“Helping more guests get involved in church”

Acts 2:41-47

The early church was a dynamic church committed to making more and better disciples. The supreme task of the early church was convert growth, bringing people to Jesus, loving, equipping and sending them out to make more and better disciples.

As a local congregation the more effective job we do with “people flow” and “assimilation of guests” the greater the increase will be to the Kingdom of God and getting more guests involved in our congregations.

As a church consultant my task is to hold up a mirror to a congregation and help the church see how healthy and strong the congregation is or how sick and weak the church is. We know that healthy churches grow better than sick churches.

We need to ask ourselves as a congregation, “Are we being faithful to the harvest?” “Are we endeavoring to carry out the Great Commission?” Matthew 28:19-20

Prior to Pentecost the disciples spent ten days earnestly seeking God’s blessing and guidance.in obedience to the command of Jesus.

• It may cost you people who just want to play church and stay inwardly focused.
• It may require making changes to your worship to better connect to non-believers.
• Trust God to help you make more and better disciples and actively involve them in your local congregation.

From time to time we need to do a spiritual checkup. We need to refocus. Ask them,–“What is our main business?” Sometimes just minor adjustments and changes are needed, while other times major changes need to be made.

1. To help more guests get involved in your church be willing to make changes where needed.

Churches that refuse to change in a changing culture eventually decline and die.

Change is usually costly. The first church I served as pastor after graduating from Asbury Theological Seminary was Kansas City First Church, in Kansas City, Kansas. When I arrived the church was averaging 50 in worship. During my first year I did my best to reach our community. We had limited parking for 20 cars off street with no parking in front of the church and a few parking places on a side street. I asked Lyle Northrup the Director of Evangelism at that time to come to Kansas City and preach and give us guidance as we planned for the future. He surveyed our situation and challenged us to put the church property up for sale and relocate.

After much prayer and consideration we started looking for property and found 3.5 acres for sale ten miles west of tour current location. We ended up relocating and began to grow with young families and after two years were averaging 102 in morning worship with many new converts.

We should ask, “Who are we trying to please?” Is our focus on insiders or outsiders? It takes time to make positive changes to become friendlier to new comers.

When a church refuses to change it loses opportunities to reach people. We want our church to make changes to become a hospital and nursery with new birth rather than holding to nostalgia and becoming a funeral home with more funerals than weddings.

From time to time it’s helpful to have someone from the outside visit your church on Sunday and view various ministries from a newcomer’s view. We had someone do that in San Jose, CA and a number of positive changes were made following their objective assessment looking at the church ministry programs and facilities from a first time guest’s experience.

Our goal is to change without compromise. If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve been getting.” Romans 12:2 calls for transforming change.

The early church in Acts is our model for change and growth.
-We can’t grow the church.
-Only Jesus can grow the church.

Fast Company magazine noted that 90% of heart patients who are told to change their lifestyle habits or die choose death over change.

Remember change takes time in long established churches. (I was at the Willow Vale Church in San Jose, CA for six years before we changed out pews for cushioned chairs) The church was started in downtown San Jose in 1885. I became lead pastor in 1998 It took 5 years to grow from an average of 70 to 152 average in morning worship. Our greatest outreach came through the Christian School that we started. We went from no children in the congregation to a growing, energetic group of children and youth.

Wait for God’s timing before making positive changes.

Studies show the top ten areas needing improvement and change:

2.Children’s Ministry
4.Youth Ministry
7.Assimilation of new people
8.Sunday School and Small Groups
10.Organizational Structure

2. To help more guests get involved in your congregation become relevant to culture

If your congregation only knows English, how relevant is a worship service only in Spanish that does not have interpretation? Though truth is spoken you can’t get the full impact without understanding the language.

How well equipped is our church to welcome people from the parking lot to the sanctuary/auditorium? Our calling is to communicate God’s truth in the language of our culture to both believers and skeptics who are searching for meaning to life.. By seeking God’s wisdom we can be relevant without compromising.

Jesus was culturally relevant

Jesus communicated God’s truth and delivered it in the language of His culture.

Jesus left His comfort zone. He left heaven and came to earth.

Jesus dressed like the culture dictated. He dressed in a way that was relevant to the people He was trying to communicate.

