I have been able to have the opportunity to visit a few churches in the past six month’s and it has been my observation that larger churches are very serious about how they do the five practices that I am going to present and smaller churches just do not have these practices on their radar. It is my conviction that these five practices are game changers to both numerical as well as spiritual growth and maturity in their churches.
Here are the five practices:
1# Speak and use language that does not alienate newcomers.
If you want to understand how newcomers feel coming to our churches just visit a church and you will get the opportunity to experience this at an all new personal level. When churches have to pass out a “LEXICON” defining their own unique language or when the person who is doing the announcements states, “If you have been here for more than a year you understand what I am saying” you have entered the twilight zone of a churches particular use of coded messages. At one church I leaned over to a colleague and asked if there was a special decoder ring that newcomers receive at the information table? If we love people the way that Jesus desires us to love them we should speak in a language that they understand.
2# A hand shake and a smile while being given a bulletin does not make you a friendly church.
It has been my consistent experience that churches practice “Customer service by playing their version of Marco Polo.” I have never experienced what it meant to be so invisible until I became a visitor. At one church I had to attempt to engage three ushers before I was told where the restrooms were located. At another church my wife and I visited it was announced that some of the church elders would be in the lobby to connect with people. We walked up to an elder and introduced ourselves and after stating our name and where we lived the elder stated that he had to go and speak to a friend about a fishing trip they were going on that week. I have come up with a simple theory: “If a church leaders constantly talk about how friendly their church is -they are not very friendly!” The blind spot is all the insiders are friendly with each other and this becomes the filter that defines their reality. Hospitality and friendliness have to be an intentional priority in shaping a churches culture. By the way – Hospitality should begin in the parking lot. People will attend wherever they receive great customer service. You may be thinking to yourself – “Al, there you go using that secular organizational stuff and you want to speak of visitors in terms os customers.” “Your RIGHT!” The Scripture using the inspired words that were were written by the Apostle Paul identifies every man, woman, and child as God’s Masterpiece! All the more reason why this should be taken seriously.
3# Be organized and timely with checking children into their classes.
My wife has had some unique experiences with one. At one church attempting to check our grandson into their children’s ministry it took her thirty minutes and even after she checked him in she was not quite sure what was going to happen to him because the gentleman who was doing the check-in admitted that he knew nothing about the ministry he was just filling in because someone was sick. If a church does not do children well it doers not matter how great the message is or if the music is great people will not stay. This is their precious cargo and they want to know if you really do care!
4# Great theology does not make up for poor flow and programming.
I have been to churches where you know the pastor spent some time preparing the message and it was excellent. What made it difficult was the rest of the service. Worship services in which you cannot hear the voices or they repeat the chorus of a song a dozen times and this is considered great worship. Announcements that were too long and done with no energy. Offerings that made you feel you were visiting the blood bank because the person receiving the offering is making more excuses why they do not want to ask for money but it is so necessary. There is nothing more distracting when you are in a service and you have no clue what to do next because under the guise of being creative it feels like they are making it up as they go! “Well organized worship services create an atmosphere of anticipation not anxiety to those who are attending.”
5# Is it evident that there is more than the Lead Pastor involved in significant ministry.
I am convinced God loves small churches and that is why there are many of them. I am also convinced that some churches just by experiencing who is involved in a service that they do not do church as a team. There is a principle for growing churches by growing leaders and it is called the pyramid principle. It goes like this: The base of the pyramid needs to be broad enough in order to allow the height of a church or organization grow. I will write more fully in a future blog post but my experience has led me to believe that many churches are not doing team but groups that really have no voice into the shaping of how the mission is accomplished. When you attend a church and the Pastor is referred to as being the lightening rod for every decision it scares me. Strong churches have strong leaders who reproduce many other strong leaders.
This has been my observations over the past six month’s and I would enjoy to read any feedback that you may have concerning any of these areas that I have posted. I love the church and often times it is the small things that become the biggest road blocks for churches becoming attractive places for newcomers to feel welcome.