Closing The Back Door
By Ed Stetzer
I remember it like it was yesterday. We were reviewing our first year while planning for the future. Then we discovered it. More than a thousand people had visited our church during that first year, and only a hundred had stayed; our back door was almost as large as our front door.” An honest review of our first year of ministry revealed to us that we not only had failed to close the back door, we seemed to have left it wide open marked with a flashing emergency exit sign.
Our problem was not unique. Many churches have learned to attract guests but have a hard time nudging them into committed attendees. Why is it easier to generate visitors than to produce members? We decided some of our loss was related to style issues perhaps visitors didn’t like the music, the building or our style of service. For whatever reason, many people just weren’t connecting with our church.
We failed to understand that most people will convert to community before converting to Christ. People tend to join other people on a spiritual journey.
Often believers will bring a close friend or family member into their own spiritual journey, inviting them to church, explaining the unfamiliar and introducing the lost person to the Christian experience. In order to reach these community-conscious seekers, churches need to remember these principles:
1. Friendliness is not enough
People are not looking for a friendly church, they are looking for friends. Many churches are not prepared to move visitors into relationships with others in the church.
2. Christians and Christianity are peculiar
Who we are and what we do is different. If were doing it right, the difference will draw others to Christ, but we can’t expect the un-churched to put the puzzle together by themselves.
3. Closing the back door takes planning
In order to keep guests and new converts, churches need to work as hard as they would for a VBS, large gathering or church outreach. All of these are only effective if the guests they generate become new believers and members.
The goal is simple, but the task can be overwhelming. We have a sacred taskto care for those Christ sends our way. A church can start to do this with a simple three-part plan: invite, welcome and connect.
Churches need an outreach strategy. If people are not visiting your church, that’s the first step: inviting guests. Members must be sold on inviting their friends. Churches can participate in organized evangelistic outreach, servant evangelism projects and special community events to build new relationships. Direct mail and other marketing methods are used to invite those without pre-existing relationships in the church.
The first 10 minutes set the tone. Newcomers are already uncomfortable going to a strange place to talk about a strange subject. Magnetic churches (of all shapes and sizes) have learned to use simple strategies to reduce that tension. These strategies include friendly parking attendants, greeters, an information center, quality printed programs and culturally sensitive hospitality. When this becomes the norm, members will learn that every Sunday is a safe Sunday to bring a guest.
Dan Morgan, a church planting professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, explains that people need three types of stability to connect with a church. New believers often drop out because they are unstable in their faith, lifestyle or their understanding of scripture.
The task of the church is to introduce Christ into people’s lives when their stability is crumbling. This means they need help to get out of their current situation and make a stable connection.
Stability can take several forms: relational, biblical and functional. To close the back door, believers need to have their lives stabilized and God uses the church to help with that.
William Hendricks argues that new Christians are likely to leave the church within the first six months if they don’t develop at least seven significant relationships in the congregation in that time period.
Unfortunately, many Christians make little effort to cultivate new friends because they feel comfortable with the friends they already have. New congregations need to learn to accept the immaturity of new believers and make welcoming and befriending them a priority.
If believers do not involve new converts in their circle of faith, converts may never experience the biblical and functional stability that Christ offers.
The church that establishes new believers in the faith must teach them in a variety of areas: a mature understanding of God, assurance of Gods forgiveness, certainty of their salvation experience, the purpose of the church and confidence that God hears their prayers. New believers develop biblical stability in their lives when the church teaches and preaches that God’s Word is powerful, authoritative and true. This area of stability is the easiest of the three to develop if the new believers are part of Bible study and worship.
New believers long for functional stability. If they still wrestle with drug abuse, sexual immorality and other concerns, they will be unable to focus on issues of spiritual maturity. The church cannot expect a new believer to demonstrate good spiritual habits immediately. The church must help him or her make a commitment that will then develop into habits displayed by mature believers. This may involve helping them get free of habits that are squelching their spiritual growth. I have known very few adults who made commitments to Christ without a significant crisis and that crisis does not automatically disappear after he or she becomes a Christian.
Becoming A Magnetic Church
Closing the back boor is not easy. It requires connected and stable church members, who are drawn to the church initially but stay for the long haul. Such church members need to develop in at least seven ways. These are adapted from The Master Planfor Making Disciples by Win and Charles Am (Baker Books, 1998).
* Worship regularly
* Guide friends and family to follow Christ
* Identify with church goals
* Tithe regularly
* Identify seven new friends in the church
* Identify their own spiritual gifts
* Participate in at least one role or task in the church
* Participate in a small group
This article Closing the Back Door by Ed Stetzer is excerpted from churchcentral.com, Sept. 2008.