This is Part 6 of a blog series on Creating Continuous Growth in Your Church.
Every church leader facing a growth barrier desperately wants to break through, because every church leader, including me, desires a growing, thriving church. Not because church attendance is the only measure of success, but because increasing attendance is proof that people are being reached.
Here is a question I’ve begun to ask: What if instead of just breaking through a specific barrier we were able to barrier-proof our church? Pause for a moment and imagine never hitting a growth barrier again.
I believe barrier-proofing is possible for every church in any denomination, and that’s exactly what we are going to evaluate in this blog series.
I have uncovered 6 specific ingredients to create continuous growth in your church. In this post, we are going to look at the fifth ingredient:
Ingredient 5: DEFINING, DESIGNING, AND DEFENDING THE ENTRY POINT
Where do people enter your home?
Friends probably come through the side door — often called a “friend door” for that very reason.
Family most often through the garage. I have four kids, and they more spill into the house through the garage, rarely closing it, shoes and socks and various clothing dropped anywhere and everywhere except the laundry room in the process. But maybe that’s just me.
But what about guests? Where do guests typically come into your home? It’s different for guests, right? They aren’t yet friends (the jury is still out), so the friend door isn’t a great option. They aren’t family, so the garage probably should remain closed when we are expecting them (and we hope they keep their socks on, too). In my home when we have guests over, much like you, they enter through the front door. The front door is the guest entry point into our home. It might be a little further than the garage or side door, but it’s where they go. It’s more comfortable for them and for us, mostly because it’s designed with them in mind.
FROM YOUR HOME TO YOUR CHURCH
Taking this back to the church, the principle is the same. Every church hoping to reach the unchurched (who will initially be guests) in their community must define, design, and defend the front door entry point for their church. Unfortunately, the majority of churches neglect the necessity of a front door, leaving guests to wonder in through the garage like family. We call that level jumping on the friendship, and it almost always creates a bad experience for the guest.
If you hope to create continuous growth in your church, ushering guests into your church through your garage is a poor strategy. You need a clearly defined, designed, and defended front door.
DEFINING THE ENTRY POINT
Clarifying the entry point comes through answering a few clarifying questions.
1. What is the optimal place in our church to bring guest into the church? If you have the spiritual gift of sarcasm like me, you probably just answered “the front door.” But what front door? What ministry, environment, or program creates the most optimal entry point into your church?
Theoretically, the entry point can be almost anything — it just needs to be clearly defined so it can then be designed and defended. At Watermarke Church, we have chosen our Sunday services as the optimal entry point. I don’t believe this is the only option, but it might be the best option. It’s certainly the most controllable option with the most manageable unintended consequences. It also protects the guest experience better than any other option in our model.
2. How frequently is this doorway available to guests? This is an important question, because the doorway you define as the entry point will dictate how frequently and effectively you can welcome guests.
That’s why I cringe every time I see a church promoting “Friend Day.” Gimmicks like “Friend Day” are not great entry points. Leveraging random, inconsistent outreach events as the entry point to the church is like walling off the front door on your home most of the year, then putting the door back in different places every once in a while. You would never do that in your home, so don’t do it in the church!
One more example: Your church softball team might be a great way to engage the unchurched, but if you define the softball ministry as your entry point, you’ve just limited your reach to a type of person and to a season of the year.
You get the point. Every week should create an outreach opportunity. And every week should provide a doorway for every segment of your unchurched community. So define carefully.
DESIGNING THE ENTRY POINT
Here’s where theory moves to application. To design a front door for the unchurched in your community, you need to ensure these three elements are part of the framework:
1. Appealing Setting: We are talking about the physical environment here. When we have guests over to our home, we bring them in through the front door, mostly because the garage lives in an eternal state of disrepair, dirt, and my kid’s bikes, but our front door and foyer are clean, easy to navigate, and manageable for guests.
