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Welcoming Guests

Welcome

There has been much discussion and disagreement about welcoming those outside the church into “our” services. The “seeker” service was especially attacked and now many seem to be on the “consumer” bandwagon. While there can certainly be a lot of disagreement about how all of these things should look, it seems there ought to be more common ground based on the church’s purpose rather than focusing on debating the minor details. Here are a few things to ponder as you decide whom you will welcome as guests and how you will welcome them.

  1. All must be welcomed. We need genuine and authentic churches that realize that all of us are broken and desperately need to be fixed. Adrian Rodgers said, “We are not a showcase for sinners but rather a hospital for sinners.” If not careful, even if unintentional, we can give the air of the Pharisee in Luke 18, “God, I thank you that I’m not like other people…” Then he begins listing all of “their” sins. Several churches advertise that they are a church for people with hurts, habits, and hang-ups! Shouldn’t we all?                                                               One of our church plants states it this way in their core values, “Everybody belongs—people of every color, shape, personality, and story. We believe the church ought to be a home for people of every age, ethnicity, and socio-economic background. We ought to be able to befriend and do life with people who are unique and different than we are.” If our doors are not open for all to attend then we must ask ourselves why our doors are open at all? Luke 14:23, “Go out into the highways and lanes and make them come in, so that my house may be filled.”
  2. Guests should be honored as special. The members and the regulars should treat them as the special guests that they are. If they want our seat, they can have it. If they want our parking space, they are welcome to it. If they want on the end of the row, more power to them. We want to greet them with more than a smile and a handshake. We think more highly of them than we think of ourselves as the scripture teaches. We want them to know that they loved and we are going to role out the red carpet treatment for them.                                                  We know that in God’s word we are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves. We also are told that we are to recognize and consider others as more important than ourselves. If we are not careful we can begin to feel entitled because of how long we have been a member and believe that gives us certain membership rights. Listen to what Paul says in Rom. 9:3, “For I could wish to be cursed and cut off from the Messiah for the benefit of my brothers, my own flesh and blood.” Certainly we can give up a few of our fringe benefits for our guests.
  3. Let them know that Jesus loves them and so do you! People are longing to know that they are loved and cared for by others. They seem to know that they are not living their lives in a way acceptable to God without us even telling them. Many times I have been told, “You don’t want me coming there, the roof will cave in!” It didn’t! “Your church doesn’t want somebody like me coming there!” Yes, we do because all of us are broken and all of us need God. Another core value of the church plant mentioned above is, “We will do whatever it takes, short of sin, to bring more people to Jesus.”                                                                                                                                                                                     People are looking for others who genuinely care for them regardless of whether they are in agreement and for those who will love them even when they challenge what we believe and stand for. Regardless of how they dress or look we want to build a bridge to them so that they might realize how much God really does love them. Someone has said, “If you are going to be a bridge, you have to be willing to get walked on!” We need to help others not expecting anything in return. We welcome our guests desiring to help them any way we can so they might know that they are loved for who they are!
  4. Build a culture of hospitality! Build and train everyone to be on the outlook for guests and to serve them any way they can. Offer to sit with them if they are by themselves. Be ready to show them where they need to go and help them get acquainted when you get them there. Open the door, share a smile, give them your seat, or whatever other way you need to in order to show them how thankful you are that they decided to attend. Don’t worry about whether they came for the right reason or not because they probably didn’t. Remember, many of us attended initially for the wrong reasons.

People will engage churches for many reasons but they usually stay for one reason; relational connections with Christ and His people. A good friend of mine has said many times, “They may come because of the excitement but they will stay because they are loved.” Once again, if we are not careful, we can seem to only be interested in them for what we can get from them and what they can do for us by boosting our attendance and helping our offerings. Instead, let’s show them what Jesus can do for them and how we can serve them.

Healthy churches welcome all of their guests!

 

They Came – Now What

Next Steps

 

What do you do if everyone you invited shows up? How do you handle the extra people who do attend? Once they are greeted do you have a system in place to help them come a second and third time? Do you have a plan to help them connect and become fully engaged with the church? There are several things to consider as you evaluate your assimilation process of practicing biblical hospitality!

First, how do you treat the occasional attenders? Faithfulness is not defined these days as it was in times past. Many people see once a month or twice a month as being faithful. This does not mean the “new” faithfulness to church is correct but we must face the reality of our current culture. Split families can mean certain people only attend every other Sunday. People now have to work 24/7 and Sunday no longer is seen as the Lord’s Day.

If you treat those who attend sporadically as “second-class” members they will not respond well. If you try to guilt them into becoming more faithful it will not work on this generation. Do you feel guilty for not attending the synagogue on Saturdays? Do you feel guilty for not faithfully going to a Buddhist temple? Of course not, and if they were not raised in a church culture, neither do they. Make sure that everyone knows how glad you are that they are there and you want to help their spiritual walk.

Second, what is your ultimate goal for someone coming? Our mission is not to fill up seats on Sunday mornings but rather to lead people to Christ. Does that mean we do not want to see as many attending as possible? Of course not, but it does mean that church is bigger than Sunday mornings and mere attendance is never the goal. We are not using people to build our church but, rather, using our church to build up people. We believe that someone who becomes fully engaged with the local church will be better off five years from now!