Paul was culturally relevant. 2 Cor. 5:18-20 tells us that Paul was committed to communicating to the culture he was involved with whether in Athens or in Rome.

We are held accountable to be relevant to our culture and faithfully declare God’s good news. (Ezekiel 3:18-19)

3. Welcome first time guests with a planned process. Our goal should be to treat first time guests with respect.

• How do we care for first time guests?
• Greeters’ should be handpicked for their friendliness and smile.___
• Use parking lot attendants/greeters.
• Try to have first time guests greeted 4 or 5 times before entering the sanctuary/auditorium.
• If possible have the church nursery on the same level as the worship center.
• Make your children’s ministry inviting and interesting.
• Use a “Welcome Center” with a person attending the center with information for guests.
• Be sure your ushers are friendly and have a pleasant smile.
• Have a coffee bar available before and after the worship service.
• You have seven minutes to make a good impression on first time guests. Young mothers are especially concerned about the nursery and security for their children.
• Ask everyone to fill out a connection card so newcomers will feel comfortable in participating.
• When the sanctuary is crowded it’s helpful to have a sending and receiving usher to help people be seated in available seats.
• Have small group leaders alert to invite guests to visit their small group.
• Ministry Staff should mingle with the crowd before and after the worship time. Church ministry staff observes the ten-minute rule before and after all worship services and significant events.
• Follow up first time guests with a phone call from the pastor Sunday afternoon.
• Send a welcome letter from the church prayer team or church office.
• Follow-up with a home visit and give a gift from the church and invitation to join a small group.
• Send a hand written letter from the Lead Pastor within two days of the visit.. When averaging more than 8 to 10 first time guests a week recruit lay leaders to help write letters of welcome.
• Use a simple commitment card to help people give their name, address and e-mail. The best time to collect the cards is during the offering at the end of the worship service.
• You have two or three months to help new people connect and make meaningful relationships with at least 7 people before they feel at home and part of the church community.

To build momentum pastors invest in building leaders and teams. Everything does rise or fall on leadership. Without investing in team building the church tends to stall out and decline.

To have a growing church the church board and church leaders need to allow the Lead Pastor and staff to give leadership. One person can’t change anything, but one person can serve as a catalyst for starting a transition. As pastor you can take courage and be a catalyst to start the Wave. Start with a few, keep going and build teams to join in the Wave of change.

4. To help more guests get involved in church have exciting worship.
A pastor noticed a little boy standing in the foyer of the church. The boy was staring at a plaque. The pastor walked up to the boy and put his arm around him, and said, “Good morning, young man.”

“Good morning, Pastor.” The boy was still focused on the plaque with little flags. “Pastor what is that plaque?” “Well, son, it’s a memorial to all young men and women who died in the service.” Soberly, they stood together staring at the large plaque.

Finally in a voice barely audible and trembling with fear, the boy asked, “Which service, Pastor, the morning or evening service?”

How adequate is your worship planning.

Do extra planning to make your worship service exciting and celebrative.
When we plan our worship service, whom are we planning for? Is our primary passion connecting with lost people?

In your preaching and teaching:

• Where are we taking people?’
• Are you relevant?
• Are you real?
• What will be remembered?
• How do you prepare your closing?
• Is your music relevant to first time guests?– Reach the younger generation.
• Presentation is important.– We are living in a visual generation.
• People learn through stories.
• Passion is essential. – Are we passionate about what we believe?
• Method of relating to people must be clear. Communicate with people not at people.
• Speak in the language of your day.
• A ministry, or message is not relevant unless it is helpful or meaningful in real life. It must address or meet a need that people are facing.

Pastor Dan Kimball at Vintage Faith Church, prepared his 2011 preaching schedule by sending an e-mail to his congregation asking for their suggestions on preaching themes for the year. From the e-mail feed-back Dan Kimball developed his preaching for the year. www.vintagechurch.org

Why are people inviting their friends to church?

Our goal should be to have creative, fresh and innovative worship services so we are open to listening to the voice of God. People become tired of predictable worship services. We need to experience God in fresh ways.

How adequate is our worship planning? Churches that have an exciting worship experience plan with the entire worship team. There needs to be close coordination between the Lead Pastor and Worship Leader. Keep the worship service flowing with smooth transitions. From time to time videotape the worship service and watch the tape to evaluate and make future changes.

