In this issue of Pastorpedia, pastors Knute Larson, Jeff Bogue, and Jim Brown talk about the making your weekend service friendly to the unchurched.
Jeff pastors Grace Church in Akron, Ohio. Jim pastors Grace Community Church in Goshen, Indiana. Knute is the former pastor of The Chapel in Akron, Ohio and now coaches pastors.
Unchurched and “Dechurched”
The two wings of the airplane
Both are rather important, we should say. And for the church, one of them is, “Go and tell.” So we are forever encouraging and training our people to mix with the unchurched out in their territory. To learn how to listen, ask questions, serve up grace, and talk about our Lord.
But the other “wing” of the church might be called, “Come and see.” Try the weekend worship service. So here we talk about this hope and give thoughts on how to help guests feel at home.
Let’s fly together!
Knute, for Jeff and Jim
Why weekend churches should be sensitive to unchurched
- God did not give the church to the church alone; he gave the church to the world.
- The weekend service is a place that anyone is welcomed and invited. Therefore, when we hold a weekend service it is important the love message of Jesus is presented in a manner that allows it to be clear and accessible to all!
- An atmosphere and philosophy of hospitality should permeate every aspect of the weekend experience. Just like our homes would revolve around any guests we invited over, our weekend service should expect and welcome guests.
- The number one emotion associated with people visiting a church for the first time is fear. Do anything possible to alleviate that fear.
- Pray that God would draw people.
- We must ask unchurched or dechurched people this question. We can’t speak for them if we have never been one! So grab a few people in that category and buy them lunch and ask them, “If you were ever to go back to church what are the things that would send you out the door again?”
- Friendliness breaks down defenses and allows guests to breathe easier. So make them feel like they are honored guests. Treat them in a loving way.
- The only way to be sensitive to them is to understand them, so build up disciples who spend time with lost people. Don’t be appalled by their different lifestyles! See them as individuals God created in a beautiful way.
- We must get to a point that we realize that Jesus loves everyone and that every person is worthy of being reached for salvation. When we get there we will begin to shape our thinking to include the unchurched.
- If we aren’t sensitive to them and aren’t willing to reach them, then who will?
- Speak language they know and use Bible versions that are understandable. Get rid of all “sub-lapsarian” words for crying out loud! They don’t care how much we know until we show them how much we care about them.
- Many people who finally “try church” have had bad experiences when young, or at least have heard jokes and rumors—some pretty true—about what churches are like. Way over the majority of people tried church way back. So they come with suspicions or hesitancy.
- And they feel funny. Something like I would feel if I attended a meeting of the Shriners inside the Zembo Mosque in Harrisburg, where I grew up. What are those hats for? Why the big chair on the stage? Why don’t we know more about what they do at the meetings?
- Seminary students and church staffs can have fun arguing about whether church services are for the believers or to be an evangelism tool. Just before we debate how many angels can stand on the head of a pin! Or “where Willowcreek had it wrong when they invited the word ‘seekers,’” as one pastor said to me. But, come on, let’s help both in-Christ and in-self people!
- Many who try church may decide in that one service whether they will be back and look into Jesus Christ and His hopes for them. So their visit is crucial.
- If there is anything that is good for a church, it is to win unbelievers to our Lord. Nothing compares.
- People form their first impression of your church in the first 60 seconds on your property—keep everything clean and modern. Grass mowed, bushes trimmed, paint touched up…
If your child wanted to hold their wedding in your backyard, what types of changes would you make to the house?
- Have greeters, starting in the parking lot, but be careful not to make people “run a gauntlet.” Have the “information” volunteers clearly marked and ready to help, but not over-eager. Think of the helpful employee at Home Depot… not the used car sales person (I apologize to all used cars sales people I just stereotyped.)
- Clear signage inside!
- Safe children’s security with check-in and -out system.
- No insider language! (“If you have any questions, see Mary in the back…”)
- Excellence in service…music, message, all. Avoid “cute” stuff and make the experience a good “value” for the guest. That is how they will process it anyway.
- Address “needs.” Unchurched people do not go to church to find God; they go to church to solve problems. Start your preaching at the point of their need and lead them to Christ.
- Pastor should “work the lobby,” not hide in a ready room.
- Give a gift to all guests, but allow them to stop and get it. Do not have them stand or force it on them.
- Give guests as much attention or anonymity as they choose.
- Number one reason people come back to church is the children’s ministry. A church without a thriving children’s ministry is a dying church.
- Dress casually with modesty. This one area has broken down many barriers for people. Most people do not own a suit and if they do, it no longer fits them!
- It starts in the parking lot! We now have a sign that says, “If you are a guest, turn on your blinkers; we provide special parking for guests.”
- Be excellent in your ministries, especially children’s. Make sure you staff first impression people who smile and aren’t poster children for Most Wanted Criminals!
