Ten Ways to Refresh Your Church Atmosphere


Is Your Church “Air” Appealing or Repelling?
One Whiff Will Tell

Ben Wong is the senior pastor at Shepherd Community Church in Hong Kong. He oversees 40 groups and 1200 people who attend worship. He also developed the Hong Kong Cell Church Network, which consists of 168 churches from 20 different denominational traditions.

Vibrant cell groups are life changing. Non-Christians meet Jesus and are saved. People find honest and healthy friendships, sometimes for the first time in their lives. Others discover the meanings of grace and forgiveness, and learn how to extend these to others.

Does this describe your experience in small groups? Or does your reaction fall somewhere between “ho-hum” and “I’m sure glad that’s over!”?

Being part of a small group, either for one visit or for the long-term, does not guarantee a great experience. Even churchgoers can come across as calloused or unfriendly. Cells are a way to organize a church body, but simply placing people in small groups doesn’t mean they’ll mature spiritually or become others-focused. If your church is dead, and you put a bunch of spiritually dead people into small groups, you will be an organized dead church. If your church is alive in God and adopts His values, your groups will resemble breaths of fresh air.

What is the atmosphere like in your church? Take a “deep breath” in your Sunday service and in your cell group. Does the atmosphere attract others? Do outsiders look in and see something they want? We sampled the air at our church, Shepherd Community in Hong Kong, after the cells started floundering. God revealed some poor “atmospheric conditions,” and showed us that people were breathing polluted air that was choking the cells. We filtered and cleansed the air by applying some new values
to our lives, and quickly saw change and growth.

Is your church’s atmosphere as inviting as the fresh scent of a spring shower or as repulsive as the stench of a stagnant swamp? By measuring your church with the following ten atmospheric conditions, you will know how to bring new life to your group and church.

1. Have a Positive Faith in God.

God continually challenges us to enter the realm of the unknown. While you alone may not be able to do some things, if your instructions are from the Lord, you can accomplish them with His help. As Christians with the power of Jesus Christ, we are not confined by man’s potential. Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 [NKJVI).

When a difficult situation arises, press into it. If you tackle only those things with which you are comfortable, you’ll never mature
spiritually. God grows us when we live outside our comfort zone. For example, if a person is asked to be a cell leader and accepts the position believing that he can lead by his own knowledge and power, then he ought to do something else or he will stop growing. If, on the other hand, he knows that he cannot lead except by the grace of God, he should take the chance. If you face something and think, “I can’t do it,” then you must depend on Jesus to accomplish it through you.

God will lead you into tunnels with no light. So many times we focus on the darkness – problems, criticisms, fears – and we fail to hear the voice of God. He said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). You will never do anything for God if you do not believe these words. He moves in the things that you alone cannot do, but you can boldly say, “Yes, I can, because God is on my side.”

2. Make Church Fun!

To make church or cell meetings boring is a sin. God is anything but boring. Church should be fun and exciting, reflecting God’s nature. People want to bring friends and neighbors to a fun church, not to one where they will fall asleep during the service. If newcomers enjoy your church, they will come back and bring others with them. If cell members leave a cell meeting wearing a bigger frown than when they arrived, they will stop coming.

Learn to distinguish between being serious and being solemn. We can be serious about God and our ministry and be “wild and crazy guys,” too. It’s OK for Christians to have a sense of humor. Chinese churches, for example, are traditionally very solemn. This creates heaviness over people, and people return to church only out of guilt or hurt. A fun church atmosphere is to a nonbeliever what a free gourmet meal is to a starving man. Who can turn it down? Break out from your old church mold!

3. Bring Out the Best in People.

Robert Rosenthal, a Harvard psychologist, and Lenore Jacobsen, a school principal in San Francisco, tried something novel. As primary school began, new teachers casually received the names of five or six students in their classes who were designated as “spurters” based on a test the year before. Though these students actually were chosen at random, the teachers believed they had exceptional learning abilities. The teachers described these selected students as happier and more curious, affectionate and apt to succeed than their classmates. The only change for the school year was the attitudes of the teachers.

The result: These five or six pupils in each class scored far ahead of the other students, gaining 15 to 27 IQ points over the previous year’s test results. The study proved that the way we perceive people is the way we treat them, and that the way we treat them is the way they become.

