A few months after we started New Song Church, I began to pray about how our little church could play a part in Jesus’ Acts 1:8 vision for the church. How could a young church like ours play a part in reaching our Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the world?
Fast-forward 20 years, and God has done exceedingly abundantly above what we could ask or imagine. By His grace, New Song has played a measurable part in planting 163,000 churches around the world. Those 163,000 churches have seen over 7 million come to Christ.
I recently asked myself, “How did this happen?”
What does your church do for people? Probably more than you’ve thought. Every Monday, scores of pastors are ready to walk away from ministry. It’s easy for us to forget how incredibly helpful the local church is in shaping and benefitting people’s lives. Let me encourage you about this for the next five minutes.
Last week I heard from a couple whose trajectory was completely changed by what they learned in New Song’s Financial Peace class. Today they have less debt, less tension, more hope, more discipline and more skills to apply to so many areas of their lives. I walked away thinking, “We have hundreds of families who are out of debt or on their way. Offering Financial Peace may be the greatest favor our church has ever done for people.”
How much time does it take for a visitor to decide whether or not they will return to your church? Experts pose differing numbers on this.
Some say as quickly as 90 seconds. Others say three minutes. Still others say they take as long as 12 minutes to decide. Whoever is right, making a good first impression is imperative if you are going to retain first-time visitors. Doing this well will change as your church grows.
Churches with attendance under 150 can make a friendly first impression by stationing two or three outgoing volunteers at their front doors. In this size church, newcomers are able to look around the crowd and find the “people like me” pretty quickly. “People like me” is key to assimilating newcomers in smaller churches.
If you ask most churches, they are genuinely seeking how to reach their community. Identifying your target visitor through building a community persona is the first step.
Next, you need to figure out how to reach those you have identified and meet their needs.
One important way to achieve this is through generational marketing. Each audience is shaped by different life experiences, traditions and values and should be communicated to using the appropriate and effective channels.
A young man in my last church cut off three of his fingers while cutting a piece of paneling in a van customizing shop. As he was being rushed to the hospital, he was asked, “Where are the fingers?” A man rushed back to the shop with a bowl of ice, grabbed the three digits and then rushed them to Birmingham in the ambulance along with the young man.
Nineteen hours of microsurgery reattached those fingers to the young man’s hand. Had they been left in the sawdust of that shop, the fingers would have been useless. They were only good to him if they were attached to his body.
It’s the same way when it comes to our attachment to the body of Christ, both globally and locally. We are members of the body—whether a finger, an ear, an eye or a spleen—and we need the rest of the body in order to live. We cannot make it on our own.
What people experience in your church has the power to propel them toward Christ or push them away. What we do matters, and doing it well is essential. From your website to the parking lot signage, more than likely your first-time guests have gotten an earful before they’ve even heard the first word of your sermon.
Here are a few time-tested proven how-tos for engaging your community:
Excellence in all things and all things to the glory of God.
At Prestonwood Baptist Church, you’ll hear this phrase often. Everyone on our ministry team and staff take it to heart because it isn’t just what we do; it’s who we are. We serve a mighty God who deserves all of us and the best of us.
His very name is described as excellent in Scripture: “O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth” (Ps. 8:1). And in Isaiah 12:5, the prophet calls salvation “excellent”: “Sing to the Lord, for He has done excellent things.”
So from janitorial to ministerial, we strive for excellence. In ministry, just as in life, there must be a commitment—to rise above the mediocre, to ascend above the average, to soar like eagles. We can flock and honk like geese through life, or we can soar like the royal eagle in the heavens.
Creating a Compelling Guest Experience
To us, excellence in all things is about paying attention to detail. The little things mean a great deal. From the moment visitors arrive at your church building until they leave, do they experience excellence? Is there a winsome feel to your church and worship services? I don’t want anything about the worship experience to take away from the mission of the church, which is to proclaim the gospel.
When we started our North Campus, we met in a high school. Our church members took great pride in the “set up and tear down” that helped transform a school into a warm and engaging service each Sunday. We did little things such as placing signage throughout the school welcoming people to Prestonwood and inviting them to make this church their home. It wasn’t opulent, but it was excellent.
We’ve learned that excellence starts long before someone gets to one of our worship services, beginning with the church website. No doubt, this is a media-savvy world, and it’s our responsibility to engage the culture and communicate effectively. Is your website reader-friendly? Do you keep people engaged through Facebook, Twitter or other social media?
From your website to your parking lot, excellence should be a value for you, your staff and your church.
Try this exercise with your team: Ask them to spend the week visiting the church website and looking around church grounds. Then get together and discuss these questions: Was it easy to find service times and direction on the website? Does your church parking lot have potholes? Are the trees and bushes overgrown and unkempt? Is the carpet frayed and stained? Are the walls dingy? Do paintings hang crookedly? When someone walks through the doors, what do they see first? What do they smell?
The Worship Experience
Beyond the website and building, evaluate your worship experience. Train volunteers to greet every guest and help direct them. As people enter the sanctuary or worship area, make Bibles and pens readily available for anyone who may not have a Bible. The worship guide or bulletin should be well written and error-free. During the service, make the lyrics for worship songs easy to read on the screens, and provide notes on the screens that complement the message so that first-time guests can easily follow the teaching.
Our mission at Prestonwood is “to glorify God by introducing Jesus Christ as Lord to as many people as possible and to develop them in Christian living using the most effective means to impact the world, making a positive difference in this generation.”
