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Are you sending mixed messages?

5439119-867908-church-sign-indicating-they-are-open-for-prayer-and-all-are-welcomeA question I always ask myself after an onsite training or coaching visit is, “Would I join this church if I was new to the area?” The congregations where I struggle to respond with a heartfelt “yes” are the ones that send me mixed messages. Simply put, their words and actions don’t seem to reflect what they say they’re about (their mission) and what they say is most important (their values).

Let me give you a half dozen examples:

  1. Leaders say that they want their congregation to grow, but the growth they’re seeking, or least talking about,  is related to three things: A) increasing worship attendance and/or membership, B) getting new members to contribute money, and C) having people help maintain current programs such as Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, or planning events such as a spaghetti dinner. I don’t hear leaders talk passionately about growing disciples or helping people find their sweet spot and sense of vocation. I don’t hear leaders ask other people, “How’s your prayer life?” or ” Where is God leading you?” I don’t sense that leader have a plan for building disciples, or for that matter, a plan for growing deeper in their own faith journey.
  2. I hear people express their desire to have more young people people at worship and at congregational events. What I don’t hear or see is people of all ages actively befriending young people, including them in their circles of friendship, and tapping their gifts and wisdom. Why is it so important that young people be present if we don’t plan to befriend them, learn from them, or partner with them in ministry?
  3. I hear leaders say that “all are welcome” but then I experience worship services filled with insider language, songs I can’t sing, and hearing about upcoming events that I’m not sure if I’m welcome to participate in.
  4. When I visit their website – the “front door” for most congregations today – I find that it’s neither visitor-friendly nor up-to-date. Most websites overwhelm me with information about programs and ministries while providing given few, if any, reasons why what’s being offered is worth investing in.
  5. When lingering in the narthex after worship, I notice that few people greet me and fewer actually introduce themselves to me. Even fewer invite me to join them for refreshments, thank me for coming, or encourage me come back. Some congregations seem to live by the slogan “We welcome some, on occasion, if you’re like us.”
  6. When I observe leadership meetings, I notice that conversations seem to bounce back and forth between budget challenges and facility repairs. Sometimes there’s talk about the shortage of volunteers, and the length of worship services. There isn’t much conversation, however, about ways we’re helping people grow in faith, reach out to the community, or exploring ideas for doing ministry in more excellent ways.
Granted, I visit a lot of churches in a given year but I don’t think I’m all that picky. I’m simply looking for a place that befriends me and accepts me as I am, that helps me experience God’s presence, and helps me explore ways to be a blessing to others. Is that too much to ask? If these areas were adequately addressed, I think you’d find people coming to worship more often, giving more generously and seeking to serve at and beyond the congregation.

Some Toughts (5)

  1. Jeremy
    added on 17 Apr, 2014

    Interesting observations. As part of my job being on conference staff, I visit many churches also. One question I always ask is, “tell me about your neighborhood and neighbors.” After the silence passes, I visit more in depth about outreach and being involved in the community. I hear consistently from our churches about how they want to grow and want young families, yet the do not even know the children next door. If we want to truly be church, we need to occasionally leave the building, we do not even need to go that far.

  2. added on 17 Apr, 2014

    Your post gives a good summary of what visitors might be looking for and I certainly will be paying attention,
    I have found that many people get nervous when you talk about having a growing relationship with God, they are more comfortable with talking about growing numbers and growing financially. You really have to push past their resistance and sometimes I wonder if some of my efforts are falling on deaf ears and hard hearts with some people. If you listen to those people you would get the impression that numbers and dollars is what we care most about.
    Our children and tweens are very at home in our congregation and are involved in most aspects but we do desire to increase our numbers. The neighborhood kids have been invited and do visit from time to time but when they come, they prefer to cluster together. It is difficult to get our regular kids to get close to them. The adults try very hard but that is not enough, to keep them coming on a regular basis. It seems we start early to develop into closed groups not willing to let others in, which is so not what the gospel is about.

    • added on 21 Apr, 2014

      I really like your start early mindset. It’s good to hear that you have adults modeling reaching out to young people. What are some ways you feel you could help people be more comfortable talking about their relationship with God?

  3. added on 21 Apr, 2014

    What a terrific question Jeremy! I’m going to add it my list. It does boil down to getting to know people personally, befriending them, and ten extending and invitation. This is really hard to do if we’re unwilling to include people into our circle of friendships.

  4. added on 28 Apr, 2014

    A part of my ministry plan will address some of this. When I first started worshiping at my church, I felt very welcome and we do have a very friendly congregation but I don’t think most make an effort to reach out to visitors, they just assume someone else will do it. We are very active in our community so that is not as much of an issue.

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