- Be shameless about hope in your preaching; most guests are there because they need some hope.
- Be real and authentic in your preaching delivery. Most dechurched people have been burned by a super-righteous condemning person in their past church experiences.
- Move into this century with relevance. Seriously, this is a huge red flag with unchurched people.
- Provide a place in staff meetings during the week where someone speaks for the lost. Ask the question, “How would a lost person respond to this service and message?”
- Don’t be shocked by what comes out of their mouths when you chat with them. I have had people tell me, “That was a hell of a sermon, Pastor”!
- Love them, and love them some more, and love them with your eyes, your posture, and your heart! Love covers over a multitude of sins from the past!
- Create and manage an environment of welcome, grace, expectancy of guests, joy, love, fun (yes, in a good way), worship, authenticity, and a few more traits of Christians that only come through discipline. In a church, all of this must be deliberate. Boring and vanilla, is what happens naturally.
- Whatever you decide in the Big Debate (#3 above), at least be sensitive to what a guest (not visitor) would be thinking. This calls for care about long words unique to Scripture and the church—from “redemption” to “tribulation” to “trine”—anything!
- Start on time and end on time. In the culture most of us are in, this is huge. One survey of why regulars don’t invite their friends showed we need excellence in the service, consistency of mood, and punctuality of start and finish.
- Smile! Act like you, the leader, are glad to be there, and enjoy the worship and the Word and the people and your wife, and the church people. Any guest picks up the flavor of a service and the church pretty quickly.
- Tend to the physical—very clean nurseries, bathrooms, hallways. Good signage. Great parking for guests and people with need. Get someone with “fresh eyes” to give you a report on this. Hire a “Mystery Shopper” to attend and give you a report!
- Help your leaders and volunteers at least to know that their involvement in worship—singing with enthusiasm, listening, praying, and more—says tons to guests. That tribal chief who sits there with his arms folded because he does not like to sing says to the guest that this is meaningless.
Personal passions in this area
- I have a passion that when guests discover Grace Church, it is the highlight of their week. It is like finding a new favorite restaurant. Most unchurched people have no idea that there is such a thing as a “life-giving church.”
- We/I fight “drifting” constantly. It is hard work to stay inside the head of an unchurched person! Don’t become lazy.
- I highly recommend that you develop a profile of the “typical person” that you can reach in your area—what is “Akron Alice” or “Wadsworth Wally” like? Who is in your community? Connect with them.
- We have set a defined target age at Grace: a 24-year-old unchurched person. This person defines what type of music we use, our teaching style (not content), and the look of our building. Targeting makes you stay disciplined when implementing changes.
- We never look more like Jesus than when we are “seeking to save that which was lost.”
- Every person deserves a chance to be saved—so do whatever it takes to show the love of Christ.
- Our church is loaded with people who have been burned and were far from God, and the major reason they come is, someone invited them. Challenge, implore, and show your regulars how important it is to reach someone far from God.
- Be willing to rethink the way your building is designed and decorated. We go after men, and we have designed our building in such a way that men would want to hang out there. We believe if you get the man, you get the family, the community, and the world. Most men have fled the church—we want them to run to Jesus! Get rid of your plastic flower vases from the 70’s, and maybe pink and lime walls.
- Pray like crazy and rely completely on the Holy Spirit to do His work in hearts, but create environments people would want to come back to.
- Make sure your ushers can ush! Seriously, it is scary experience to walk into a room loaded with people and find a seat. Do it for them!
- Speak truth with boldness and confidence. Many of these people have been fed lies all week long; they want someone to tell them the truth! Men especially want to be challenged by something that calls them out for an eternal purpose.
- Many Christians have been saved for so long that they have forgotten what they have been saved from! Keep the fire hot under your regular attendees and remind them that there was a time when they were far from God. And that and the sanctification take time. Give grace to new followers!
- I am going to rush to meet guests and be out there in the halls before and after every service. With great joy and enthusiasm!
- I must accept that when I am up front I am representing Christ and His ways to these people. We can argue the priesthood of all believers and be correct, but people judge the faith and the church by the leaders!
- I will help paid staff recognize they too have a part in #2 or else they do not get paid. (I wanted to say that in a very spiritual way, but chose union language.)
- I can never get over that you and I can “make our living” by speaking of and representing the Lord of the universe in this way. A very high privilege!
- All of us on staff must discipline ourselves to have involvement with the unchurched and unbelievers so we are really aware of what they are feeling. Don’t join the Christian bowling league and go to the Christian coffee place and….
Pastorpedia is produced monthly by three experienced pastors: Jeff Bogue, of Grace Church, in several locations in the Bath-Norton-Medina areas of Ohio; Jim Brown, of Grace Community Church in Goshen, Indiana, a church known for its strong growth, family and men’s ministries, and community response teams; and Knute Larson, a coach of pastors, who previously led The Chapel in Akron for 26 years.
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