“We are such a great big family in our church. We are loving, warm and kind to each other…and so friendly. I just love our church.”
Wow! With an endorsement like that it would seem like any leader would be well on their way to growing a church like that. But hold on. I hear these kinds of statements all over the country from nice churches that are flat and/or declining in attendance. How can that be?
I find it interesting when I talk to leaders that when I first meet them and ask about their church they almost all say the same thing. You can fill in the blank and I’ll bet you can do it accurately. “We have a great church. Our church is a really _________ church.” You know the answer to be that their church is a really friendly church. No leader ever says to me. “We have a great church. Our church is a really grouchy church.” Nobody. Never happens.
Yet, what is the number one reason people who visit a church decide to not return? They say, “That church was not very _____________.” You got it. Not very friendly. How can all churches say they are really friendly and then those who visit leave feeling that the place was not very friendly?
Here’s your answer. We are very friendly to ourselves and we give cursory friendliness to those who visit. In his outstanding book From Belonging to Becoming, my good friend Mike Clarensau describes what it is like to be on the outside looking in on the church all the while wanting to belong.
Leaders need to think through what it really means to be a friendly church, what it would really take for people to feel at home at our place of worship. When people come over to my house we do everything we can to set the stage for an enjoyable time at the Hardys. My wife has me mowing the yard, cleaning the garage and washing down everything conceivable. We have to close the garage door. For goodness sakes we can’t let people see that we have muddy shoes by the door from the garage to the kitchen.
Why do you feel at home when you go someplace? Or maybe a better question would be what is it that makes you not feel at home?
- Maybe the host has not taken time to prepare for your arrival. The messy house is fine for the family but not for guests.
- Maybe the host is more interested in the other people in the house than you.
- Maybe the host is preoccupied with something else.
- Maybe the host can’t think of anything to say.
- Maybe the host is more interested in other things around the house like last night’s ball game, etc. than they are in you.
You see the obvious parallels to our work in the church, the house of God. While the family of God at your place feels like you’re a really friendly place, the reality might be that we are very friendly…to ourselves. We provide the aforementioned cursory friendliness to our guests but our real interest is in ourselves, kids, grand kids and what’s new with our nearly life-long friends, the people who are most like us.
One of the hallmarks of highly successful churches is their attention to the guest. Sunday is all about the guest and all the other “family” stuff happens at other times. The members and friends of the church are taught that from day-one. This includes guests who don’t fit our mold.
Could it be that we see a picture of how some of us respond to the guests of our day as compared to the woman in Luke 7 who did not act around Jesus as she should have? Certainly we would not overtly respond as the Pharisees did. But do we respond in a way that drives her away none-the-less. For leaders to dismiss this thought shortchanges our opportunity of reaching more effectively to those who are in the process of belonging on their way to becoming.
We need to love as Jesus did. She didn’t have to “become” before she could “belong.” Jesus accepted her. Let me suggest that as leaders of the greatest mission on planet Earth we purpose in our hearts to train up a people that are most interested in others outside our walls “becoming” all God wants them to be. In doing so we will allow them to belong to us way before that “becoming” happens. When you do I submit to you that you will be able to truthfully say, “Our church is a really friendly church. Just look at those all around us.” This will please the heart of the Lord.
Dick Hardy founded The Hardy Group after nearly 30 years of service to the church as an administrative pastor, church business administrator, chief operating officer, pastor of ministry development, non-profit executive director, and college vice president. Visit www.thehardygroup.org for more information.