Monday, December 15, 2014

How to Grow a Dead Church

"Do as I say, not as I do!" is an old refrain pointing toward the hypocrisy of the speaker. Many people fail to see their own shortcomings and then point toward the actions and behaviors of others. We do that, and I sometimes do, because subconsciously we recognize our own faults. It's easy to teach against lying if a liar is speaking. Liars normally understand the mechanism quite well and is actually issuing a subliminal warning to themselves.

I've heard preachers do the same! They warn congregations to be inclusive and friendly, but they fail to do so themselves. It's offensive to listen to reproof from those who need reproof! Some teach against cliques, not recognizing their own! Church growth can be achieved by being genuinely welcoming and maintaining friendliness. Many churches are welcoming to the newcomer, but within a few weeks, the visitors find themselves estranged! Friendships should be enduring, sincere and inclusive.

When I taught Sunday School, I watched for church visitors. I immediately invited the adults to my Sunday School Class and told them where each child should go. If they failed to come, I was persistent! My goal was to put out a wide and friendly welcome mat.

It's crucial to be friendly AT CHURCH, but friendships must exist OUTSIDE the doors! If a family attended a second time, the entire family were guests of my family for lunch after church. Our ministry was treating newcomers to a fine dinner. It was beyond our tithe, but worth it for friends have intrinsic value beyond dollars! Furthermore, friendship continues in the same light. Being friendly and being friends never ends!

Studies show that "friendliness" is the primary metric for church attendance. Most churches fail. Some people are just ignorant of social grace, others are reserved, others introverted and most others just thoughtless or apathetic. It takes work and motivation to include others. Inclusion is not only those of the same economic class or social interests, but including those in your circle who aren't popular or not blessed by affluence.

Part of inclusion is sitting in different places at church. The pew doesn't belong to you and others have a right to it! People should endeavor to sit in a different location each week. That's a first step. The next step is "get to know them"! Don't tell me what to do... show me how to do it!

Many churches have organized greeting. A minute or two is taken where people are directed to greet others and shake hands. That's good, but not sufficient. That's necessary because most people don't do it on their own! Many nice people wait to be friendly and are friendly when told to be, but that's not genuine. If people came in the door and greeted others before the service, friendliness will have been achieved.

I've been to churches where people seek a good seat up front. Those are growing churches. Getting there early to get a back seat shows some type of inhibition. Before I was right with the Lord it was my secure hiding place from the call of the Holy Spirit. It took the eyes of the preacher off me because others were closer. Also, I didn't have to participate back in my safe seat. Guess what? No one makes a person participate even if they sit up front! Up front are the really safe seats because the preacher targets those who never participate in the service. Most of those sit outback! The pews need to be on an horizontal escalator. Once everyone is safely seated in back, then the preacher pushes a button and everyone is transported to the front!

People who are able to minister need to be welcomed by finding them a place to minister! Church leaders have an obligation to find newcomer's gifts and use it for the work of the Lord! Leaders shouldn't wait for volunteers because newcomers wait to be needed. With no encouragement newcomers think "I'm not needed here!". What's worse is when a newcomer continually volunteers, but no use is ever found for them.

Teachers and leaders should never be in permanent positions. Neither should they be nominated by a committee. Nominations should be open to the congregation. Rotation needs to happen so new people can be active. Also, new thoughts are taught with different people teaching.

Deacons must know how to be deacons and called to minister! Their job is to minister to the congregation. They are to be super-friends and counselors. They need to know how to pray to God and how to pray for sinners. They must know how to lead a person to salvation. People don't need deacons to take are of the budget, etc. They need super friends who are wise, discerning, selfless and dedicated to God. Deacons should never be for those seeking prestige or just fill a vacancy! Deacons should be in charge of visitation and making it happen! Deacons should be the welcoming committee at church!

When people go to a church for the first time, if they show one iota of interest, they expect a visit from the pastor and/or a deacon! After they attend the second time, most people would like a visit from a mere congregant. Better yet, the newcomer would like an invitation to lunch or to a home... not merely "come back to church".

At one church that I attended I was the visitation leader. I had as many as 30 people who came to the church on Thursday night. I would have ready a list of visitors, shut-ins and those sick. I also had maps ready so that the callers could easily find their assigned family. People were visiting the church every week. Visitation was working! However, after one or two Sundays, visitors found out our little secret: we were not a friendly and sincere church!  When the leadership failed to encourage friendliness and actually defended those who were hostile, I moved on! Even I didn't want to attend an unfriendly church!

Most churches have fellowship dinners. Those are to so people can get to know others and include visitors. Examine what happens: People sit with their family and friends and visitors are left to themselves! Friendly people can be thoughtless people. Look for others who are isolated and include them in your circle! Your new friends will become your friend's friends and with that done, that's a church family!

With friendliness achieved within the church, for growth to occur it must be done in the community. Churches don't grow by merely inviting others to church. Before a family is invited, friendships must first be established! Seek out those unchurched in your neighborhood, befriend them, become real friends, then invite them to church. Your true friendship sets the example and they will desire to be part of your extended family.

John Maxwell taught church growth in my church for three months. We grew from 32 to 340 in a year. Our method was what I outlined above. However, when people felt their mission had been accomplished, attendance reversed. Friendship is not a program! Friendship is a relationship. People see the difference!

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