You may have noticed there’s a recession … or at least some sort of a downturn in the economy. The price of gas is up. The price of utilities is up, and they say it’s going to get worse. The price of food is up. And with all of that, giving isn’t all that great in the church. The response to all this by the vast majority of churches is to circle the wagons, make cutbacks wherever it’s possible, and put one-time high priority upgrades and ministries on hold.
Huge mistake. Huge. Really big. Wow.
For once, history is on the side of the church. When the going gets rough, the unchurched get motivated to see if this God-stuff is for real. But if you’ve rolled up the welcome mat and hunkered down in the bunkers to weather the storm, well, you’re going to miss what may well be the greatest opportunity for the church since 9-11 (and church, let me tell you, we blew it back then – I’m hoping we can do better this time around).
You probably have limited resources. Who doesn’t these days? Your congregation may be insistent that they need to save for a rainy day. Well, in the words of an infamous movie lawyer “It’s raining.” But the question is, where are you going to get the best bang for your buck in terms of getting the unchurched through your doors … and then helping them discover a God who really does own the cattle on a thousand hills? Here are three top suggestions on where to invest your funds.
If your church is showing wear, now’s the time to upgrade your look. Visitors take all of a couple seconds to size up your church, and they generally begin by evaluating how the building looks from the outside in. The grass should be neatly trimmed. The landscape tidy and weed-free. If there’s grass growing through the cracks in the parking lot, don’t ignore it … deal with it – Round Up will do the trick. If the building needs paint or the trim has dry rot, fix it. And don’t spend the next year-and-a-half doing this. Git ‘er done. Now.
Quick – what are the two most important rooms as far as visitors are concerned? If you said the restroom/s and the nursery, give yourself full marks. If either of these rooms are even a tidbit under par, you’re going to have a difficult time retaining visitors. The restrooms don’t just need to be clean, they need to be spotless. They need to smell nice. They need to be kept well stocked. There needs to be a changing table in all the gender specific restrooms. And in today’s germ-wary society, there needs to be a Purel dispenser next to the door in every restroom there is.
If the restroom rates a ten out of ten on the importance scale, the nursery rates twenty-plus on any young parent’s list. If you think that a rocking chair and sheet metal play appliances are necessities in today’s nursery, it’s time to get someone in there who understands today’s demanding parents. The nursery needs to be spotless. It needs a well stocked changing area with wall mounted Purel dispensers near the changing table, in the adjoining restroom, and by the nursery door. Ideally, wall outlets are at least three feet above the floor level. There are multiple cribs – new ones – with bumpers and Baby Einstein-esque mobiles. As for toys, toss the lot and replace them with learning toys (again, think Baby Einstein, the “industry standard” for parents these days). As for nursery workers, no fewer than two adults (and one additional adult for every two children). Nope, youth won’t work anymore – ask your insurance company. They’ll set you straight. And one more thing … if you don’t take security over the top seriously, your visiting parents are unlikely to return. In today’s world, non-custodial parents are a real worry for many families. Respond appropriately.
Bottom line … spend some of your dollars to get your facilities not just up to snuff … but God’s House ready.
Many have wondered why the spike of 9-11 visitors dried up and went away after less than six weeks. If you don’t know why, I can tell you. The guests who flooded our churches after the attacks came looking for an experience of God … but in the vast majority of churches what they got was a nostalgic visit to the church of yesteryear. They could look on. They could even appreciate what they heard and saw. But what they could not do was experience God. We experience God best when we don’t have to translate what’s going on around us. We experience God best when we don’t have to do mental shifts. We experience God best when we can still our minds and let the Spirit stir our hearts. All of that means that when meaningless rituals and traditions, anachronistic technology, and antique styles wash over us, they’re serious barriers to experiencing God. They may be comfortable and comforting to you and I, but to someone desperately seeking a touch from the Holy, they’re walls that are at best difficult to overcome.
