Recently I’ve visited several churches. I’ve noticed something in common about all of them, and it’s something that is disconcerting for an organization whose primary purpose is to help people have a faith relationship with Jesus Christ. Here’s my discovery:
Most churches are designed for themselves.
That’s a pretty broad statement, so let me explain. I’ve been in church life and work my entire life. When I walk into a church building, I know how to slip in and find a seat without being noticed too much. I know what the program in the Sanctuary or worship center will be like and how long it will last. I know who the people “on stage” are even if I’ve never seen them before. I know all this because I’ve been in church for a very, very long time.
What about people who have never been to church or haven’t been to church in a very, very long time. Are those people are going to overwhelmed by the physical layout of your buildings? Are they going to know when to sit, stand, and turn around during worship? Are they going to be offended or embarrassed by being asked to fill out a card or be recognized as a visitor? Are they going to feel under-dressed and uncomfortable?
Churches have one chance to get it right. When someone comes to visit, they’re giving you one shot at making it so compelling and interesting that they’ll want to come back the next week. You have one chance to do church so well that these guests will look forward to the next Sunday. One shot – just one.
Is that fair or right? No. Is it reality? Yes.
Think about the way you do church: is your Sunday morning programming crafted to appeal to newcomers or to make the long-timers feel comfortable? Unfortunately, in most churches, it’s not what it should be. Even Jesus didn’t go to the synagogue very often because, well, the synagogue of Jesus’ time was very much like many churches are today: designed to make the religious feel good about themselves and not reach those who desperately need a faith relationship with God.
The U.S. Marines Rifle Drill Team is flat-out impressive. Watch a YouTube video of them. What they do is amazing. They are probably about as close to perfection as you can get; each and every time, they do it right. I haven’t seen them in person yet, but I want to, and I know I’ll be even more impressed.
I know churches run with volunteers led by church staff, so there is plenty of room for human error. But what I challenge churches to do is to be a LOT more intentional about what they do, how they do it, and what it looks like on Sunday morning. And by “it” I mean shaping almost everything about Sunday morning so that people you are trying to reach actually want to be there and aren’t counting the minutes till they can leave without insulting you.
I don’t expect churches to be perfectionists like the U.S. Marines, but I do expect churches to raise the bar. We’ve let our standards get pretty low, so it’s time to raise them several notches. We should expect our staff and volunteers to be at the top of their game every Sunday, with every person. Challenge your leaders to make the Sunday morning experience one that makes everyone, guests and regulars, vital to their lives.
Now, go watch the U.S. Marines Rifle Drill Team (even the one where the rifle breaks in the middle of the drill!) and see what you can learn from a really good team that works seamlessly together.