Are you sending mixed messages?
A 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:
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.