There is plenty of church growth material available in the form of books, online research, lectures, etc. Many of them offer great advice and strategies to bring seekers and the unchurched to your congregation. Some books focus on different programs. Some focus on what one might call gimmicks or marketing campaigns. Others break down research of the Boomers, Busters, and Millennials telling you and me what these groups look for when they are looking for a church to call home.
As I enter 26th year of full-time ministry not counting one summer internship and one two year internship, I have something to add to the plethora of information on why people choose one church over another and what we can do to become a welcoming church. I have no formal research behind what I am about to share. This comes from reading blogs, reports, and books about churches and church growth. It comes from the experience I have in ministry. My suggestions come from many talks with many individuals over the years.
How can we be a church with a welcoming atmosphere? As we look to draw people to Christ, what can we do? Again, what follows are simply what my experience teaches me:
- We need to feed people God’s Word. If we are a cell group of Christ’s followers, what else should we teach? Jesus said His word is the standard of our lives. “. . . the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” (John 12:48)
- Be a congregation that cares for souls. This includes feeding people God’s Word and demonstrating love to each other. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
- Hold Christians accountable. We cannot be God’s people if we are not different from the world. We must hold each other accountable to the life God calls us to live. When we read the letters of the apostle Paul, we see time and again how he calls on Christians to live a highly moral and godly pure life. “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” (Galatians 5:16-17)
- Provide avenues where people can serve God. This is more that leading in public worship, there are so many ways we can serve. Plug people into various ministries or projects they can participate in and contribute their time and talents too. Be sure these ministries are reaching out to the lost and serving those who need encouragement. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27)
- Worship should be meaningful and theological. Too many times we think people want entertainment. Our society is saturated with entertainment and amusement. Worship should be an atmosphere where people come in closer contact with the Holy God, His Word, and His holy people. The song service, whether filled with contemporary hymns or traditional hymns should point people to God and encourage our living for Christ. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16) Prayers should bring people into the presence of God. The Lord’s Super (Communion) should take people back to the Cross and Christ’s sacrifice.
- We should be true worshippers, not simply church adherents going through the motions of worship. We can do all the right things in a worship assembly and perform them in all the right ways, but if our spirit is not into worship, then our worship is useless. God can see the difference and so can those who visit our assemblies. “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24)
- A multicultural atmosphere. We live in a multicultural, mutli-ethnic society. We must be welcoming to those of a different ethnicity. This should not be something that needs saying in the 21st century, but many still struggle with some form of prejudice. Remember the good news is for all. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)
- Focus on Christ not what is wrong with ________. You can fill in the blank with a political party (When I was in college, I had one man tell me a Christian could not vote for a Democrat. A few months later a Christian leader told me that a true Christian could not be a Republican. I would laugh, but both of them honestly believed what they were saying.) You can fill in the blank with the name of a denomination or doctrine. Let the news cover what is wrong with the world. We must focus on the good news and the love of God. Preach the dangers of sin – yes. But also proclaim the good news of Christ. Do not forget our first love. “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” (Revelation 2:4)
- As Christians live as consistently as possible. This is the old adage, “practice what you preach.” People are watching us, we will influence them toward or away from God and Christ by our actions. Treat people the way Christ would treat them. God told His Old Covenant People, “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24) Should we as His New Covenant people think we can live like we want to during the week and appease God with an hour of worship? Consider how the NLT renders Romans 12:1-2, ” And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.“ (emphasis: mine). If we are not living daily for God, why should we expect Him to accept our worship? If we are living inconsistent lives, why should we expect others to want to be a part of our group
What can you add that will make a church a welcoming atmosphere?