Remember this important principle: You put people in touch with their faults when you assume a negative attitude toward them and reflect back to them only your perception of their weaknesses. Conversely, by assuming a positive attitude and concentrating on their strengths, you put them in contact with their good attributes. Their behavior inevitably improves. Proverbs 23:7 says, “For as a man thinks within himself, so he is.”

4. Accomplish the Great Commission.

Jesus said in John 4:35, “Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” The fields Jesus referred to are in the world. The harvest is in the world, not in the church. Ideally, Christians go to church to get healed and encouraged so they can serve the Lord in the world, fighting the war against Satan. Theme church equips ministers to fight that war, and the world is the battlefield and our place of service.

Jesus told us in the Great Commission to “go.” He did not tell the world, “Come to church.” People all around us – co-workers, neighbors, 7-Eleven clerks, cousins, golf partners – live in darkness. How will they know about the Light of the World if we do not show it to them and tell them about it? Their bondage keeps them from coming to the place of truth. Therefore the church, YOUR church, YOUR cell group, must go to them.

A “go” atmosphere creates expectation and excitement, and transforms a dull Christian life into an action thriller. You find yourself waiting to see what God will do next. Start praying for, relating to and inviting the pre-Christians in your life and watch this aspect of your church attitude change.

5. Be o People of Destiny.

People, including many Christians, are dying for something to live for. Yet a large percentage of churches tell people to attend the Sunday service and the weekly cell meeting – period. Is this all there is to “church”? No! Everyone has a call on his or her life. God has called everyone into ministry. No one is excluded.

No one is in your cell by accident. Yet we often think people will reach their God-ordained destiny by accident. We get frustrated waiting for people to grow up. Shepherd Community has learned to prepare people to find and then attain their destiny. We equip them to live victoriously in Jesus’ freedom, and we teach them how to reach non-Christians. We disciple people within the context of relationships so they can discover their destiny, their “something to live for,” in the Kingdom of God.

We challenge people with a big vision. When I was a 6-monthold Christian, I started a weekly group meeting with six other young
people. Some well-meaning Christians told me that I was supposed to grow up spiritually before I could help others grow. But I was being discipled by a friend named Peter, who showed me what being a Christian was about. Then I gave it to others. I saw God’s vision for ministry very early, and I took the challenge even though it was risky and some said I was wrong.

6. Learn to Work Together, as a Team.

I alone am not a good pastor. I need others, a community, around me. I must work smarter, not harder.

When I assembled my leadership team for Shepherd Community Church, I looked for people who were different from myself. We are different in temperament and strengths, and we even look different. One has long hair and another prefers short hair. Some are modern, while others are more conservative. We have the jokers and the extra-serious.

God works through variety. Some in your cell group will be strong at prayer. Others will lead out in evangelism, or will have a deep knowledge of the Word. Learn to work with the diversity of giftedness surrounding you. Delegate tasks, and use people in their strengths. Don’t try to do everything by yourself.

Shepherd Community succeeds because of the team, not because of one person, and certainly not just because I am the senior pastor. For example, Tony Chan wrote me a letter stating that his purpose was to help me be the best senior pastor in Hong Kong. What support and selflessness! That’s what makes a successful team. United we stand; divided we fall.

To work together in unity, the team needs to submit to the leader. The leader needs to shepherd with love, but the followers need to submit. Without this dynamic, teamwork doesn’t exist.

7. Learn to Fail Well.

Fake people hide behind faces and masks. Real people outwardly reflect what is going on inside them. The key to relationships is to be real. The Bible tells us to “walk in the light,” and this means to walk in openness, to let others see our failures and weaknesses.

Failure is a prerequisite to success. All successful people fail, even the great people in the Bible (remember the mistakes that Moses and David made?). Leaders who go to great lengths to hide failures are foolish and hypocritical. Strong people make as many mistakes, and just as ghastly, as the weak people. The difference is that strong people admit them, laugh at them, learn from them. That is how they become strong and gain the respect of their followers.

Some managers refuse to accommodate failure, and they fire employees who stumble. But the best managers expect their people to make mistakes. Instead of replacing staff members, they teach employees how to cope with failure and how to learn from their mistakes. Leaders who impart perseverance and tenacity, and help others learn from their errors, perform a vital service while creating a superior organization.

