Only the pastor knew I was coming to spend Sunday morning with the church. As a secret shopper, my job was to experience the church as a first-time guest. I knew what time the services started and I had the address of the church. My GPS got me to the church without issue, but what it didn’t tell me was where to park. Apparently, everyone knew the parking lot was behind the church building and that the curb cut was around the block. I overshot the church property and had to go around the block, which was a good thing since I spied the parking lot as I toured the neighborhood. There was plenty of parking … in the back of the parking lot. I suppose that wouldn’t have been an issue in good weather, but naturally God arranged for it to rain and I was umbrella-less.

Before I got out of the car, I looked for the nearest entrance. There were no signs, but a nearby pair of glass doors looked promising, so I made a dash from the car to the doors. The good news is that the doors were unlocked. The bad news is that they opened into the gymnasium – which was unoccupied. At that point I realized the visit had an emerging theme: Signless in Seattle. In the gym I found the one set of interior doors that opened into the adjoining fellowship hall and I eventually made it to the worship center. But if I’d been a first-time visitor exploring the possibility of returning to church, I probably would have decided my experience was a divine sign that going back to church was a bad idea and I should head to the nearest Starbucks to tackle something infinitely easier, like the New York Times Sunday Crossword.

Later in the afternoon when I debriefed the church’s hospitality team, there was significant pushback. Everyone knows where the front door of the church is and apparently that same everyone knows the gym door isn’t it. And they didn’t need interior signage either, because it’s abundantly clear where the sanctuary is. Because everyone knows.

Of course, it’s not true that everyone knows. I suspect the reason less than 11 percent of the church’s first-time guests returned had a lot to do with their lack of hospitality, but the members had convinced themselves that they were the friendliest church in town. It’s almost impossible to convince church members that they don’t really know what they think they know … until they get a good look at themselves in the mirror. Although Paul suggested we see through a mirror darkly, the vision of an effective, life-changing church requires clarity on three levels:

  1. Clarity about who you are.
  2. Clarity about where you’ve been.
  3. Clarity about where you’re leading. 

And two out of three depend on getting an accurate reflection. Before a church can effectively engage any of the 21st Century Strategies for Church Growth it will need to get to know itself first.

Pastor, do you have a mirror large enough to reflect the reality of your congregation? Do you know who you are? Who your congregation is? Who you can count on to support change? Who can count on to try and block each and every change? What resources you have? What the underlying proclivities of the congregation actually are? Until you have clarity in these and in much more, you’re not ready to lead the church into a bright tomorrow.

If you need a tool for getting your congregation’s mirror image, you might want to take a look at the Complete Ministry Audit by Bill Easum.

Question: How have you found clarity in leading your church? How do you suppose you need to find clarity? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.