Jesus told the parable of how the Master told His servants to go out and invite so that His house would be full. We have the life-giving truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ and should be passionate about sharing it with everyone we can. We encourage people to invite their family and friends but what about their enemies? The gospel is all about reconciliation and Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

Third, be focused on connecting people to a small group. Whether it is a Sunday School class, men/ladies Bible study, discipleship class or any other type of small group they need to know how to get connected. In Lasting Impact, Carey Nieuwhof says, “A church that organizes everything around small groups will always be more effective than a church that does not.” The healthiest followers of Christ are those who are serving others, living their faith out, and connected to a small group.

Every person who attends needs a role and a relationship in order to feel that they are cared for and truly a part of the church. They need a role! This is their specific place of service. How will you connect them to a ministry where they can use their spiritual gifts? Do you have a way they can try different ministries and places of service so they can determine if it is a fit or not? They also need a relationship! This is their specific connection with a group who will care for them and love them more intimately!

Fourth, realize the importance of small group leaders! They hold one of the most important positions in your ministry because they give direct pastoral care. They are your first responders to the needs of those attending. They are the first to pray with them, cry with them, encourage them, walk with them, counsel and advise them. Here is one definition of a small group leader. “To help 3-10 (you determine the number) people learn Biblical truth and experience God while developing relationships with Christ, you, and other people.”

Think of it like this and scale the following numbers to your scenario. If you have 200 people attending you will need 40 small group leaders to help care for them. Then you will need ten leaders of leaders and two directors who will lead the leaders of the leaders. The ten are coaches of the small group leaders to make sure they are receiving the same care they are giving to those in their group. The coach (ten) cares for the leader (40) who cares for the people (200).

When my son, Matthew, did an internship at Oasis Church in North Little Rock it was wonderful to see how all of the small group leaders went to him and invited he and his wife, Allison, to join their group. He was immediately shown there was a way to engage and become connected. He was so encouraged by how many let him know they would love for him to be a part of their group. He felt like he was being “recruited” and he was!

Allow me to ask it again. What are you going to do if everyone you invite shows up and how will you try to connect them to a group that will care for them and love them?

Getting Connected

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How do you continue to attract people without giving in to the consumer culture of today? Maybe the bigger question is – “can you?” We want people to come and connect at a service or activity in order to hear the gospel. Many debate how far you should go to get people to come. The focus here is not what you do in order to get them to come but what you will do with them if they do come.

What will you do with everyone if they do show up? Every church must develop a process that turns consumers into contributors. You want them to come in and once they do, you want them to participate. In his book Fusion, Nelson Searcy addresses the challenges of turning first-time guests into fully-engaged members of your church. The problem is bigger than getting them there, because once you get them there will you be able to keep them coming? How will you help them get connected?

We hear a lot of talk about an assimilation system but what does that mean? Assimilate means to “take in and incorporate as one’s own.” Assimilation means practicing biblical hospitality. It is warmly welcoming those who visit our churches and showing them we would love for them to come again and consider attending regularly. How well are you assimilating people in your church from being first-time guests to being fully-engaged members?

In The Purpose-Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message and Mission, Rick Warren speaks of how you want to move people from the outer circle (low commitment/low spiritual maturity) to the inner circle (high commitment/high spiritual maturity). The goal is to always be moving people to a deeper level of commitment from community to crowd, from crowd to congregation, from congregation to committed, and from committed to the core.

There has been an unwritten system in some churches that first you must believe and only then you can belong. Once you belong long enough then you can be blessed by how the church will help you. What if we reversed this order? What is we blessed people so that they wanted to belong because we demonstrated the love of God to them? What if we allowed them to hang out and feel like a part of our fellowship even before they believed?

  • First, have entry level roles! Find places for them to serve and help. Think about what kind of roles people can help in even before they are members. People want to be involved and volunteerism is at an all time high.
  • Second, ask them personally to help! In a recent survey people were asked why they didn’t help at the church. Their response was shocking, “No one ever asked us!” It is not enough to have it in the bulletin or announce it from the platform.
  • Third, build a servant-leader culture! Make sure that everyone understands that no one leads who does not first serve. Make everyone start at the same place and work up from there. Some will move up faster but this protects you from preferential treatment.
  • Fourth, give projects before you give anyone a position! This is closely connected to number four and the key is to always think small first. See if they handle a small project before giving them more.
  • Fifth, develop a first serve ministry! Give people the opportunity to try different ministries. Let them “kick the tires” to see if a particular ministry is where they would like to continue serving. Assign them to assist someone they can follow around and show them the ropes.
  • Sixth, have a core value of every member serving in a ministry! You must track progress and make sure everyone is serving in some role and contributing to the ministry of the church.
  • Seventh, celebrate those who are serving on the campus and off the campus! You certainly want to have the necessary roles filled for effective ministry but as you grow there will not be enough positions for everyone. There will be those who are led to volunteer in ministries or start ministries that serve in the community. That is a good thing and we should be excited about the church getting outside the four walls of the building.

In building an assimilation system here are a couple more things to think about. Build a chain of command where everyone knows who is in charge and with whom they need to stay in contact. Also, when someone has signed up to serve and they cannot make it train them to realize that it is their responsibility to fill their role. No one should be responsible for having to find several replacements at the last moment. Entry level does not mean no responsibility.

Healthy churches are always striving to get better at figuring out how to develop the best system possible to move consumers to becoming contributors!