How does a church become a church that people who never go to church would love to attend? Most Christians know and can tell you what they do or do not like about the church they attend. If you are a church-goer, what makes you like the church you go to? Who should the local church seek to please–people who attend most or all of the time or those who never attend? What do you think most ‘regulars’ would say? What do you think those who never do more than drive by would say? Some may say, “It’s radical to have a church tuned more to the unchurched than the churched.”
Numbers of Small Groups at the church I have long attended are finishing the study of a book called, “Deep & Wide” by Andy Stanley, pastor of a large, growing church in Atlanta. I’ve read authors who adamantly suggest, “This is the way we do church and this is how your church should do church, too.”
Stanley is quick to describe what has worked and continues to work for his church, while at the same time saying, “Evaluate what I suggest–take what you think might work as a change in your church–and leave the rest. ” What has worked in his church?
- Do whatever we need to do to make everyone feel comfortable. Do greeters and regular attenders smile with a welcome to all or do some look like they’ve been ‘baptized in pickle juice?’ Assume ten per cent of those attending are there for the first time or are coming back to church after a long absence. When have we looked at our building, our signage, our rooms so they say, “We are glad you took time from your busy schedule to be here.” Is it true that after a while, regular attenders don’t ‘see’ outdated literature piled around; don’t ‘see’ walls that need painting or decor that needs to be updated?
- Parents of most preschoolers want a safe place to leave their little ones and also recognize that young children can learn Bible lessons; there is no need for just babysitting. Is the program for children and youth the highest quality that can be provided? I know one church where the senior adults gave up their meeting space from the last forty years so that Children’s Worship could have an auditorium of its own. One church I know provides free food every Sunday for teenagers, engages them in contests and activities where everyone is a winner, while still providing serious Bible study with day-to-day application for the ‘difficult’ pre-teen and teen years. And then there are the rooms for Adult Small Group Bible Study –simply a semi-circle of folding chairs with unerased chalkboard–or are the walls freshly painted; do you see comfortable coffee shop type furnishings and wall hangings that speak, “You are welcome to explore Scripture here?”
- Does it appear there has been planning for worship service excellence? Isn’t it correct that many in the service have never lived without cell phones, video, and easy access to more information than any of us can ever remember? Andy Stanley suggests that we must have a worship service in which even the person who has never been inside church doors and also the person who has been a Bible student for decades will still be challenged. Is it true there should be an element of awe/surprise in any gathering at the church? Stanley plans a few Sundays a year where all attenders fill out questionnaires for his staff to use in evaluating ‘how we do church.’
What have I gained from the study of ‘Deep and Wide’ by Andy Stanley? I’ve learned that the church I’ve long attended is like yours–we are doing many things well. I’ve learned that as Jesus himself ministered, he met people where they were. I’ve learned that as a church we must be willing to do some things that may fail; we must allow leaders to try new ways–and not judge when later they may want to say, “This did not work like I thought it would.” We must always love people toward God who gives the most adventurous, satisfying lifestyle.
We must always be saying, “Would unchurched people love to attend our church this next Sunday?”