The Cart and the Horse

by vernsanders on February 28, 2012

My friend Doug Lawrence makes some very good points (and a couple of arcane cultural references that date me because I got them both…) in a recent blog about 5 reasons why people don’t return to a church after a first visit. You can read the whole thing here, but I’ll excerpt a couple of things for the purposes of this post:

You don’t seem to want me…

“I honestly thought it would be like my first day at a new job. Someone would ‘sponsor’ me and walk me around, make me feel like I was welcome, show me the ropes, and introduce me to some folks. That didn’t happen.”

We are very good at passing out pamphlets on Who We Are and What We Believe, but we’re not very good at implementing short-term hosts and mentors to encourage new-comer’s buy-in. For way too long we have made the assumption that people want to remain anonymous when they enter our buildings.

You assumed you knew who I was without asking me…“Your Internet ad suggested you knew precisely who I am, and you had a service just for me! No you don’t. How could you possibly know who I am if you’ve never talked to me? I get what you’re trying to do, but—FAIL!”

Are our demographic studies blinding us to the intricacies of human experience?

You claim to be the heartbeat of Cincinnati [insert your city], but I’ve lived here all my life and I just heard about you—for the first time…

“I don’t want to beat you up for trying to get our attention—good for you—but frankly I was a little put off by the idea that a place I didn’t even know existed makes a claim to influence my hometown when I’ve never even heard of you before.”

Our “arrogance factor” seems to be on the rise. Many churches that used to see themselves as being of service to their communities, now want to prove they are essential to the life of those communities, and well they should be, of course, but who are we kidding—we’re very disposable.

Although Doug is primarily talking about churches that are chasing culture in order to grow, these 3 points do apply, in their own way, to “traditional” churches…and I think it is a cart/horse problem.

Too often (as I’ve written before), church leadership thinks that imitation/adoption of something “successful for them” will apply to “us.” We want the shiny new cart, because we think that having a shiny new cart will get us there faster, and with more style. This is akin to all the shiny new resolutions at the beginning of every year, and the foundation for most late night television advertising. So there’s our shiny new cart, right in front of the same horse we’ve always had.

And the horse can’t make it go any faster.

And so, we get frustrated, and/or apply another coat of wax to the cart.

But, you say, there’s a simple fix: get a new horse.


Let’s put this in human terms: If you change the staff/programming/worship style/marketing cart, and get a new congregation horse, you’ve moved to another church, or you’ve alienated a whole lot of people on the way to “church growth.”

The only way to get any cart to go faster and/or carry more people is to do the long-term work to strengthen the horsepower. And most people, and all “quick fix” leaders, aren’t willing to do that work, any more than that very small percentage of people who keep their resolutions, or actually follow that hot new diet program they ordered while sitting in front of the tv on the couch eating potato chips and drinking an adult beverage at 3 am.

To paraphrase another arcane cultural reference: If you can’t put in the time, don’t commit the horse/cart crime.

Got a horse/cart problem? Got a solution? Please tell me what you know so I can learn from it.

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