Abraham Lincoln was a great U.S. president, but look at this string of failures: failed in business in 1831; defeated for legislature in 1832; sweetheart died in 1835; suffered a nervous breakdown in 1836; defeated for Speaker in 1838; defeated for Elector in 1840; defeated for Congress in 1843 and 1848; defeated for Senate in 1850; defeated for Vice President in 1856; defeated for Senate in 1858. If Lincoln had given up anywhere along the way, he may never have been elected President in 1860.

Where did Lincoln gain the ability to remain undeterred? From the people who believed in him when he lost, encouraged him when he despaired, taught him that failure is not permanent and pushed him to continue. We must surround God’s people with the same level of encouragement.

8. Constantly Change for the Better.

Our God is the God of change and the new. His “compassion is new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23). God promises that the old things will pass away. Isaiah 43:18-19 says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”

When Jesus comes into our lives, He transforms us. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Many people in your church or cell group can testify to the former and the current change in their lives.

A man once said, “I was a revolutionary when I was young, and my prayer to God was this: ‘Lord, give me the energy to change the world.’ As I approached middle age and realized that my life was half gone without my changing a single soul, I changed my prayer to this: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change all those who come into contact with me; just my family and friends, and I shall be satisfied.’ Now that I am an old man and my days are numbered, I see how foolish I have been. My prayer now is: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change myself.’ If I had prayed for this right from the start, I would not have wasted my life.”

9. Include Everyone in Ministry.

God desires for each person to build up the Body of Christ. When any one person doesn’t fulfill his or her part, the Body is incomplete. The “priesthood of all believers” is the community of God’s people. A church is not a building or a program, but people living in love for one another and demonstrating the love of God to the world. This is why Jesus told us to love one another as He loved us.

A cell has no room for spectators. Members who don’t fully participate in the life of the Body are also not fully plugged into the life
source. For example, Samantha and Peggy are members of the same cell who came to know the Lord at the same time. Both are from broken families and had many hurts expressed through bitterness. After about eight months in their cell, their leader asked each of them to care for a new believer. Peggy accepted, but Samantha refused and said that she had not overcome her own problems. One year later, Peggy was growing by leaps and bounds, while Samantha was struggling with her same issues. When asked why, Peggy said, “Because I took the challenge to build up another person even through I was still very imperfect.”

The church as Christ designed it has no pew-sitters. If you try to sit idly by and observe, others will nudge you, push you, pull you. You will be forced to change your ways either by participating or by leaving for another church.

10. Depend on the Supernatural God.

We are spiritual beings. Therefore, we are people of the supernatural and not just the natural. We must learn to operate in the supernatural, in the spiritual realm. The supernatural is the dimension of faith; the natural is the dimension of sight. We are told to live not by sight, but by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7).

This means we must have faith to believe God and to see with His eyes. Jerry had God’s eyes for a new believer named Edward. When Edward first came to Shepherd Community, he had a bad temper and became especially angry when he felt dishonored. However, his life did not deserve honor. He was lazy, undisciplined and mean, and he could not hold a job. Even his parents had given up on him.

Through supernatural eyes, Jerry saw beneath the surface, prayed for Edward and spoke truth into his life. He and his cell saw a beautiful person inside, someone who needed help to surface. Through the love of the cell, Edward began to shock his family. He saw the dreams God had for his life. He became an effective minister. Now he is a cell leader who excels in helping other people who see themselves as failures.

Anyone can lead a cell meeting, but only God can touch someone’s heart like this. A cell member can speak the truth in love, but only God can convict someone of unforgiveness or jealousy. A cell leader can visit and pray for a cell member in the hospital, yet only God can heal. God can restore marriages or turn selfishness into love. Only He can turn a prostitute into a church leader, or transform a youth on drugs into a worshipper.

This last condition can turn the tide of the other nine. If your cell group and church need an atmospheric change, begin with this value. Start with prayer and repentance.

Only God can turn death into life. He will touch those places that smell more like a dead skunk than a spring breeze. As your church adopts this culture of new values, a new way of living emerges. This culture creates a fresh atmosphere, and your church will become a magnet drawing people who need Jesus.