You have never tried to make your message irrelevant, boring, or incomprehensible.
At least I hope not!
But you find yourself preaching while questioning your effectiveness. You walk up to deliver a sermon lacking confident in your content. You question your ability. Your capacity. Even your calling. You feel your church more tolerates the message than engages in the content.
Of course, this isn’t the case EVERY time you preach, but more times than you’d like to admit.
The easy solution is to become hyper-spiritual. Say you are “trusting” God and the Holy Spirit to speak in spite of you. Not to be irreverent, though. We know at the heart of preaching, spiritual intervention is necessary. But we all know the difference between “I’m ready to go and trusting God to do what only he can do,” and “I’m not close to ready, so God perform a miracle.”
In this blog series, I’ve identified 9 tips to help keep people from leaving your church (i.e., shutting the back door). I believe all 9 are important. In this post, I’ll address tip number eight:
TIP 8. Be a church FOR people – all people.
Who is your church for?
Not theological. But practically, who is your church for?
I know what all us church leaders would say, but what if you asked people in your community? What if you asked the unchurched in your neighborhood or workplace? What if you asked the golfers teeing off on Sunday mornings?
When we get outside of our church bubble, we quickly discover the rest of the world sees the church differently. They see judgmental, homophobic, and hypocritical. They associate, for good reason, the gathering of Christians with their bad Christian experiences and an angry God.
Unfortunately, people are more familiar with what the church is AGAINST than what we are FOR. For good reason, too. Think of all the things Christians have boycotted: Disney, JC Penney, Lowes, Home Depot, UPS, PBS, Oreos, Muppets, Cheerios, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts. Cabbage Patch Dolls. Barbie. World Vision… The list goes on and on.
Now some of these boycotts might be warranted. Some might be even necessary. But from the outside looking in, the brand of Christianity is marked by the word “against.” That’s regrettable, because when we open the pages of Scripture, we see a God FOR people. A loving God who has been pursuing people their entire life. A God that is so for people that he allowed his Son to die for them. It makes me believe if God is for people, His church should be known in the same way.
Most of us church people don’t, because we are church people and it’s our service. And honestly, as church people, we are just comfortable with the weirdness. But when an unchurched person attends your church, odds are they will encounter a few things they consider strange, such as:
If your church sings songs about God, Jesus, Heaven, and the like, it is probably weird to outsiders. Imagine walking into a large room where people are collectively standing and singing songs about blood, healing, and praising an invisible God who we trust with our life even though he apparently is more concerned with being praised than giving us what we want. That’s what we sing. Come on… that’s strange.
2. Sitting and Standing (and maybe kneeling)
At most churches, we stand up at times, sit at others, and it’s nearly impossible to know which is which if you’re new. Weird. It can feel like a child in a dance recital who is always one step behind.
3. Responsive Reading
I’ve not participated in this for a while, but imagine being an unbeliever, being asked to repeat “truths” about a God you aren’t sure even exists? Strange.
Is it a mid-morning snack? Is it wine or juice? Not to be irreverent, but it’s weird.
Maybe the weirdest of all! Adults allowing other adults to dunk them under water. That was fun in middle school, but as an adult? And if you wear robes, forget it! That’s even worse!
That’s only touching the surface. When we sit back and think about our church services, it’s pretty obvious that for an outsider or guests, experiencing what we consider normal can feel anything but.
So how do you make a church service friendly for an outsider without compromising the truth of Scripture or the traditions you hope to maintain?Continue reading…
What would happen if the unchurched in your community suddenly attended your church this Sunday?
Would you be ready?
Hopefully that sounds like a dream come true. Let’s pretend your attendance doubled – or tripled. And it’s the good kind of attendance increase, not the kind where you add disgruntled churchgoers who will soon find reasons to be disgruntled with your church!
At Watermarke Church, that is basically our story. When I first arrived to lead our church, we were stagnant at best. Watermarke was losing families weekly. This presented an obvious problem and distinct opportunity. We had to change and reframe our culture and collectively recommit to our vision – creating a church unchurched people would love to attend.
In our case, the hard work paid off. God led us to make many changes and our church began to grow quickly. As exciting as the new growth was, though, creating a church that attracted unchurched people has a disadvantage I never considered: unchurched people don’t know how to be church people. More specifically, they do not serve or give or participate, they only consume. Of course we were grateful to have their consumption, but I quickly realized encouraging and equipping our unchurched friends to participate IN the mission rather than consume FROM the mission was critical to our mission. More importantly, it was critical to their growing relationship with Jesus.
As a Christian, I know what you mean. But I’m telling you – no non-Christian believes you. Their experience has taught them well.
Christians have spent so many years rallying against “sin” that most people who have been told they are “sinners” cannot fathom finding love or acceptance from the Christian community today. Who can blame them? It seems everywhere we turn Christian are fighting against this and complaining about that. Even though “those fanatical Christians” may only represent a small portion of Christendom, they’re voices are loud and the media eats it up. Unfortunately, they represent more than just themselves.
But while we cannot make EVERY Christian behave, you and I should stop using terms and phrases that accidentally communicate something we never intend.
As a pastor, I hear it all the time – “Why did we play THAT song?” Maybe you do, too. Or maybe you ask it. Every time we begin our church service with a song from a non-Christian radio station, I know it’s coming.
I understand. We recently began our church service by singing these lyrics: “A singer in a smokey room, a smell of wine and cheap perfume. For a smile they can share the night, it goes on and on and on and on.” Okay – seeing it in written form feels a little sketchy (or a ton sketchy!). I may have a few questions for myself, now!
But let me ask you a question: What song is that lyric from? Did you smile as you read them? Or sang them? Are you still singing?
Here’s why we occasionally begin our services with music from Journey or Disney – because people like it. I know, that’s not profound. And I realize it’s certainly not theologically sound, but it is powerful. People like fun, familiar music. And that’s extremely important, because I’m convinced if people don’t like how their church experience begins, odds are they will not like how it progresses or ends.
To say it another way: If we hope to influence people toward their Heavenly Father, we must engage them emotionally in the beginning of our service to engage them spiritually during the service.
Why do we feel the need to label everything? Sure, some things need labels, like expiration dates on milk cartons or warning labels on fireworks. But why do we label churches? “They’re a missional church.” “They’re attractional.” “They’re traditional.” My guess is we label because we want a clear way to elevate our label over every other label, but again, that’s just a guess.