Brad Powell, pastor of NorthRidge Church, in Plymouth, Michigan, writes in his book, Change Your Church for Good, about making changes at the NorthRidge Church. Brad says positive change took several years and the loss of several families. www.northridgechurch.com

Local congregations need to look at their ministry priority and ask, “What is our primary mission?”

People are what matter to God. In some churches the building is more important than people. The focus is upon “No.”

“No Food allowed! No Drinks Allowed!”

NorthRidge Church invites people to bring drinks into the auditorium for services – cup holders on seats facilitate having drinks. New people have commented they appreciate casual dress and being able to sip on a latte or cappuccino while being told about God. Cleaning spilled drinks is a small price to pay in order to show hurting or seeking people that they matter to God.

Brad Powell states that “When you listen to outsiders it forces you to change the way you do church.”

God intended the church to be about relationships, not about religion. The Bible declares: “Now this is eternal life that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

For a practical resource to help your church connect with first time guests see the book Beyond The First Visit – The Complete Guide to Connecting Guests To Your Church, by Dr. Gary McIntosh.

5. To help more guests get involved in church put a high value on small groups

Because people in our society have become so disconnected from one another, there is an even greater inner need to be connected. That disconnection has highlighted the need for community. Many in our ministry area welcome becoming part of a small group. Growing larger churches break their members down into smaller groups. The purpose of small groups is not to grow a church, but to grow the person.

Where do you find young adults on Sunday morning? You’ll find them in small groups at books stores or Starbucks. They are just hanging out, talking to one another, experiencing community and seeking intimacy.

Gallup surveyed Americans and found that 70% said the local church was not meeting their needs. Six common responses in the survey stating their needs were:

1.To believe life is meaningful and has purpose.
2.To have a sense of community and deeper relationships.
3.To be appreciated and respected.
4.To be listened to and heard.
5.To grow in faith.
6.To receive practical help in developing a mature faith.

Lifeway Research surveyed over 900 young adults age 20 to 30 and found the following responses:

63% said, “If a church presented truth to me in an understandable way that relates to my life now, I would attend.”

58%, stted, “If people at church cared about me as a person, I would be more likely to attend.”
A greeter at the church welcomed a newcomer. The greeter said, “I don’t know you, and gave her a big hug. The newcomer went to her seat with tears in her eyes. It was the first hug she had had in a year.

46% said “I would be willing to join a small group of people to learn more about the Bible and Jesus.”

A high percentage of young adults are not concerned about their eternal destiny.

46% said “Christians get on their nerves.”

Young adults desire to become part of a community. Starbucks sells more than coffee. Starbucks sells community.

Small groups provide the best Velcro for newcomers.

The value of small groups can be stated as follows:

1Churches grow larger as they grow smaller groups.
2Ministry development happens in small groups.
3Individuals find support in small groups.
4Members of small groups are encouraged to witness.

All small groups at North Coast Church in San Diego County, CA are based on the Pastor’s Sermons. www.northcoastchurch.com

Pastor Larry Osborne, lead pastor at North Coast Church, gives practical advice in his book, Sticky Church, on the following questions:

How do you get high participation in the group?
How do you find leaders?
How do you train and keep leaders?
What does a typical group look like?
What do you do about child care?
Who writes the questions?

Pastor Scotty Priest church planted The Journey Church in Denver, CO in 2005. Journey Church has developed an excellent small group system that gives small group leaders coaching from the church’s web site. Resources for small group leaders can be found on the church’s website. www.onthejourney.tv,

How do you put people into groups? A good resource, Fusion – turning First time Guests into Fully-engaged Members of the Church, Pages 75 and following also gives answers to the above questions. www.nyjourney.com

More people are involved in small groups at The Journey Church in New York than attend their week-end services.

Churches should focus on factors that are limiting growth and not on church growth.

Healthy churches honor Christ and do things right in Jesus’ name to reach out to people, serving them to the best of the church’s abilities.

Evaluate what ministries are tanking and the ones that are growing. Don’t keep propping up the ministries that are slowing fading away and are growing weaker. Then you should assist the ministry program to die with dignity.

If you hear several people talking about a new ministry to meet a need then give your permission to start the ministry with those who have a passion to become involved.

Listen to the needs in your community and determine which ones your church is best equipped to meet.