Saban’s answer is always, “Blocking and tackling.” He explains that over the course of the season, the players tend to forget their fundamentals. They get so caught up in reading keys and remembering plays that they forget how to block and tackle. And the team that wins is usually the one that best blocks and tackles. The basics are the basics because they matter the most.
What are the basics of being a good church? What constitutes blocking and tackling when it comes to growing a church?
Obviously, you’re going to want to be doctrinally sound. But you knew that already. And you’re going to want to love each other. And you knew that, too. Those are like telling a football player, “You need to wear a uniform.” They should have learned that before they got on the team. No, what are the basics that we forget because we’re so used to being members rather than visitors?
- Nothing attracts like friendly church members. If people love visitors, talk to them, express genuine concern, and even invite them to lunch, good things happen. When members talk to their friends, ignore visitors, and eat only with people they know, well, who wants to join such a church?
In other words. “Love one another” has to apply to visitors. Visitors are part of “one another.”
How do leaders inculcate this attitude in members? Well, first, by setting the example. Especially the preacher and the elders. They need to be part of the greeting effort, even if not on the greeter committee. They need to reach out to visitors and take time to really meet them — and remember them.
If your preacher likes to spend the half hour before church re-reading his sermon notes, lovingly explain to him that he needs to spend that time in the lobby and aisles connecting with the flock and their guests.
And if you’re an introvert like me, then you need to learn this lesson that I learned: Get over it. Leaders lead in hospitality. Ask your wife to help. In fact, she should be so concerned about visitors and guests that she’s pushing you.
In my book, this is non-negotiable. Elders and staff have permission to hold one another accountable.
Therefore, the youth minister and campus minister needs to attend all services that might be visited by a teen or future or present college student. Even if his wife doesn’t like it. Because churches best grow by growing their ministries — and ministries grow through love demonstrated through hospitality.
It’s not complicated, but it does require a little discipline.
2. If you invite visitors to your home, you’re going to clean house. Most churches look more like your garage than a house ready to receive guests.
Years ago, at our old church building, my wife was asked to direct a wedding. My job was to clean out the trash. And it took about a dozen very large garbage bags just to haul out the trash that was stuffed in the communion cup holders on the back of the pews, the lesson hand outs from 10 years before (no exaggeration), old Bibles left behind by people no longer members, etc. The place was filthy and trashy — and yet the regular members were completely blind to it. We couldn’t see what was always there.
Your janitor will not do this. A stranger will not do this. They’ll assume that the old fallout shelter posters are still needed. They’ll assume that the old Jule Miller filmstrips really need to be stored inside the pulpit.
Clean it up. Throw it away. If you have members who are known pack rats, distract them. Put them on bathroom clean up duty. Put the clean-niks in charge of throwing stuff away.
3. Clean the bath rooms to at least the same standards as your own house – when you have company. Insist that the janitors be trained to stock them with adequate paper towels and toilet paper and soap — with extra toilet papers available in a cabinet somewhere. Never, ever, ever be in short supply on these necessities. (And create a place to lay down Bibles and iPads while you wash your hands.)
4. Install signs telling people where the bathrooms are — and where the first and second services are, and the elevators and stairs, and anything else a stranger needs to know. And, no, it’s not enough that they could find the visitor center and ask where to change a diaper. Make it so easy that no one ever has to ask.
5. Invite someone not familiar with your church to visit. Offer them a free lunch or $50 to spend a morning as a secret guest. Have them take notes and give their impressions. Do this annually at least. I’m serious. If you have a friend not a member of the church, this should be easy and fun. If not, make a friend not a member of the church or hire a professional church visitor. They exist.
6. Clean up the church yard. Paint your trim. Throw away the trash outside. Put grass down in the bare spots. Pull weeds out of the bush beds. Make sure your signs look neat and fresh. Show as much pride in the exterior of your space as you do for your house. If you can’t get the volunteers you need, hire it done. It’s an essential.
7. Install wi-fi at high speeds for your members. Members are all being hit with data limits. If you want to them to read their Bibles on their iPhones or iPads, give them a free connection. Put a password on it that’s in each week’s bulletin to prevent bandwidth theft by the apartment house next door. Make it a fast connection. And this will let you experiment with Twitter or other kinds of messaging during the sermon. For example, you might set up polling software to ask for responses to questions from the audience via their smartphones. I mean, do act like you’ve met the 21st Century.
If you visited a church and found they had high-speed, free wi-fi, a great website, and the ability to provide comments and prayer requests via your smartphone, would you be impressed? Wouldn’t you rather send your contact card electronically via text message than filling out a visitor card?
8. Please provide the music so tenors can sing tenor, basses can sing bass, and altos can sing alto. Maybe only 5% of non-Church of Christ people care, but the ones that care, really, really care. Besides, if you’re a Church of Christ, most of your visitors will come from within your heritage. Embrace the best parts of it — and great four-part harmony is nothing to run from. Even the utterly unchurched visitors who can’t harmonize will enjoy hearing the harmonies sung. Show off what makes you unique and special. Or do you really think you’re going to have the best music in town by using instruments? Do what you do best — congregational singing — whether or not you have instruments. Help the singers sing.
9. If your praise team can’t get a new song on the first try, neither will the church — even if the words are so very meaningful and suit the sermon, oh, so perfectly. If the church struggles at all to sing it, drop it. Save it for the praise team to sing without the church accompanying them. People won’t mind not getting to sing along on a really pretty song that’s too hard for them to sing.
10. Don’t lead songs that sound great with a band but are tedious without a band — unless you have a band.
11. Please lead the songs with some passion — that the church can see.
12. If you’re not a country church, why are you singing Stamps-Baxter songs — that is, songs written for the 1930s radio shows and traveling quartets? These songs really were written for entertainment purposes — and they rarely fit an urban cultural context. The members may love them — the old members who grew up in small towns (like me) — but your visitors will think you strange.
(I grew up on this music and actually enjoy it. But I’m very far from being a visitor. And even I don’t have a single Stamps-Baxter song on my iPhone.) Our music needs to be appropriate to the culture that we’re trying to reach.
13. Turn the leader’s microphone up so that the church can’t outsing him. Adjust during the song as needed. No congregation will sing louder than the volume of the song leader. If his mic is set low, they won’t blend together. The church will just stop singing. It’s unnerving when they can’t hear the leader.
14. Start on time. You will either inconvenience those who come late by starting on time or those who come on time by starting late. Start exactly on time every single time. Pretty soon, the church will catch on and come in on time. Oh, and close the doors. Make them open the doors to come in late even if it’s terribly distracting. Over time, they’ll learn to show up on time.
15. Don’t go late. Especially if class is after church — because going late shows disrespect for the classes and teachers and for the child care workers. Don’t do it. I mean, you’re wondering why you can’t get volunteers and the members treat the classes as unimportant — and you’re going over into class time?
As a worship leadership team, discuss the changes you’ll make if things go unexpectedly long — how you’ll drop this or that song or this or that announcement. Be prepared to cut out the second half of the sermon — whatever it takes so that people aren’t taking communion when they’re supposed to be in class.
None of this is hard. It won’t cost much money at all. It’s really just a matter of seeing the church like a visitor — and making visitors a priority.
None of this substitutes for personal evangelism. But wouldn’t you hate to spend weeks teaching a friend about Jesus, finally get them to visit your church, only to find the members unfriendly, the lobby filled with trash, the bathrooms invisible and dirty, and the singing out of touch?