VISITOR FRIENDLY CHURCHES
BY DOUG MURREN
I remember well my thoughts the first time I ever attended a church. I was 19 years old, sitting between two friends. Something was being passed among us.
What are these” I thought. Feed bags? Why are they passing horse feeding bags? People were putting their money in the things! Uh oh, I thought. How much do they want from me? 1 don’t ever want to forget what I felt like that day.
The church gap. Do you know that there are no more Christians in the United States in 1993 than there were in 1983? That only 5 percent of church growth is the result of conversions (the rest is from church-to-church transfers)? A tremendous gap has grown between us churchgoers and the “church inexperienced.” They can’t understand us–our words or our church practices.
Further, it seems today’s unchurched demand a long preconversion phase; they want to kick the tires before they buy. And that’s not so bad. It’s a well-established fact that the more thorough the investigative phase, the more enduring one’s ultimate commitment to Christ.
How do we respond to these realities” How do we make our churches more open and friendly toward those we need to reach with the gospel?
Friendly services. I’ve heard many concerns raised by those who are skeptical about developing a “visitor friendly” emphasis. Let me address just a few:
1. Are we compromising the message when we seek to accommodate the “church inexperienced”? Making truth intelligible to an audience doesn’t have to mean weakening the message. I’ve found it may take longer to get a point across with sensitivity, but it can be done-without compromise.
2. Shouldn’t we just build strong disciples ?After all, healthy sheep beget sheep. Actually, only healthy sheep who cohabitate beget new sheep. Evangelism and outreach are more purposeful than most leaders realize. In fact, strong sheep are best developed in an environment where there is concern for the lost. The lost were clearly Christ’s priority.
3. Is the emphasis on “visitor friendly” churches biblical? Yes! First Corinthians 14 is a visitor-friendly document if there ever was
one. Paul was deeply concerned with the intelligibility of the churches he founded. This concern with those who were new, confused and hurting is one characteristic that differentiated Christianity from the mystery cults in Paul’s time. The message belongs to everyone, not just a select few. And the ultimate test of a good service isn’t the number or kinds of activities, but the number of transformed hearts.
Expect visitors. As we’ve attempted to make our own church more sensitive and inclusive of newcomers, I’ve collected a few insights:
Expect visitors and they will come. Churches whose members value newcomers are the ones that get visitors.
Excellence attracts excellence in music, speaking and facilities.
Develop a way to identify visitors without introducing them or otherwise exposing their anonymity. We have found that a reception room for newcomers is usually frequented after their third or fourth visit, not the first.
Be as “worldly wise” as you are “heavenly aware.” You will draw people who will have their needs met.
Respect your visitors’ time, and anticipate their questions. Release them from participation in offerings. “Exegete” not only the
Scriptures, but also the needs of the unchurched.
Discuss church issues and business sparingly on Sundays. You can schedule special services for your established believers to discuss such things.
Place a high premium on ministry to children and youth. People of all ages and marital status choose their church based on the numbers of youth and the quality of ministry to them.
Give people opportunities to receive Christ.
Be positive and have fun.
Sadly. many Christians today resist the changes that are needed to draw in those who are uninitiated in the practices and jargon of the church. What the church needs today are fewer religious consumers-and more people willing to enlarge their hearts to include others.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY MINISTRIES TODAY, MAY/JUNE 1993, PAGE 22.
THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.