Charles Spurgeon once gave a sermon he titled, “Feeding the Sheep or Amusing Goats” We have lot of churches in America that are more concerned with numbers than the New Testament. Norman Geisler and Jason Jimenez put it this way, “The truth is church isn’t about the individual; it’s about the person of Jesus Christ. But many people today have made church into a social club and are more concerned with image and size than about the gospel of Christ.” 1 Yes it is important to be attractive to the community, but not at the cost of the Gospel. Can a church focus on the person of Christ and still retain first-time visitors?
I just finished a book titled, “50 Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Visitors”, by Johnathan Malm. It was a simple read without any deep theological or apologetic topics that would require a masters or doctorate to comprehend. Rather, just a simple and practical look at things churches may be doing wrong, and what they could do to improve upon their first impressions to visitors.
As I read this book, I reflected on my own church, naturally grading it on the various topics. I was not surprised that in just about all the categories we passed in flying colors, (at least in my opinion), but like any church, there is room for improvement. Besides, if you found the perfect church and joined it, you would immediately be looking for another church, because it would no longer be perfect.
Some of the broad categories Malm looked at were; First Impressions, Worship, Programing, and Communication. Each of these had several sub topics he addressed in short essays. A few of them are: Locked doors, Signs, Pastor’s dress code, Volunteers, Worship bands, Bulletins, Sunday School, Websites, and Social Media.
What was interesting to me were the number of topics that could apply to our own personal lives, not just an over-all critique for churches. Our men’s group at church just finished a series on addictions. It gave us plenty of information to digest and reflect on. Everyone of us has plenty of room for improvement, and it is often easier to spot what condition the guy or gal sitting next to you can work on, rather than what you need to work on.
I picked out 4 that I could improve upon, and maybe one or two of these will speak to you also.
A Helpful Greeter
Jonathan Malm wrote, “Your church is as foreign to your guests as those remote mountain villages were to us. [They lived in Guatemala for a while.] A pointing hand is nice, but a guide is the best way to go…Escorting instead of just pointing shows you care.” 2
I remember as a young man working for Home Depot. We would have weekly staff training meetings and at least once a month they would remind all employees to never point a customer to where they need to go, but always escort them. Large corporations world wide have seen the wisdom in this seemingly insignificant courtesy as opposed to the gesture pointing them in the correct direction.
How many times have you been asked for directions at a gas station, or even in a grocery store and you just point the way. If you have the time, could you show them instead of point them? Over the years, I have pointed people to where they need to go, but a few times, (especially if she was pretty), I would happily escort them to where they need to go.
If we only go the extra mile to those that were attractive, we are leaving out a significant portion of the population. You have seen them in the market, or on the street. They look like they just rolled out of bed, dirty clothes, oily hair, and if you get close enough they smell like they were working with Mike Rowe on a Dirty Jobs episode. By spending a moment with them, we open up an opportunity to strike up a conversation. No matter how much you smile, nod in agreement, and point, it is impossible to evangelize if you don’t strike up a conversation. Walk with them to their destination, don’t just point.
The Invitation to Worship
Malm had been a worship leader for several years before he moved into the position of Church Communications leader. One section of his book dealt with worship teams, and he shared a common experience among worship leaders, especially those relatively new to the position. One Sunday he recalled, he was ready with all of his ‘A’ songs and favorite musicians. Worship was going to be terrific and everyone would love it.
He wrote, “So you can imagine my frustration when, three songs into the set, I felt like the congregation just wasn’t responding. The room felt dead…I might say, ‘come on guys. We need to worship God together. You guys look like you’re at a funeral.’” 3 He was frustrated, even angry at the congregation for not joining him in worship like he felt they should. The times he spoke up and tried this, it never worked, not once. He explained he was taking authority to say things that were not his to say. “Shepherds lead the sheep, they never drive them.”
