideas.  But in the end, that just results in a lot of disappointment and “collateral damage” in ministry.  God calls everyone to a different path with Him, and the same is true with churches, we are called to reach and minister to different people, whether that’s through geography or ability, we can’t be everything to everyone.  

This was a really hard mindset for me to get out of too, but in the end, I’ve come to learn that I’d rather do a few things really well (like In-In-Out) then to have such a huge menu that people can’t choose (like the Cheese Cake Factory).  Find what you and your church are called to do and lean in with everything you’ve got.  Let the church down the street do the same thing (with their separate gifts and calling), and together we’ll make up the body of Christ!

  1. Intimacy is more important than a spectacle.

When I was studying abroad in London, I was with a group of friends at the Hard Rock Café in London for a birthday party. Since we were such a fun and energetic group, one of the managers came and offered to take us up to the concert that was happening upstairs.  Without a moment’s hesitation, we said “yes”, and we were taken up to the Mel C concert (that’s right, sporty spice from the Spice Girls).  I didn’t really know her music and wasn’t looking to go to a Mel C concert that night, but it is one of the most fun concerts I’ve ever attended.  Why? Because it was small and intimate, rather than a huge venue where it’s easy to get lost and be anonymous.

All of this to say, we should be more interested in developing meaningful relationships and becoming discipled rather than putting on the biggest show.  It’s easy to think that we need the coolest stage, most advanced video team, or the coolest new music to reach new people for Jesus.  But that’s not what we long for in any other aspect of life.  To be human is to be known, and that’s more important than how many people come to every event or service that we have.  

And the truth is, we have the gospel, and a message of love and intimacy from the God of the universe, that’s a good message to have, so let’s tell it!  I know that there’s a need to “account” for what we’re doing as the church, but so many times we get lost in the number of people we have present as opposed to the amount of people that we have engaged.  If we want to build the church up again, we need more engaged people to minister and love the present people.

  1. Unexplained expectations are destined to become unmet expectations.

As we talked about on the podcast, I used to be in the Army, and the army—like many other professions—has a lot of inside lingo.  This is true for the church too, and with this inside language, we have a lot of un-said expectations.  If we’re to reach new people with the message and love of Jesus, we need to make it abundantly clear what the message is, and what the expectations are.  I had lunch with a mentor of mine last year and he pointed out that if we don’t tell people what the expectations are, then we can’t be disappointed when they don’t meet those expectations.

I began to see that for so long in ministry, I was getting disappointed in people not “doing” or “saying” the right thing, not changing their lives to follow God. However, I had never taken the time to stop and explain to them what I was expecting, and why it was important!  So, in my own ministry, I have started doing that a lot more. I don’t just tell people what we’re doing, but why we’re doing it, what the expectations are, and how it helps us become better disciples of Jesus.  We are now living in a post-Christian culture, so we can no longer assume that people know why it is that we say and do the things that we do, and why they should follow us.  

If they don’t know, then they won’t grow!

This is by no means a complete list of insights I’ve had about growing and bringing the church into the future.  But I hope that these three insights can help you along your journey, and help you understand how to help build up the church and how to move forward into the culture that we have, instead of hoping the old culture comes back.  In the end, I think living and ministering in a post-Christian culture is exciting because it invites us into discovering new ways of being the church.  If the things of the past aren’t working, then how can we re-imagine the church today and moving forward?

I don’t have all of the answers, but I hope that you join me in praying and dreaming for what’s to come!

This isn’t Ryans first blog post at the Millennial Pastor! Check out his thoughts on “Memories and the Church” by clicking the image!


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