The unchurched in your community need an entry point to your church that is appealing. That doesn’t mean watered down (we’ll get to that in a moment). It means it needs to be clean, prepared, and welcoming. Since our entry point is Sunday services, our front door begins and ends in the parking lot, but in-between it passes through every hallway, restroom, children’s environment, and eventually the auditorium. We work hard every week to make sure it is clean, free of clutter, staffed with helpful volunteers, and easy to navigate. This is why we have parking attendants. I wrote an entire post on our parking lot: Can Your Church Parking Lot Be An Experience? This is why we have way-finding signs literally everywhere. This is why we have a cleaning crew onsite throughout our services. We must ensure the setting is appealing.
Your front door might not be Sunday services, but the setting must be appealing. But what’s the other option? Unappealing?
2. Engaging Experience: Not only does the physical setting need to be appealing, but the experience needs to be engaging. As mentioned above, for us, this starts in the parking lot, but it covers the full guest experience, including our music, the sermon, how we involve guests, and what we ask of them.
Designing an engaging experience for “church” people is easier, because we are church people. Designing something that engages the unchurched community is going to be more difficult, but ultimately much more rewarding. I would suggest you invite unchurched people into the design process. Ask them what they like and don’t like about your entry point. What is it about church that has turned them off in the past? Take this feedback into account and create something that engages their emotion, mind, heart, and eventually their soul.
Two more thoughts on the experience: 1. Make it fun. Fun is engaging. Church can be fun. I would argue it should be fun. Actually, I did argue that right here: Should Church Be Entertaining? 2. Leverage your most engaging people. If you are the Senior Pastor, but you have other team members who are more engaging on stage, put them on stage. Let your best presenters present. Your gifting, not your title, should dictate your role.
3. Helpful Content: Lastly, the experience needs to be helpful if we expect the unchurched to move toward becoming churched. When a guests enters your home for a meal, they expect food at some point. Why? Because that’s what happens at dinner. And if the meal is great, they’ll most like accept an invitation to come back.
The same is true for unchurched people who choose to be a guest at a church. They probably know what to expect, but what they might not know is how helpful and applicable it can be for their life right now — Christian or not.
Helpful content doesn’t mean watered down content. Rather, it means comprehensible content. I hate the term “seeker sensitive.” I’ve embraced “seeker comprehensible.” That’s really what we do at Watermarke Church. We take timeless truth — all of it — and work to make it simple, digestible, and applicable — therefore helpful. You already do this, too, but you might not realize the extent. For instance, you don’t teach David and Bathsheba to your preschoolers.
This isn’t a new idea, of course. Ezra did exactly this as we read in Nehemiah:
“(Ezra) read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.”Nehemiah 8:8
If people can’t understand, they can’t apply, and therefore it’s not helpful. We should strive to preach more like Ezra each week.
DEFENDING THE ENTRY POINT
Like my son defends his mac ’n cheese! The doorway for reaching those far from God must be protected at all cost. It is so easy to allow the design of the front door to shift away from its original purpose, because all the complaints and “suggestions” will come from those inside the church. Without a clear strategy to defend the entry point, inevitably it will shift away from being a front door to a garage — one small, subtle shift at a time.
The easiest way to protect the entry point is to remind yourselves and your teams every week that today is somebody’s first Sunday. That one sentiment is enough to keep our Sunday services (our entry point) on mission and on vision. Knowing each Sunday one unchurched person (or maybe dozens) took a risk and accepted an invitation to try our church is enough to keep us militantly protective of every aspect of the entry point. There’s too much at stake not to protect it at all cost, because when an unchurched person attends our church, it might be their absolute last time to give God and the church a shot. That’s worth protecting!
That’s a lot of information, but defining, designing, and defending the entry point into your church is a necessity to create continuous growth and barrier-proof your church. It’s also a part of the bigger church’s mission, as we see in the first church business meeting in Acts.
It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.Acts 15:19
Ultimately, this is why we can’t forsake the necessity of a great entry point. We can’t make it difficult for anyone giving God and the church one more chance, and a well defined, designed, and defended front door is a necessary ingredient to a continuously growing church.