When you are walking on water, having one of those days where everything falls into place, are you willing to engage someone that is having the opposite kind of day? Or do you just take the nearest exit and head out the door putting as much distance between you and the dark cloud?
I can’t count the number of times I am looking forward to teaching students about a particular favorite algebra lesson, but the class just can’t get into it. I am cracking jokes, drawing pictures, using real life examples, often something to do with my own students, and they just sit there like I am describing the various ways we can pick our nose.
Sometimes they are not into it. Sometimes people are not on the natural high you find yourself in, and when this becomes apparent to you, don’t chastise them, or leave them. Love on them and you might be the one to point them to Christ for the first time in their life. Be willing to step out of your Corvette and sit on the side of the road to talk with a stranger or a friend that was walking beside the road.
The Full Service
During the school year I don’t have much time, but I was given a word of wisdom by one of my master teachers when I first started teaching. She told me, “Never take your work home.” At the time it made sense, but I did not see the wisdom it would hold over the years.
I was a young father of young children, and thankfully I was never married to my work. My wife has shared with me many times she did not want to marry someone with that ‘A’ type of drive, the workaholic. I have never had that kind of personality, but the more I taught, the more I realized that a teacher was never done. There are always more papers to grade, more lessons to prepare. A few times a year I would bring work home, but that was rare. Make time, make room for those who might need your services.
Malm shared, “I once attended a church that was massively popular…Unfortunately, that meant their services filled up quickly. In fact, they had to turn people away regularly because their services were at capacity.”4 That is a good problem for a church to have. Malm suggested several things a church could do to alleviate a problem like this, but my question is how often we we pack our days and weeks to capacity, and leave little or no room for people outside our immediate family or close friends? Is our service full every day or week? Do you make time for others who might actually enjoy your time and company?
The Cold Congregation
“There were greeters waiting outside the building to welcome me and open the door for me. They had massive smiles and cheerful voices… as I made my way through the foyer into the worship center, I knew I had found the perfect church. But as soon as I made it past all the professionally loving volunteers, I was confronted with ice. There was no more welcoming, warm feeling. The folks in the room gave me looks like, ‘Who is this guy? Why is he in our church?’” 5
Malm notes change is hard. Welcoming new people requires some of us to make a second effort, while others seek out any new face they spot in a crowd. We can all arrive at a certain familial comfort zone at church, then someone new shows up and sits next to us, and you know what is coming. The pastor or an elder, or who ever makes announcements, tells you to greet each other. For some, this is the most uncomfortable part of the service; they would much rather be left alone and lose themselves in the worship, or sermon.
We all have moments we want to be left alone, well most of us. Some of us are energized by being with people. Others need the down time, just depends on your personality type. My sister in-law blogs on the various personality types using Enneagram system. The name of the system comes from the Greek word ‘enna’ which means nine. This system looks at 9 different personality types. It is a fascinating look at who we are, how we deal with the good, bad, and ugly in our lives, and our relationship with God.
Have you ever dragged yourself to church? Or come this > < close to not attending that morning service, but attended anyway? Then you met someone and you were glad you showed up, or the pastor seemed to be speaking directly to your heart? Or maybe the worship not only lifted you up, but pulled you out of the hole you could not see out of?
I think there are times in our lives, when we are having a terrible day, that we have opportunities to shine light on someone else, or they to us if only we would only remain open and communicative. Easier said than done because I sure shut down when I am not in the mood. Our tendency, when things are not going well, is to retreat from the world, whether it is in our home, our room, a quiet spot in the park, or a long drive, but it is those times we often have one of those ‘God encounters’. You may be the reason a first-time visitor returns, or never shows up again.
1. Geisler, Norman. Jimenez, Jason. The Bible’s Answers to 100 of Life’s Biggest Questions. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2015. Print.
2. Malm, Jonathan. Unwelcome. Los Angeles: Center for Church Communication, 2014. Print.
Feeding the Sheep or Amusing Goats by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://www.knowingforsure.com.