All that’s to say that if your worship service is stuck in the fifties, it’s time to seriously consider upgrading or starting a new service (a better option, actually) that will be more indigenous to the guests who are likely to be showing up looking for God.
Starting a new service doesn’t have to be especially expensive, though if you haven’t been investing is technology over the past decade, it can seem pretty pricey. But you can pick up a 2500 lumen digital projector for less than a thousand dollars these days and if you pair that with a $500 laptop or even a $400 desktop, you’re well on your way to “speaking” in today’s language. There’s lots written about worship services that reach today’s culture, so I’ll not expound much. The key to spicing up your worship services is to decide who can best reach and set out to find out as much about them as possible. Pretend you’re a missionary going to a foreign culture where you have to learn the language, the cultural norms, and the customs … because, in fact, you are a missionary going into a foreign land. You wouldn’t dream of going to a village in the Argentinean Andes and doing what you’re doing now to share Jesus with the native peoples. The same practice holds true of reaching out to those in your community. Indeed, if we’d done this after 9-11 we wouldn’t have been left wondering what went wrong.
Okay, I admit it. I took the Shape Up idea from Erik Rees and his S.H.A.P.E. program of discovery (spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality, experiences). If you’re going to spend some of your hard-won endowment funds on something, spending it on developing a system for helping both your members and guests to discover their personal passions in ministry will be money well spent. Rees SHAPE appears to be a fine program. My wife, Kris Tenny-Brittian, and I developed a similar resource called the Personal Ministry Assessment about a decade ago (available in the Easum, Bandy & Tenny-Brittian online store). It’s less important what you use and more important that you use something more comprehensive than just a spiritual gifts inventory. The point of this exercise isn’t to feed someone more information, but to help them connect into ministry (and lest you be confused, doing ministry is seldom sitting on a church committee).
Today’s culture isn’t going to cross your transom looking for a God who only requires a once-a-week worship commitment. They’re not looking for another feel-good club. They’re looking for a touch from a God that will enliven them and give them a reason for getting up in the morning. They’re looking for a God who infuses them with purpose. For that to happen, they’re going to need to be serious about creating an effective integration system for both members and guests.
To help shape up the church, take an honest look at how you gather guest’s contact information. If you’re still passing the “friendship registration pads,” just how effective are they? Are you getting the information you need on a guest’s first visit? If not, reevaluate. You can’t help someone integrate that you can’t contact.
When you get the contact information, what are you doing with it? Guests are more than 80 percent more likely to return if the pastor visits at the home (at, not in) within twenty-four hours of their visit. The percentage drops precipitously each day the visit is delayed. Are you adding them to your newsletter or e-letter after their first visit? If not, why not? If you’re newsletter isn’t up to snuff, fix it so it’s guest-friendly.
Getting guest information and following up is only the start. Once a guest returns, how are you helping them connect with the congregation? If you’re not intentional about helping them make real friendships real fast, you’re going to lose them. Indeed, research shows that you have less than six months to get them connected in a “primary” relationship (friendship) or else they’re likely to move on.
In the meantime, encourage the guest to discover their Shape or to take the Personal Ministry Assessment and from that, help them into a ministry that meets their passion – whether inside or outside the church. And while you’re at it, encourage all your members to do the same.
And finally, to shape up, get serious about Discipleship Development. If you haven’t started DD Small Groups, consider getting them up and running before your guests come a-knockin’. These small groups are some of the most effective opportunities to help marginally behaving Christians to become dynamic disciples of Jesus Christ. And frankly, there’s nothing more enticing and attractive to visitors than Christians who take following Jesus seriously and do more than just come to church every week.
So, don’t be penny-wise and pound foolish in this economic downturn. Spruce Up the church so you’re ready for the guests who will be visiting your congregation in the next few months. And Spice Up your worship so when the come, they actually get to “hear” the Gospel in ways that help them experience the presence of God. And Shape Up so that when your guests return they can smoothly and effectively integrate into the congregation and into ministry.