Luke 4:18 – The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed
If you run in the evangelical circles for any length of time, you have more than likely heard the phrase that the church is a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints.
I realize that is the goal, but are we truly striving for that?
As I write this I am sitting in a hospital setting as my dad is getting a hernia surgery today. Let me explain my experience.
It snowed today in Pennsylvania. About 5” of snow came down overnight. As we drove to the surgical center, we went by a couple of churches and I noticed that their parking lots were not cleared. When we got the surgical center, not only was the parking lot clear, but the majority of the parking surface was dry, which meant no ice.
As we pulled into the parking lot, the signage was amazing. This place has several doors and they are very well marked with signage throughout the parking lot as to which door to use and how to get there. I know in many churches signage is a huge issue. Many people who lead churches are still thinking old-school. You walk up to the front door and have a one-room schoolhouse mentality. Those days in churches are over. The church today is a multi-venue location that has several KidMin locations, Bible studies running concurrently to the service, and, in some cases, several different entrances to the service venue. If you walk through your church and pretend to be a newcomer, do you know where to go?
Romans 6:23 – For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Try bringing someone who has never been to your church before and let them try to navigate it on their own and see what they say. That is how your church looks to the world.
As my dad and I walked into the building we were easily able to figure out where to go as it was all clearly, and cleanly, marked. If we couldn’t figure it out, however, there was an information desk that had a very happy woman with a smile from ear to ear who got up from her desk and walked out to me to ask me if I needed help. And they must have cloned this woman because there was someone just like her on the lower level of the building at the other entrances.
Is that the same in our churches? Can we honestly say that if someone new comes to our church that we are that exuberant to greet them? Do we have someone smiling at the entrance or does the person looked stressed out? Are we simply happy to see newcomers or do we say, “I don’t know who that person is…?”
A side note to entering the building is that, while it was snowing and messy outside, the building had someone there who was putting out wet floor signage and keeping the floors as clean as possible. I don’t expect the main floors to be so clean you can eat off of them when the weather outside is dreadful, but making the effort is important. That same person was going around the building and changing the trash as well as cleaning the windows and sweeping/mopping the floors. A single person who was taking care of a building probably 4-5 times the size of most churches.
Once we got to the check-in area there were smiling people behind the desk ready to take our information. I liken this stage to our KidMin check-in areas. We signed in and my dad’s name went on a screen with a number associated with it that I have access to at all time. I am able to track where my dad is in the surgery and determine when it is time to get ready to go into recovery with him.
What about our churches? When we sign our kids into KidMin, do we even sign them in? I know a lot has changed recently with child safety in churches, but in the past when I would go to different churches when I was on business trips I would go in and see parents just dropping children off at a classroom. No check-in system. No way to track their child.
Even today, many churches minimally give the child and parent a sticker to wear. But what happens if there is problem? It is at this point that most churches and KidMin leaders would say, “But I know which kids are in my class, it rarely changes.”
So you are creating a system that opposes growth in the ministry.
1 Timothy 1:15 – The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.
I know, ouch. That is painful to hear, but any system we create or put in place needs to be scalable to future growth. If we cannot scale a system upward, then it isn’t worth having as to grow would involve a lot more money, time, and energy to install.
As I dropped my dad off after check-in, he did what all children do at KidMin. He said, “I don’t wanna go.” We hugged and he went off with the KidMin, er, I mean the nurse. I was able to track anything happening with my dad either on my phone via an app or on a screen that was in the waiting room.
If there is a problem, the nurses come and get me based on the number they gave us at the beginning.
Now, what about our services?
I am a big believer that if you are going to be in a ministry in the church, whether paid or volunteer, you need to be putting everything you have into that ministry to make it successful. If we go in with a mind set that we are simply going to “do the job and then go home” then you may as well step down from ministry.
Again, ouch. There will be days that we wake up on the wrong side of the bed or there may be a lot going on in a season of our lives that wear us down, but our ministry should never suffer for it.
Just like Paul, I am going to ask you to imitate me. I am in Pennsylvania today, Friday, for my dad’s surgery. Tomorrow afternoon I will be heading back to Maryland for an event at our church Saturday night and then, unless there is a major issue with my dad, in church on Sunday morning.
Galatians 5:14 – For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Yes, I realize I get paid to do that. But I don’t do ministry for the paycheck. I am making less than I usually have in the past 20 years of my life, so the money is not the motivator. I do it with the hope that the event we are doing will motivate our church to even more excellence and that on Sunday I can introduce myself to someone new that never attended our church before. It is about trying to have a heart that God would want.
So what I am going to say about our services will run counter to what many people in our churches believe.
I’ve never been scared to upset an apple cart, or turn over a table in the temple.
When my dad went back to get his hernia operated on, everything about his experience was to make sure the service was focused on him so that he was comfortable enough to be healed and not have any anxiety or fear.
How often are newcomers to our churches fearful?
It is probably more often than you think.
Fear of church comes from various places. They are fearful that church environment will be too different than their normal lives. They are fearful of being judged if they wear the wrong clothing, don’t shave, let an f-word slip, have to step outside to smoke, or something else. They are fearful that they will not be accepted because they aren’t part of the clique.
Philippians 3:7-9 – But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith
How can we alleviate fear in our churches so that we can reach more people in our communities?
We need to look like our communities.
Now this is where purists will maintain that we need to be in the world but not of the world and if we are doing things that make us look like our communities then we are too much of the world.
If your community is used to watching TV, making sure you have a significant video presence on the screens will keep the community members engaged.
If your community is listening to rock music, then why does your worship sound like folk music? If your community is listening to country music, why does your worship sound like rock music?
If your community is military, then why do we not have more events for military families?
If your community is a lot of blue-collar workers, why does the church have a distinct white-collar feel?
If the community has a lot of African-American people in it, why is congregation mostly white? If the community is mostly white, why is the congregation mostly Africa-American?
You see what I am getting at?
If our churches look more like our communities that we serve then we don’t need to jump through hoops to attract them.
The problems come when the people currently in the church don’t want to see change.
But, Fred, that is how we have always done things and we will upset this family over here if we start changing.
I understand that.
And I understand that Jesus left the 99 to go save the one.
We are not Jesus.
Paul became all things to all people so that he might save some.
We are more closely like Paul.
Don’t be scared to change the worship. Don’t be scared to change the demographic. Don’t be scared to change the focus of the church to reach the people in your community.
My church was given the vision by my Senior Pastor to reach at least 10% of the 60,000 in a ten-mile radius of our church. If we stay the same way we are right now, 5 years down the line we will look the exact same as we do today with about the same number of people in our congregation.
How can we get there?
I want to echo something I heard from Thom Rainer a couple weeks ago:
- Spend 5 hours a week working outside your church. Don’t work from home, but work from a local restaurant or coffee shop.
- Go to a restaurant in between services on Sunday and look at the people sitting in the restaurant, those are the people that are skipping your, or most likely any, church on Sunday.
We need to become the hospital for sinners that we so emphatically like to claim we are.
Unfortunately we have way too many similarities to a resort that caters only to paying members than a hospital that takes and heals those who can’t heal themselves.
The service aspect is the exact same between a resort and a hospital, the difference, however, is what means the growth or decline of the church.
Galatians 5:13 – For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.