Today, I’m getting to enjoy one of the great American pastimes: waiting on my car. It’s nothing major. My wife and I bought a new car to send my daughter off to college in (the old one is only good for local trips these days) and the car needed some warranty work. So, I sit here at a Toyota dealership, looking around at all the various signs and freestanding displays selling cars and service. “Buy. Sell. Be Happy,” or “Low monthly payments” and “60 month/60,000 miles warranty.” The list goes on and on but the bottom line is this, the dealership wants to sell you the product and they want you to come back to have it taken care of. Dealerships that do this well last and they become the kind of places that sell and service cars to generations of people. Those that don’t. Well, we don’t know about them because they’re not here anymore.
Churches follow a similar pattern. “The Spirit is moving here” or “Connecting to God” or “A small church with a big dream.” Each of these slogans is trying to sell people on the idea of going to that church. It’s trying to communicate the idea of this church being the right church for them. And practically every church has one. I served a church once that had the slogan painted on the walls on either side at the front of the sanctuary to make sure no one forgot it (which was great for referring to during sermons). These slogans, especially on websites and signs outside churches, are an attempt to get people to give the church a try. They are a sales flyer for all intents and purposes.
But what happens when the people actually show up? Then what?
Many churches do the sales part well but not so much the service. The sales part tells people what you think you are. The service part is where people find out what really you are. Do you greet people you don’t know on Sunday mornings? Do you invite visitors to a Sunday school class or other meetings? Do you engage with people in church that you don’t know? Do you try to mentor younger couples and families or youth and children? Do you look for opportunities to live out the mission of the church not only to those you already know in the church but to those you don’t? And those outside the church? If so, great! If not, what you say you are and what you are are not the same thing.
I think this has to do with core groups. Most churches I have served seem to have a core group that became the core group because they did these things for each other in the beginning. The problem is over time, they stop looking to do these things for anyone but the core group. It becomes an issue of caring for ‘our people’ or doing things that matter to ‘our people’ but not for those who are not ‘our people’. Do you remember how you became a part of ‘our people’? Do you remember first visiting and being part of nothing, being no one’s people? Do you remember growing up in the church and finally being considered adult enough to be ‘part of things’? We seem to forget at one point we were the visitor, we were the seeker. We seem to forget that becoming part of that core group didn’t just happen. It was a matter of relationship building over time.
If we want to see our church grow and develop, we have to grow and develop. Growth mean change. If things aren’t working, guess what? You have to do something else. But first you have to be willingto do something else. And therein lies the problem. Most core groups give lip service to change but when the rubber meets the road, they avoid it and find excuses why the change will be the wrong thing, the bad thing, the worldly thing, anything but the right thing for them. Are you willing to be a church that not only invites people in but makes them feel welcome and wanted to be there? Are you willing to become, to change in order to be the kind of place people are willing and wanting to be part of? Or are you ready to be one of the many places people pass and say, “There used to be a church there.”
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