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Growing Churches And Why They Grow
This article is intended for the leadership of the Bible believing Church. As an old-school conservative believer, I used to say “we don’t need user-friendly churches; we need deadly churches.” (Romans 6:6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin may be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. KJV) This means that the church must be structured in such a way as to bring about transformation which means proverbial death to the old man and sinful behavior. While this is true, one cannot abandon wisdom in the name of conservatism, holiness or old religion. A Church without a life-transforming message that challenges the status quo and clarifies right from wrong is nothing more than a hymn-singing social club. But that is another article; in this article I want to explore the wisdom of being a user-friendly Church and what that means.
I was inspired by Paul’s letter to the Colossian Church: Colossians 1:9 For this reason we also, from the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you and desire that you be filled with his knowledge. will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; 10 That you may walk worthy of the Lord in every pleasing thing, being fruitful in every good work. So what is His will? Clearly, it is not His will for anyone to perish. (Matthew 18:14)
With more than nine years as a full-time evangelist, I have had the opportunity to worship with some of the most successful churches and ministries in the country. In recent years I have visited many churches in more than half of the states of the continental USA as a mere visitor; in all of these i have identified 4 qualities of user friendly churches. I have shared these principles with Churches around the country in far greater detail than is possible here; I hope you will be inspired by these ideas and explore further user-friendly principles. Before I share them with you, I want to define what I mean by “user friendly”. A user-friendly church is accessible, comfortable and conducive to visitor participation. Now here are the four qualities.
User-friendly churches are obvious. This doesn’t mean you have to be in a prime geographic location. What it means is that the community needs to know you exist and why it would be beneficial for them to participate.
To create greater visibility, let’s start with your immediate community. Obviously, your property must have curb appeal. Just a little lawn, landscaping and parking lot manicure will make a big difference. Your property view should scream “we know you’re looking and we welcome you to take a closer look”. It would be a shame if hundreds or thousands of cars drove past your property every day and only a few noticed your church because it blends into the surrounding environment. You’ll definitely want to check the zoning restrictions that limit what you can do on your property. If the restrictions are tight, you can do things like folding tables and moving effects that can be placed on your disk access at the start of the service and removed when the service starts, go light and you can get away with a lot.
Here’s a checklist to get your maintenance staff started:
o Clear, easy-to-read signs
o Clear, easy-to-recognize input
o Inviting landscape (don’t hide the building)
o Pleasant lighting
o Attention grabbers (banners, flags, special occasion signs, inflatable mascots or seasonal displays)
The second visibility is what I call reference visibility. Referral visibility includes the yellow pages, the Internet, and newspapers, as well as several other options to consider. When I arrive in a new city, the first thing I do is find the phone book and check for a UPCI church to attend. After surveying a sizeable sample, it became clear that the first place families go to find a new church after moving is the yellow pages.
Your Yellow Pages listing should include your church name, defining statement of faith or organizational association, pastor’s name, at least two contact numbers, address, service time, driving directions, and URL address of internet. If you can afford the space, you should also include the ministries offered, a benefit statement, map and photos of the property and or pastor.
The referral visibility that is second only to your yellow page ranking is the internet website. If your church does not have an online presence, do so within the next thirty days. Your church website doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated; a free site management service is better than nothing. The following checklist includes the minimum information you should make available on your website:
o Name of the church
o Statement of faith
o Names of ministries and directors of ministries
o Driving directions and or maps
o Photo of the church
o Articles or audio sermon samples
o Calendar of events
o Contact information (consider alternative contacts)
The third visibility of reference is newspapers and periodicals. Of course your church should display ads to announce special events such as revivals, public seminars, and public services offered. Consider assigning the title of publicist to someone who will be responsible for running ads and getting free periodical, news and media space. If your church is offering a public service as a gift to the needy at Christmas, send out press releases to local media outlets. Announce available ministries, special events, new ministries, building programs, etc.
Other opportunities that increase visibility may include billboards, highway signs, bumper stickers, t-shirts, radio spots, and television spots. Next, I want to leave you with some tips for creating visibility.
New Residence Welcome Pack
You can easily get information about new residents moving into your city or county. If you share your plan with the apartment managers, they can help you with distribution. Simply put together a welcome pack that includes a housewarming gift, some coffee and/or tea, a brochure and handwritten invitation card from your congregation. (I like the idea of having each member sign the card by hand. This can be done in advance.)
Hotel Church Directory
Organize and create a nice looking church directory to place in hotel rooms. The cost of the directory can be shared by all the churches you choose to include. Most hotel guests who attend services while visiting your city will attend the church of their choice anyway, you’re just making your information available through one more medium. You might also consider an area attractions directory that would only include your church and other businesses; I have seen such directories that only list Christian-owned businesses in the area.
Accessibility starts with your marketing pieces (Brochures, yellow pages and media ads etc.) you need to include clear directions that include landmarks and popular area highways, maps are nice. Once the visitor finds your property, it is important that they know how to access your car park, so the entrances to the area should be clearly marked. The last thing you want is for your visitor to feel frustrated or anxious at the beginning of the visit. It is also a good idea to have visitor parking reserved and signposted. Make sure the main entrance is clearly marked so the visitor knows exactly where to go. If you use alternate entrances or walks during inclement weather, set up portable signs to direct the visitor accurately. Greeters must be present to greet the guest; make sure they are trained to inform the guest where the sanctuary, restrooms, nurseries, and Sunday school classes are located. At least one tour should be offered; if the tour invitation is declined, provide the guest with a diagram of the property that clearly shows the location of rooms that may be of interest.
The time of service must be visible on the signs and at all entrances. Greeters should be trained to meet ladies with children and the elderly in cars during inclement weather to help them into the building. The paths must be well lit. Toilets should be clearly marked and if they are hidden in a dark or hidden corridor, mark the corridor and light it. Soldiers should ask the guest where they prefer to sit (front or back) and offer to escort them to a seat.
Now this is not something you can plan and schedule. The friendship of the congregation must be learned and must be sincere. Saints should greet the visitor with a smile and a handshake, as well as a few personal questions that are not unbearable. These personal questions can help identify common ground to build personal relationships. Young people and children should be taught to reach out to visitors their own age; they may invite the guest to join them in Sunday school class. I would like to think that someone in our congregation would extend an invitation to our guest to go to dinner with them. I try to make this invitation myself when time and opportunity allow. If it makes you more comfortable, most won’t agree.
Someone in leadership should address all visitors to explain how the service will be conducted, when the children will go to their classrooms, and where those classrooms are. If an entire family is visiting, find out the ages of the children and adults and inform them where they should go for Sunday school lessons. Once you know a few ages, it might be a good idea to have either the Sunday school teacher or a representative from the class personally say hello and invite the visitor to join today’s class.
Diversity of the Ministry
Truly user-friendly churches are aware of the unique needs of their community and make an honest effort to meet those needs. If you have a large Spanish-speaking population, and the obvious need for service is Spanish translation or Spanish-specific ministry. Other considerations include newly married couples, singles, seniors, college students, military, etc.
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