The GET assignment for the congregation has a second expression too. Remember, that we said the Pastor must GROW himself and GROW a few. Well, the people must GET hungry and they must GET the house ready!
When we were pastoring Maranatha Worship Center in Wichita, for several years we held deacon meetings in our home. We’d eat a meal together and then the men went downstairs to meet while the women spent the evening having a great time upstairs. Of course, preparing to host seven to nine couples in our home required some preparation. So on those Tuesday afternoons, when the meeting would follow that evening, my wife would run through the house shouting, “The Deacons are coming! The Deacons are coming!”
Her Paul Revere impersonation called my two boys and I to action. There were bedrooms to clean, laundry to put away, dusting, vacuuming, and a host of other tasks on her list. Apparently you can’t just open the door at 6pm and welcome in the deacons. There’s work to do to get ready.
And if new people are going to come to your church, you’ve got to get that house ready too! That is, if you want them to have a pleasant experience and consider coming back again. Let me tell you some of the things on that list…
First, getting the house ready means you’ve got to get the building ready for guests. Mow the yard, clean up the landscaping, make the entrance warm and inviting. Decades ago, my wife and I were invited to dinner at the home of a couple in our church. When we arrived, we had to step over half a Wal-Mart’s worth of toys on their front sidewalk. We weren’t offended to have to navigate that obstacle course, but the scene almost made us think they didn’t know we were coming.
When you’ve been at church for awhile, you can develop an eye disease I call “congregational astigmatism.” This disease occurs when we’ve seen something for so long that we don’t see it anymore. The cluttered bulletin board, the crooked picture, the crayon marks left on the wall by a wayward toddler. Can I say that if that kid is in the youth group now, it’s more than time to repaint that wall!
Studies tell us that, on average, people decide how they feel about your church and whether or not they fit in within the first 12 minutes they are on your property. Think about what happens, or even what doesn’t happen, in the first 12 minutes. They haven’t heard our pastor preach, and maybe not even heard our worship band do one song. We’ve barely started, and they have already formed their impression of us. What did they do in 12 minutes? They parked their car, they were greeted at the front door, they might have been led to your children’s ministries, they might have visited your restroom and sipped from your water fountain, they entered your auditorium and settled into a seat. And most of them have made up their mind! You’ve got to get the house ready!
Second, getting the house ready means getting the people inside ready to welcome guests. When we hosted people in our home, every member of the family had a responsibility. I would answer the door with a smile on my face that demonstrated our genuine excitement to have these friends in our home. One son might take their coats and mention restroom locations. The other son would stand ready to add his welcome and invite these friends to the sofas in the living room. My wife would emerge from the kitchen with a smile and a hug and together we would all engage our guests in conversation in a way that was clearly focused on them.
I’ve been in churches where Clint Eastwood greeted me at the door and shoved a bulletin toward me, clearly revealing that there was no way I was going to make his day. I’ve seen kids running by, or driving through the hallway on BigWheels, oblivious to anything but their own world. I’ve been left to find my own way to the coatroom, the restroom, and the auditorium. I’ve sat alone, ignored, and left out of the insider conversation. If it had been a dinner party, the “hosts” behavior would be clearly labeled RUDE, but it’s not a dinner party. It’s church, and that’s just church, I guess. NO!! You’ve got to get the house ready!
Third, getting the house ready means resolving our conflicts before the guests arrive. Ever walked into someone’s home in the middle of an argument? Oh, they probably stopped fighting when they saw you, but you know something’s going on. You see the way they look at each other, and their conflict even adds an edge to their voice or an abruptness in their manner as they speak to you.
Yes, conflicts happen at church. We’d like to think that among the righteous and in the holy house, there wouldn’t be issues, but Christians are people first. And if you hang around the same people long enough, stuff happens. But if you don’t resolve the stuff, it grows more rancid every day.
In some churches, the congregation suffers from “olefactory fatigue.” Olefactory fatigue is when you’ve smelled something for so long that you can’t smell it anymore or the smell no longer bothers you. After high school, I worked in a chemical plant. I stood over a grinding wheel every day, pressing pieces of crystal against the wheel where a muddy sludge would help grind the pieces to their useful size. Then we’d rinse them in an ammonia solution before boxing them for the next plant. The ammonia smell was overpowering, but after just a few weeks, I stopped noticing. I had forgotten the intense ammonia smell until the day my mom stopped by to bring me my lunch. She stood at the door, unable to enter as the fumes nearly overwhelmed her—I had a clear case of olefactory fatigue.
So do many church people. They’ve dealt with the stench of unresolved conflict for so long, they can no longer catch a whiff of its rancid smell. They sit across the auditorium from people they’ve learned to despise. They don’t speak; they avoid being cornered together, and they have no idea that the new people in the church can smell that something’s up.
I had that experience a few months ago in a small church. The greeters were sweet, the service was intimate and meaningful, but the whole time I could smell that something was up. It wasn’t the way they looked at me, but the way they looked at each other wasn’t right. Many times when I visit a church, they ask me to speak to them on behalf of their guests so I told the leadership team that I didn’t know what had happened, but I could feel the conflict between them. They were stunned. They thought their conflict and their negative attitudes toward each other were well beneath the surface. I assured them that the smell couldn’t be hidden. We’ve got to get the house ready!
There might be other targets for you when you start getting the house ready, but I believe that these are steps only the PEOPLE can take effectively. Pastor may be able to encourage us, but if we’re not hungry and we’re not welcoming, Pastor can’t fix that. You can do that! Would you do that to see your church be healthy and strong?