Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Changing Churches # 12

Idea # 12 Inviting Others

Obviously, if we are going to have new people in church, we are going to have to invite them. Though some people just show up, most people have been asked to come. 85% of a church's new members are friends, relatives, or neighbors of people already in your congregation. So we are going to have to do some inviting.

I don’t know why it is really such a chore. Maybe we should prime our congregations by having every organization in the church (and maybe every elder and deacon) have a "by invitation only" party at their house. It is amazing how few of our people remember how to just ask people to come to anything anymore.

Of course, it's hard to invite people to something you are not excited about. Make sure that what you are inviting people is something that matters to you, is life changing, and is open to new people. Many church groups have closed membership - they say they want new people but all the signals they give off say "closed".

In our congregation, we’ve started several new groups lately. In each instance, I've asked the leadership to send out invitations to some people who have never come before. Imagine their surprise when a couple of new people showed up!

Maybe we need to recapture a theology of hospitality that is willing to invite others in to our fellowship. Then, remember to perk up your services and program to make them inviting too.

And keep in mind if people come, what they are really looking for is a relationship, friendship, people who are willing to love them. Fail to offer your love and caring and they won't be back. Add an opportunity to make a difference in the world and you have an almost irresistible combination.

Can you and your church do that?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Changing Churches #11

Idea # 11 - How to get in

It’s fascinating how church architecture changes. In the cathedral type churches there was essentially one door, the one out the back of the church. That was really all that was necessary. Because of the kind of worship experienced there even pews weren't necessary.

Then came the reformation and pews helped sermon-weary folk last through the service. Also came the idea of the priesthood of all believers and the ministry of the laity. And with the advent of church programs like the church school, the necessity for more rooms and buildings and lots of doors.

So it should come as no surprise that architecture is changing once again: to a single entrance.

Can you guess why; because multiple doors have their problems. For example, how does a newcomer to your church find the entrance? One of our presbytery's churches has seven entrances all but one of them locked during the week. And let me assure you, the Main Entrance isn't the obvious door!

Going to a meeting there, I went to all seven doors before I found the one that opened. New church construction offers one main door that goes from the parking lot outside, to a lobby area from which there are obvious ways to enter the sanctuary, the fellowship hall, the classrooms, and the offices. Makes sense!

Of course, we could make our main entrance just as functional! Is ur main entrance well marked, well lit, and open? That's important. Closed doors are a psychological barrier so why not open them as much as you can. Put markers or signs, or better yet people, to help newcomers get to where they are going.

And remember, your main entrance is where all the people enter. Think about it!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Changing Churches #10

Idea # 10 – Advertising

If you were going to tell friends about the church and it's activities, when would you do it? Wedding invitations go out about 4-6 weeks in advance. Party invitations usually are sent 2-4 weeks before the party. So when would be the best time to advertise about your church?

Think about your church's schedule. When are your most exciting events going to occur? When normally in your church year do lots of people come to visit? Why not advertise just before these times, making the most of what is already happening.

For most churches the key time to advertise seems to be just before your program gets started again in September, just before the Christmas events, and before Easter. This is the time to make
your church more visible through the newspaper and even better through direct mail.

To be clear, we have had our trouble with direct mail recently! The postal service is not makng it easy for small mailers like churches. But still do your research and see if you can make it work. Mail in hand at the right moment when people are making decisions about whether or not to look for a church to attend can make a real difference!

Budget an amount each year for these special advertising times and then see if you can create some eye catching information to tell the community about your church.

And remember, advertising is not a method for growing your church. Very few people come just because of advertising; in fact less than 2%. But it can make your church visible, especially in a community where its programs and purpose for being are unknown. Let people know who you are and what you're doing! That includes community gardens, literacy programs, a food pantry, as well as your worship times!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Changing Churches #9

Idea # 9 – Secret Shoppers

For churches that want to grow there is going to have to be someone who looks at the church as if they were coming to the church for the first time. It's amazing how many strange things regular members overlook (like those unchanged bulletin boards) as they participate in the church.

No directions from the parking lot to the sanctuary. Nothing that says where the nursery is located. Bulletins without clear directions on where to find the Lord's Prayer, the creed, or clear instructions on when in the service you stand or sit. One church even had the curious habit of meeting in the basement hall for the winter to save fuel but forgot to close and mark the sanctuary, leaving visitors to discover an open, empty sanctuary at 11:00am on Sunday!

Try to look at your church with new eyes. If you were coming as a new person to your community and church, what would help you get involved in your church. Start at home. How would you find a warm, welcoming church in a new community? Once you found where it was, and when it was open, how would you get there? Where would you park? How do you get in the building? Where do you want to go inside? Where do you put your hat and coat? Where are the bulletins? Think like a newcomer.

Or better yet, take one of your newcomers aside, one who has just affiliated with the church and ask them what almost got in their way in coming to your church. Ask them what was good, what worked. Emphasis those. Then get to work on the weaknesses. All you've got to lose are empty pews.

