In my work with dozens of churches over the past several years, I’ve come to conclude that there are five questions every congregation must ask if they will see the effectiveness of their church increase. These five questions can rescue the declining church and propel the strong church to greater heights. These five questions motivate the best of congregational actions and are virtually guaranteed to increase a congregation’s ability to achieve the Great Commission. Build good answers to these five questions, and it won’t be long before you’re reaching the full potential of your congregation.
Now, that I’ve hopefully whet your appetite by making promises that could seem unrealistic in your particular setting, let me show you the proof and the truth of what I’m promising. These five questions, and our determination to answer them, form the basis of the Great Commission assignment we’ve been given. As you’ll see, each is built on the apostolic assignment and was proven effective long before the ink on New Testament pages was dry. In other words, this isn’t our stuff–it’s the Bible’s stuff!
1. How do we engage new people?
Now, that doesn’t exactly sound like biblical phrasing, but it’s the question Jesus frequently used to challenge His disciples–LIFT UP YOUR EYES!
The idea in this question is, how do we make contact with people outside of our current circle? How do we interact with folks who don’t currently attend, have never attended, and don’t really plan on attending our local church? Are they a “them” to us or do we see them as potentially a part of the “us.”
Virtually every congregation we have surveyed over the past five years will tell us that among the five functions of the Church (Fellowship, Discipleship, Service, Evangelism, and Worship), their least effectiveness is found in evangelism. Fellowship and Worship are usually their perceived strengths, but reaching others with the Gospel isn’t something their congregation members prove to accomplish effectively. Sure, some will say that if they bring them in, Pastor has proved effective at bringing them to the altar, but given that there might be a hundred of us in the room each week and only one or two outsiders, well, few if any of us are having success at reaching others.
On average (in Assembly of God churches) it takes four or five of us to lead one person to Jesus EACH YEAR! I can’t think of any other environment where that would seem like a high rate of effectiveness.
For a local church to have a future, it must build a strategy in the present that helps its people connect with those outside the church. Inward focus is the principle cause of decline in many congregations. You can only conquer this with a renewed look out your door. And, such a look will keep your church on the road toward greater health. Never forget that when our focus is “Him and Them,” God keeps His promise to take care of us.
2. How will we treat “them” when they come in our doors?
What is it like to visit your church? Frankly, most of us “insiders” don’t really know. We’ve been a part of the family for a while and the memories of our initial ventures into what is now our church family are a distant memory. That original data has likely been overwritten by years of subsequent data, so we have forgotten what it’s like to know no one, not understand what’s going on, or wonder if friends could be found here. We have crossed those thresholds and now believe others shouldn’t feel what we’re no longer feeling.
Every church insists that it is a friendly church. After all, that’s where my friends are. Surely, everyone who walks through our doors can feel the warmth of the relationships we’ve established, right? If that we’re true, a high school cafeteria would be a warm and embracing place too. Truth is, if the new folks cast their vote on friendliness after their first visit, we might be surprised at the results. Most people don’t speak to folks they don’t know unless they feel it’s their job to do so.
If the “Greeters” are the only ones welcoming new people, you’re not a friendly church. Truth is, your church is only as friendly as the guy sitting next to me during the service. If the leader instructs us to greet each other and he does so half-heartedly (or not at all), it doesn’t matter how nice the platform people are–yours isn’t a friendly place. How do you really help these “newbies” feel at home?
Second, maybe you should ask what it’s like to be in your building for the first time. Is it clear where we should be going at every moment? Am I just supposed to follow the traffic flow? If I’ve come to your second service, I might accidentally follow the first service folks back to the parking lot. How do you help me find my way, find the restrooms, and find the right seat in the auditorium?
Third, think about how difficult your service might be to interpret for an outsider. What’s really going on? You see, we insiders have been following our order of service for a while. We know what we do and even why we do it. We understand when Sister Betty gets a little excited and we’ve giggled more than once when Old Fred starts snoring a bit. We know when to sit, stand, sing, and lift our hands. We’re used to the pace and rhythm of our service, and usually aren’t adding self-conscious feelings to our experience. How do you help new people engage the worship experience?
Finally, what happens when it’s over? Do I just chalk up another experience in my memory book or will there be a repeat experience? How does your church help your guests want to come back again?
3. How will we teach them to follow Jesus?
The whole business of the church is to make disciples. Some have thought that the church’s primary business is the people business, and it is…to a degree. We work among and for the good of people, but people are not an end in itself. If connecting with people were our primary focus, we could be content with large crowds and whatever strategies might bring them.
No, our purpose is to make disciples—we have specific plans for what we want to see happen with the people we reach. Ultimately, the dream is to help them find the path Jesus marked for all of us and encourage them to take those essential steps down that path.
Jesus defined discipleship in the simplest of terms. He said that we were to “baptize them in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost…and teach them what I have commanded you.” That’s it! Baptize to demonstrate their choice to follow Him and teach what we have learned so they can know how to follow. Frankly, it’s not that complex. After all, Jesus handed off this mission to guys who didn’t overpower the educational scale. It had to be reasonably simple to understand, right? But no one said it would be easy.
So this question calls us to consider what we teach and how do we deliver that teaching. What systems must we put in place and how do we encourage our people to engage those opportunities. Likely, in this third question we are looking for programs and other approaches that help us deliver on our disciple-making assignment.
4. How will we help them find a place to serve?
Serving is the only way you can follow a servant.
There’s simply no other means of following Jesus than learning to put others ahead of yourself and give your best to their needs. Surely, I don’t have to tell you of the nature of serving. We know that it demands humility, love, and a genuine heart to see others grow.
But, a local church needs a plan for helping people shift to this life focus. No one is naturally servant-oriented. We all tend toward self-centeredness. So if we’re going to help people learn to serve, we must do more than just assign them a task. We must teach them the “heart” of a servant—a heart that can only emerge by actually serving.
So this step would seem to include helping people 1) discover where they best fit the ministry effort, both inside and perhaps outside those church walls; 2) step into new ministry experiences where they can explore their own serving passions and abilities; 3) feel equipped for their work through adequate training and evaluation; and 4) ultimately find their best expression of love for Christ through caring for the needs of others.
5. How will we teach them to know God?
Now, the last question may seem like it should be first, but it’s actually the one that connects best with their continued growth.
Studies have shown us that followers of Christ only continue growing when they engage an ongoing and regular practice of spending time reflecting on God’s Word and encountering His love.
How do we teach people to do that? Do they simply model our Sundays each day? That seems challenging. Do we expect their Monday thru Saturday routine to provide the same spiritual impact as a Sunday morning? Honestly, that should be happening but rarely does.
The truth is that growing churches are usually filled with growing people. If your people aren’t growing in their own journeys with Christ, then the work of the local church will pile up on the shoulders of the few who are focused on such things—and that’s not healthy.
Every church must develop a plan for helping its people continue to grow closer to God. And that effort will pay great dividends in how we answer the other four questions as well. People drawing closer to God more willingly connect with their friends, love our church’s guests, engage Jesus’ teaching, and serve with a glad heart.
What are your thoughts on this? Do you have a story of how implementing one of these questions in your church helped you be more effective? Let us know in the comment section below.
This blog was originally posted on Mike Clarensau’s Healthy Church Network. It was reposted here with permission from its author.
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