Relating Well to Four Types of Church Attendees

Over the centuries, the church has been compared to many things. Some have likened it to a hospital or a boot camp. The Apostle Paul wrote that it was like a building, a body, a bride and a family.

The analogy of a ship can also be helpful when describing the church. Scott Ridout, president of Converge Worldwide, says the people on a ship can be compared to the people in your church. This analogy assumes the Pastor is the captain and there are four different kinds of people on board. Let’s look closer at each one.

The Crew
On a ship, the captain can depend on the crew to get the job done. They work alongside the captain and take ownership of every aspect of the ship and its passengers. They agree with all policies, procedures and practices on the ship to create a wonderful experience for everyone aboard.

The crew in your church are the people who are working with you to accomplish the mission of the church. They are your key volunteers and buy into the values, direction and destination of the church. They work hard to bring everyone who attends to maturity in Christ.

The Passengers
The passengers on a ship differ from the crew in one major area. They also love the destination and want to get there, but they don’t pitch in to help. Passengers are just along for the ride. They enjoy the experience of the cruise, but don’t offer assistance or support.

Most churches are full of passengers. They fill the pews every Sunday. They enjoy the worship, listen to the messages and love the fellowship. They partake in the midweek programs, but they don’t get involved in serving. They are the ultimate “church consumer”, taking advantage of the ministry of the church but not offering any help. Passengers buy into where the church is going, but don’t get involved to help anyone get there.

Every sea captain needs to be aware of pirates. Pirates seek to hijack the vessel, steal its cargo and force the ship in a different direction. Like the crew, they work hard. But unlike the crew, they haven’t bought in to the destination. Their goal is to create a mutiny and steer the ship where they want it to go.

Nearly every church has pirates. They’re usually good people but they never “got on board” with the mission or direction of the church. Their words, attitudes, influence and actions seek to bring the church in a different direction than the one the leadership has established.

Stowaways are not interested in where the ship is going or in helping get there. They just want to escape, so they secretly hop on and hide out in the lower regions of the ship. They stay out of sight and try to go undetected until the ship lands.

Church stowaways are typically newcomers who want to be left alone. They’re often hurting people who need a change of pace. Maybe they’ve been burned by life or by a different church, so they’ve landed at your church. They need healing but won’t seek it out. Their top priority is to just survive and go in a different direction. They want to escape their current reality and go anyplace new.

How to relate to each
Encourage the crew. Keep inspiring them to serve. They are the lifeblood of your people. The church can’t thrive without committed volunteers.

Challenge the passengers. Cast vision for why it’s important to get involved. They will actually be happier when they join the crew, pick up an oar and start rowing.

Confront the pirates. The word confront means to turn towards. Explain the mission and the destination of the church and see if they’re willing to join in. If not, your church is probably not a good fit for them.         

Finally, love the stowaways. Don’t ask them to get involved. Don’t challenge them to volunteer. They’re not at that point yet. Just care for them. Accept them where they are. Minister to their needs and allow God to heal their pain, soften their hearts, renew their minds and energize their spirits.