Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Blessings and Challenges of Ministering in the Small Church (Part 5).

Challenge: Moving from a “closed” group to a “welcoming” group.

It is amazing how two different groups of people can experience the same “event” and feel totally different about it.

Most people who regularly attend a small church feel that their church is warm and friendly. They enjoy being with this group of friendly faces. They have shared common experiences. The church feels “comfortable” – like a favorite shirt or pair shoes.

Most visitors of small churches comment on how “cold” or “unfriendly” the church feels. They walk into the building, shake hands with a greeter and then take their seats. No one comes up to talk with them. It is as though no one knows they are there. They watch the members talk, laugh and connect with each other. These visitors feel like outsiders.

This has been, and continues to be, a huge issue at Evergreen. I have given up trying to get our long-time members to be open to visitors. It just isn’t going to happen. I have even spoken personally to some of these wonderful long-time members about the problem—and, I have been told that they have no intention of changing their ways! As a pastor it is EXTREMELY frustrating. These are my friends and brothers and sisters in Christ who are basically saying that they don’t give a dam about our visitors! Fortunately, this mind set is totally absent from our Saturday night service.

So what should we do? Do we give up? Absolutely not!!! We are enlisting four or five people to be our “unofficial” greeters. Their job is to recognize everyone who attends Evergreen so that they can spot a visitor when the visitor walks through the door. As the visitor takes his/her seat these “unofficial greeters” will go over and spend time talking to the newcomers—welcoming them to the church. These same “unofficial” folks will keep their eyes open during our coffee time to make sure that people are talking to the newcomers. They will quickly move in to “drink coffee” with the new folks if the newcomers are being ignored by the rest of the congregation. That very week a loaf of fresh, home-baked bread will be delivered to their home by one of our bread delivery team.

Who will make up this “unofficial” greeting team? The person who heads it up is a long-time member (and Elder) who has a heart for new people who walk through our church doors. The other people are some of the newer people to our church! They remember how uncomfortable they felt when first visiting the church. We are going to use our newer folks to help change the unfriendly culture experienced by our visitors.

Challenge: Stop thinking like a small church!

The Rev. Dr. John Haberlin (former G.A. New Church Development guru and church planter) was talking about the founding of Central Kitsap Presbyterian Church. John was the organizing pastor of Central Kitsap. He told me that they had determined to never think or act like a small church because it would become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Central Kitsap started small but soon began to experience growth. They never planned or acted like a small church!

How does a church keep from thinking and acting like a small church? There will be a different specific answer for each church. I believe that the common thread is changing from an inward focus to a dual focus of being inward and outward focused. We have to realize that those apart from Christ will not be in heaven! God is going to hold us accountable for failing to reach out to those who do not know Christ. Remember that Jesus said that not every one says “Lord, Lord” to him will be allowed to enter into the Kingdom of God! We have Good News that needs to be shared. Having such a view will make it impossible for a church to think like a small church. Larger churches have great a great web site—get a great web site that will appeal to a target audience. Larger churches us technology—use today’s technology to enhance your church’s programs. Large churches offer multiple programs—create new programs! Large churches have great looking and informative brochures to visitors—create a new welcome brochure. Large churches make sure their building and grounds appeal to the eye—paint the church if necessary and make the church look welcoming from the outside. Large churches serve GOOD coffee—throw away the cheap, horrible church coffee and serve the good stuff!

Stop thinking and acting small!


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