We were having a conversation at church recently about the many options believers have in choosing a church. Just a few years ago we could talk about traditional churches or contemporary churches but now the lines are blurred and the options have greatly multiplied.
On the surface this might seem like a believer’s dream-unlimited choices that one might choose from in order to find a perfect fit for himself or a couple or a family. I have had serious conversations with folks that have recently come our way and what I find is just the opposite.
Choices, Options, and Needs
Many people tell us that the number of choices and options are almost too much to handle. What they define as needs in their lives and for their families are almost never addressed by the churches that they visit. In a recent month I noted from conversations from our newer members the following observations:
1. Most people looking for a church to attend assume that worship services will be well done including good preaching and music.
2. Most people looking for a church to attend assume that child care and children’s ministry will be quality, safe, and the facilities will be clean.
3. Most people looking for a church to attend assume that the congregation and especially the pastor is grounded in scripture.
Having said the above what has been most surprising are the following observations:
1. Visitors are not greeted in most churches (no matter their size and reputation) and people are generally confused by this.
2. Many of our newer folks report to me that their children did not have a positive experience the churches they visited even when they visited multiple times. It seems that many felt like their children were treated like additional burdens instead of welcome visitors.
3. The majority of churches made no contact with the individual or family following the visit. No calls, visits, cards, or emails.
4. The lack of biblical preaching was a major disappointment. Many pastors read a text of scripture, put their Bible aside and never referred to it again.
5. They could not determine what the church was doing in ministry, missions, evangelism or discipleship. There were no printed materials or information available.
A Caution To Everyone
When I hear comments like these, I want to make sure my church never makes these mistakes. I know we can all let people come and go without engaging them but we have to make the effort to greet them and engage them if they will allow us. I am amazed at how much conversation goes on in church and denominational life fueled by the latest topics of interest to the latest experts. We hear words like “missional” and “transformational” used in discussions about denominational renewal, church planting, and discipleship. As interesting as such topics are, people who are lost, unchurched, between churches, are real persons who have real needs that real people can meet. Our categorizing them notwithstanding, they are hurting, seeking, and hopeful individuals that we have great opportunities to help.
Instead of wondering about their categories and adding fresh words to our church lexicons ,what about a focus on a few basics?
1. People like to be greeted. Wow! How about that for a change. Greet folks by giving your name, asking theirs, showing genuine interest and excitement about their coming to your place. Help them find answers to their questions and concerns.
2. Change whatever you have to in your ministry to reach out to persons and when they visit make sure they feel good about coming, especially when you minister to their children.
3. If someone visits you make sure you attempt to contact them as soon as possible. Call them or email them but do something to let them know you were glad they showed some interest in your ministry.
4. Preach the Bible! Do it your way but don’t give in to phony series that sound like something Dr. Phil came up with. People actually expect to hear scripture preached when they visit churches. They are not put off by it like many believe they are. You can do it your way in any context you like but do it.
5. If you know what God is leading you to do then publish it to your folks and give it to your visitors. They want to know what you stand for, what you are attempting and how you are going about it.
I think we make church harder on the front end than it has to be. We live in a post-christian world that easily breeds a christian consumerism that is difficult to address. No one denies the challenges of evangelism, discipleship and worship today. But without a genuine interest in people and a clear purpose for our churches the tasks we have only prove more difficult.