We’ve already seen the two steps every pastor must take toward a healthy church–grow yourself and build a team. Now let’s continue our look at the two steps only the people of the congregation can take. Last time, we saw the first of these–face reality. Today, Part 4 of our discussion calls for the people to create an embracing environment.
I’ve been in many plateaued and declining churches, usually as a guest. I pastored a couple of these, but more recently, I’ve been the guy that the fella at the door doesn’t recognize. And usually…it shows. Now, first of all, I’m glad when there’s someone at the door because that’s not always the case. But a few weeks ago, a tall man held the door for me but didn’t say a word as he pressed the bulletin in my hand. Then I walked through a foreign hallway, flowing with the traffic toward my apparent destination. No one spoke to me, welcomed me, or said a word in my direction, until the pastor instructed such a moment in the service and the old couple in front of me obeyed.
Now, I’m a church kid. I have so much experience walking into churches that I seldom feel confused or uncertain as to what to do. But I’m the exception. The extremely rare exception. In fact, I’m the dinosaur of church life. People like me just don’t exist anymore. Instead, an entire culture drifts into a worship service with absolutely no knowledge of what to do or what will happen. And if we treat them the way many churches have treated me, well…
As a guest, I can tell whether or not the people of the church want me there, have any interest in knowing me, or could ever care about my life. I can make that judgment in minutes. Now that may not seem fair, but that’s what your guests do every week. Where are the people who love people? Where are friendly folks who have a hope that their church might grow? Is the pastor the only guy hoping for that?
Each week, the people of the church create an atmosphere for the guest experience. I’m not talking about making sure the greeters all showed up or have their cues down pat. If welcoming new people is someone else’s job, then my church is failing at it. Now I’m all for trained greeters and the systems we put in place to extend a good first impression, but friendly people–genuinely friendly people–create the best environment.
Sadly, in many struggling churches, the members come in each week more concerned about themselves than their church. They wonder if they’ll see their friend or if someone will notice their new outfit, or if the pastor’s sermon will be what they need. And they wonder why the pastor isn’t growing their church. Maybe he’s just not doing a good job.
In the church I pastored, we did a little experiment. I asked 40 people to commit to a six-month challenge. Each week, when they attended the weekend service of their choice, I asked them to MEET someone they had never met, PRAY for someone or promise to pray for them when they heard or saw a need, and HELP someone in even the simplest way (carry a diaper bag, point out restrooms, etc). We called it MPH and thought such an effort would help us “pick up speed” in becoming the church we wanted to be. We even filled out cards each week, listing the names of those we met, prayed for, and helped.
The impact was unbelievable. During those six months, the church became one of the friendliest places I’ve ever been. I never saw a guest by themselves. New people were making friends faster than they could have hoped. In fact, a year later (we tracked it) our visitor retention rate more than doubled. 48% of those who visited are church in that 6-month period were actively attending and involved in the life of the church one year later.
A deacon’s wife remarked, “Pastor, I’m starting to think that seeing our church grow is more about what we’re doing than even what you’re doing.” I wanted to jump up and down in agreement. When we are intentionally friendly, good things happen. People want to be in those places where they feel cared about and see the potential for friendships.
If there was a guest at your church last week, and you didn’t meet them…you dropped the ball!
Does that seem harsh? I’m not trying to offend you, but if a family came to your house for dinner and you didn’t speak to them, you’re wife would be furious at you! Why is that someone else’s job when that same family comes to your church.
Creating an embracing environment is one step that the people of the congregation can take to demonstrate their desire to see their church grow. It’s their most powerful step. So get some people together and start figuring out how to do it.
When we face the reality of our declining church, most of us immediately want to know what to do. Well, here it is…create an embracing environment in your church. The two churches I pastored, experienced remarkable turnarounds and growth. I’m convinced this was the single most important step in both situations.