During my travels serving churches, I’ve noticed that very few churches have a balanced response to what is a core facet of a healthy church: exposure. Exposure is critical to understanding who you are as a church and finding your way. And while I know that there are some church "hermits" out there, there are just as many church "followers" to ensure that there are large crowds on each side of “the exposure ditch.”
Let's start with the underexposed church. These are churches that rarely expose themselves to the world outside their walls, or have limited knowledge as to what’s out there in their own community. Their leaders tend to rely only on their denomination or a few "model" churches to provide insight into how church is done. By not being exposed to other churches in their community and what they are doing, these leaders probably don’t fully understand who they are in the context of the community—leaving them without a sense of how the community perceives them.
In order to fully understand God’s will for your church, it helps to be exposed to what He’s doing in other congregations. This helps each church see the role it can more effectively play in the bigger picture of what God is doing.
If under-exposure is your default, make a point to visit churches that do not match your flavor. Visit growing churches and struggling ones. Do not judge them. Ask yourself, "Why do these church-goers like this? Why is this church successful (or not)? Who is not attending this church and why?" In order to get away from your own church on a Sunday, some pastors might have to commit hard to taking a break. It is difficult to take a break if you and your church are not in the habit. Let me challenge you that every church leader needs an exposure break—an opportunity to see others fighting the same "good fight" they are fighting. Stepping out of the pulpit and stepping into someone else's back row will enhance your perspective in so many ways.
The other side of the ditch is the church that is overexposed. This church tends to chase whoever they feel is the most exciting at the moment. They follow trailblazing churches and often change what they do to match what they think the most innovative churches are doing. The end result is that these overexposed churches never really gain a sense of who "they" are and don’t fully understand that God's calling cannot be borrowed or imitated from someone else. They often read tons of blogs and listen to tons of podcasts.
Overexposed churches are often unconsciously looking for the "silver-bullet" that’s going to take their success to another level. They can end up becoming puppets to church fads—and while they can spout out a who's who list of popular Christianity, they less frequently take a hard, inward look at who they are and let God show them how to commit to who they are supposed to be for their community.
It is critical that we as church leaders get exposure to what God’s doing in other churches. But it’s also critical after seeing what God’s doing in other churches to come back and ask the question, “who are we and how can we learn from this exposure to execute better on who God has uniquely called us to be?” As a result we can use exposure to understand ourselves better, communicate our DNA more effectively, and become more deliberate—instead of constantly reinventing ourselves.
Perhaps an approach that might work best is to pre-define seasons of exposure—moving inbetween months or years where you are pursuing exposure deliberately, followed by extended periods of head-down execution of what God is showing you.
As you think back on whether you have been over or underexposed, what next season do you need to step into?