There has been much written regarding what people look for in a church. The topic itself can lead to “consumer language,” focusing on personal preferences, when describing the kind of church people want. But many years ago a man seeking a church home told me something I have never forgotten. He said, “I want a church where I can bring lost friends and family with the confidence that they will be treated well, hear the gospel consistently and clearly, with love, and I won’t have to live in fear that something might happen that will make us want to crawl under a pew.”
Immediately you know what he means. He wanted a church family that strengthened his witness. A church family that gave him confidence that he wouldn’t be embarrassed or let down when he invited others to visit. He was looking for ministry partners, who, when taken together, are the body of Christ.
I don’t know if you’ve thought of it this way, but being part of healthy church strengthens your personal witness and ministry. And if you’re a pastor you want your congregation to have the confidence that they can bring a friend on any given Sunday, knowing that the church will be ready for their guest.
With this in mind, what can we do to help our church members have such confidence? Let me suggest a few things.
First, the pastor and church should prepare for and expect guests every week. You only have one chance to make a good first impression, and every week you should anticipate meeting somebody new in your church or Bible class. In my first pastorate we began with 10 people. I was in seminary and a fellow student asked me if it was hard getting motivated to preach to so few. My answer was an honest and emphatic, “No!” and this for two reasons. One, those 10 had a right to hear the best message from God’s Word I was capable of preparing and delivering. Two, I was knocking on doors and inviting folks to church, knowing that when they came I had one chance to make a good first impression. If the pastor and church family are praying for the lost people in the community, loving them, and inviting them, you will have guests. And when you have them, you want to minister to them as best you can.
Second, expect every week to have some attend that is lost, hurting, and hopeless. When a lost person comes to church it may be the result of years of a mother’s prayer. It may be because their friend or spouse “finally” got them there. In other words, those bringing guests are depending upon us, pastors and song leaders, deacons and preschool teachers, greeters and ushers, to be their teammate in ministering to their loved one. This may be your one best opportunity. Don’t let them down. The church is the body of Christ and every member has a job to do. I have seen the attitude or behavior of one person keep someone from church. It shouldn’t be this way, but lost people don’t need much reason to stay away from church. We need to continually educate the church that the way we treat people matters. The way we greet people and befriend people, matters. You don’t want a fellow church member “crawling under a pew” because you were unprepared to minister to their guest.
Third, when we bring a guest to church, we want them to experience “church.” That is, we want them to hear God’s Word read and proclaimed. We want them to hear God’s people sing with joy. We want them to see God’s people pray with conviction and faith. Joy and gratitude should flow abundantly when God’s people gather to worship Him. Don’t take for granted that unchurched people will be moved by this because they can’t experience true Christian fellowship and worship anywhere else.
That statement made to me over 20 years ago helped me greatly as a pastor. I served one more church as pastor after that, and I’ve done nine interim pastorates. I promised each congregation that I would do all I could to never embarrass them. I would work as best I could to be ready with God’s message each Sunday so that they could bring friends and family on any given week, confident that their pastor would be ready. I wanted our church to know that I would be a faithful partner in helping them reach their family and friends for Jesus Christ. But I also knew they were depending on others in our church to do their part in helping them reach their loved one for Christ.
How sad if our church members had to apologize to their guests for how their church disappointed them. Or, to say it another way, how sad if our church members encouraged their friends to attend a different church because they lacked confidence that they would experience God’s love in their own church.
“There are different activities, but the same God is active in everyone and everything. A manifestation of the Spirit is given to each person to produce what is beneficial” (1 Corinthians 12:6-7).