I grew up in small churches where we prayed long and sang hymns. When Saddleback began, that was the kind of world I felt most at ease in.
But here’s an important lesson I’ve learned in 50 years of ministry: If I’m comfortable in a church, then non-Christians most likely are not. To reach people for Christ, you (and your church) need to step out of your comfort zone and take risks.
“The way we’ve always done it” can’t be our reason for standing still as a church. Churches die because they refuse to change. Many churches are doing ministry the same way they did 25 years ago—the same order of service, the same prayers, the same sermons.
I encourage you to plan worship services and ministries in a manner where you feel uncomfortable, but non-Christians do not. We serve a God of newness. Jesus famously once said, “People don’t pour new wine into old wineskins” (Luke 5:37 GW). Too often, we’re trying to do just what Jesus warned us against.
But taking risks as you do something new can be scary. As you’re preparing to step out of your comfort zone so you can reach more people for Christ, remember these principles.
Forget failure. Let’s face it. When your church takes a risk to reach people, you might fail. Maybe no one shows up. Or maybe the effort will bring criticism from people inside or outside of the congregation.
Too many leaders don’t take risks because they’re afraid of these consequences. But failure because you’ve stepped outside of your comfort zone is not the worst that could happen. We can learn from failure. It can make our ministry more effective the next time. It can help us bring more people on board with what we’re doing.
It’s much worse to stay still when God is calling you forward. Before you take a step outside of your comfort zone, redefine what failure will be. You only fail if you don’t step out in faith.
When you step out in love to reach people who don’t know Jesus, you simply can’t fail. As 1 Corinthians 13:8 says, “Love never fails” (NIV).
Hold on to your certainties. As you step out in faith, you need clarity on what doesn’t change. I always told my team at Saddleback that we’d change anything but the message. God has given us his message in his Word. That won’t change. Everything else is up for grabs.
Your commitment to God’s Word will make some things certainties for you. For example, God’s love for you and his purposes for you and your church won’t change. In fact, those assurances need to be why you’re taking a risk in the first place.
A basketball coach will tell you that when you make a pivot, you keep one foot still. The other foot can go anywhere you want, but you need to keep one in place. A solid foundation that doesn’t move gives you the confidence to take the risks you need to move outside of your comfort zone.
Remind yourself and your congregation that you’re not alone. Your church never takes a risk by itself. Over and over, God promises in the Bible, “I will be with you.” During my years leading Saddleback, we knew God was with us every time we stepped out of our comfort zone. It gave us confidence as we took the steps God was calling us to take.
When people criticize your step of faith, it’s often because they’re afraid too. That’s why everyone needs to recognize God’s presence as you move forward. It isn’t just a message for pastors.
If you’ve read The Purpose Driven Church, you know the story of how we started Saddleback Church. Sixty total strangers showed up for a practice run the week before we were launching on Easter Sunday 1980.
We were stepping out of our comfort zone because we wanted to reach people with the Good News. That week, I preached on two promises from God’s Word.
One of those promises was in Job 8:5-7: “If you pray to God and seek the favor of the Almighty, and if you are pure and live with integrity, he will surely rise up and restore your happy home. And though you started with little, you will end with much” (NLT).
God proved faithful to that promise as we stepped out in faith to reach South Orange County and the world.
He will be faithful to you as well.