We had a secret shopper recently. The sent an anonymus email to let us know the many ways we did not measure up on the Sunday they stopped by. I shared the information with the Session, one of the Bible Studies and with my Directors - ministry leaders who are in charge of ministry teams.

It was an eye opener. We have excuses of course for all our mistakes, but none of them matter if our failures to be the open caring hosts we want to be leads one visitor to feel like we didn't want them to stay and worship with us.

We have to learn from our mistakes, and to learn, we have to know what our mistakes are! Being good hosts, being hospitable is about as kingdom like as we can be. We have got to get this right!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Growing Churches #8

Idea # 8 Parking

Why is it that visitors always have to park furthest away from the church??!! One of the local clergy has a new hobby. He goes around counting the spaces in church parking lots. Then he multiplies the number of spaces by 2.2, the average number of people that come to church in each car. Then he barges in on the church's pastor to ask what their normal attendance is on a Sunday morning.

According to him, his multiplication has been within five people of the average in 25 out of 28 churches, and when he was wrong, it has been because of a group of folks who walk to church, or the presence of more parking he didn't count. (For example, the Otisville Church before we added parking had 34 parking spaces. 34 x 2.2 = 74.8 people. Our actual average was 86 at the time, because of a few on street parking spaces. We have since added 40 more spaces.) His conclusion is that most churches cannot grow with their current parking situation.

Let's remember we're talking about visitors and what must it feel like to be unable to park anywhere near the church you want to visit? What does that say about the church's openness to new people?

Most visitors prefer to arrive shortly before the worship service so they don't have to sit around feeling out of place! But arriving at five minutes of eleven, or whenever your main service is, there is no place to park. So the solution to growth is more parking! Unless, of course, after they have found a space they can't find the main doorway into your building. Oh boy! This idea of hosting folks and making a opening for newcomers is hard work; and it is grounded in the biblical idea of hospitality - whereby some of us have entertained angels unaware! FYI (For your information!)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Growing Church #7

Idea # 7 - Sharing your Faith

When was the last time you shared your faith with another person? Now don't get all uncomfortable. What I mean is, when was the last time you offered your thoughts about what you believe with another human being. Maybe you explained about why you go to church to a grandchild or a neighbor. Or maybe you told one of your early faith discovery stories to a group of friends remembering the days past.

One of the best faith sharing settings I've seen is around a late night campfire, where someone asked a fellowship group from church how they all got to our congregation. Some of the stories were hilarious, others were more poignant, but all of them were personal stories of faith.

Part of the process in drawing newcomers to the church is telling the congregation’s stories of faith, while hearing the stories of faith of our visitors. It's important for us to share, but making that happen is difficult sometimes. So many of us are reluctant to share because our stories are so personal, and because were afraid of offending others.

It’s time the church found ways for the faithful to articulate what they feel and believe. That too is a part of church growth, opening the way for us all to participate more deeply in our discipleship. Many ways have been tried and found successful. It usually happens in small groups where people feel more secure in sharing what's most important to them.

One small group even talked about how they might share their faith with others who were interested by roll playing. One person asked, “So Bill, what is it that makes the church so important to you?” and the other tried to answer, being open and honest. Then they switched roles. Why not try it in your small group, bible study, session, or choir?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Growing Churches #6

Idea # 6 - Are we Open?

I couldn’t believe it! After visiting for several weeks with a local woman who's daughter had died, Martha asked me the most unexpected question. "Do you think it would be okay if I came to church?" I was flabbergasted. I said yes, of course, but left a few minutes later wondering how she could ask me that question.

Don’t misunderstand, it was a wonderful question. It was filled with a desire to become part of the worshipping community. It’s just that I assumed she would know that she was welcome!

I thought it was common knowledge in our community that all people were welcome. But I assumed wrong. Pastors as well as lay people assume all kinds of things that aren’t necessarily true about people who are not part of the church and sometimes those assumptions are squarely in the way of people becoming part of the church!

The first assumption is that people know that the church is open to newcomers. Whether we want that to be true or not, it isn’t! Outsiders to the church do not know for sure that your church is friendly or that it wants or would welcome (and I mean really welcome)newcomers! To get people in our doors and part of our ministry in our corner of the Kingdom of God, we are going to have to make it obvious that we are interested in visitors.

The second thing we assume is that people know where our church is located, and how to get into it. It's not true! People who have never attended your church know very little about it (location, phone number, web address, email address, names of the church staff people, etc.), and unless they are coming with friends or family, they may get lost and go home before they find the worship center or sanctuary (by the way, what is a sanctuary?)

One elder in my congregation told me he had been attending the church for three years before he finally discovered where the men's room was located (the door was located behind an exit door he never went through - we have since renovated, but just yesterday a visitor again asked me where the men's room was - argh!) If newcomers are going to come to your church, they are going to have to be shown the way! What's your plan for making it all obvious?