The most effective means for us includes everything available that will help support and strengthen our church as we share the love of Christ and proclaim the message of salvation to a lost and hurting world. As His church, we should proclaim Him with the excellence He so richly deserves.
Jack Graham is pastor of the 32,000-member Prestonwood Baptist Church, with campuses in Plano, Dallas and Prosper, Texas. He also is the voice of PowerPoint Ministries, the church’s international radio and TV ministry known worldwide. Follow him on Twitter @jackngraham.
Building an ideal customer profile is a common business practice whose goal is to identify the type or types of people the business caters to. This involves identifying needs, wants, pain points and more. This type of study into the minds of customers helps businesses market more effectively and offer products and services that really meet the needs people have.
So, how does this relate to your church?
Quite simply, if you can learn to identify those you serve best in the community, you will better understand how to attract them to your church and meet their needs.
While we live in a world that celebrates jumping from one relationship to the next, faithfulness has taken a backseat to self-interest. And sad to say, the church world appears to be not far behind, as Christians hop from one church, one ministry and one message to the next.
All of that is motivated by the bottom line—what’s in it for me and what’s best for me?
Like honor, faithfulness is big in God’s eyes yet certainly not valued highly in the day and age we live in.
There is a four-letter word that will sentence you to success as your serve another person’s ministry: O-B-E-Y! Obedience is coming under the authority of your mentor. In other words, submission is the key.
Elisha came under the authority of Elijah and received the blessing of the double portion:
“And so it was, when they had crossed over, that Elijah said to Elisha, 'Ask! What may I do for you, before I am taken away from you?' Elisha said, 'Please let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.' So he said, 'You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so'” (2 Kings 2:9-10).
One of the great privileges and most rewarding opportunities you can experience serving another man’s ministry is found in the secret of being a proactive servant.
A proactive person is defined as one who “creates or controls a situation by causing something to happen rather than responding to it after it has happened.”
A fruitful, effective disciple is much more than an order taker. After proving yourself faithful over time, a foundation of trust is established that is the key ingredient required to move from a relationship of simple service to becoming a proactive partner.
For many people in your community, Easter is the only day of the year they’ll show up at church. It’s a great opportunity to reach out to those who don’t think about church the other 364 days of the year.
You’ll want to reach out to your visitors and thank them for coming. Depending upon the size and culture of your church, you may make a personal visit, call them or write them a letter (whether through the mail or via e-mail)—or very possibly do all three.
In fact, if you visit them or call them, sending them a follow-up letter is an appropriate next step. It’ll allow you to give them some more details about your church and guard against the possibility that you’ll forget something important.
As I have had the opportunity to speak to groups of pastors over these past few years, I have identified five different traps I believe churches often fall into—traps that prevent our churches from realizing their full potential to change the world for Christ.
Most churches will find they have slid into one or two of these traps to one degree or another. Some will have avoided them all. Either way, just being aware of a trap helps keep one from falling prey to it in the first place.
Below are the five traps to consider. Do one or more characterize you or your church?
I’m not an evangelist or a pastor. I’m not even a Bible teacher or a youth minister. I’m a filmmaker, attempting to do the near-impossible for my films. I attempt to visibly film an invisible God.
Having traveled the world to make my first three feature films, Finger of God, Furious Love and Father of Lights, it’s probably safe to say that the last six years have given me a new perspective and quite an education on what God is doing around the world, as well as which evangelism methods are working, and which ones are seemingly slogging through quicksand.
The politically correct statement here would be to say that as long as those trying to evangelize are preaching the basics of the gospel, then we should just be happy, no matter their methods. But I can’t help but wonder if one form of evangelism is more effective than another.
Tim Stevens shared a great post recently about “The New Normal Project” at Granger Community Church. It was a post written about what used to be known as stewardship campaigns. You should check out the full article.
This is the quote that grabbed my attention:
“We had very few extra events (i.e. banquets, home meetings) and focused everything we could around the weekend services. People are very busy with very good things—and most of them can only give us one shot a week. That doesn’t mean they are unspiritual or don’t love Jesus or the church. It just means they are living their lives, investing in their families and contributing to society.”
Tim was writing about their specific project, but I think we as church leaders need to be challenged by Granger’s learning. Generally, churches are very event-driven. We are a one-trick pony.
My wife, Joyce, and I planted our local church 29 years ago, Jan. 29, 1984, in the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn, N.Y. We were not sent out with any money and had only a handful of people who volunteered to serve with us. The following is based on all the mistakes I have made as a church planter, and the lessons I wish someone had coached me through.
1. Be sent from your local church. Unfortunately, many send themselves and just “went” instead of being “sent.” The Bible teaches us that we should not preach unless we are “sent” (see Romans 10:15).
What do you do when your church no longer looks like the community that surrounds it?
Focus on what your church does well. Don’t try to be something you’re not. If your church is primarily made up of elderly folks, decide to become the most effective ministry to senior citizens in your community that you can possibly be.
Don’t try to be a church for young families. Strengthen what you’re already doing and don’t worry about what you can’t do. Keep doing what you’ve been doing—just do it better. Chances are that there’s an unchurched pocket of people in your community that only your church can reach. Find those people—and reach them.
Even with the best of intentions, things have a way of going south.
When we launched our outreach ministry (at Mariners Church in Orange County, Calif.), the first thing we thought to do was meet the basic needs of the people we were serving. Sounds reasonable, right? They need groceries; we’ll give them a bag of food. They need winter coats? Got it. School supplies? Check. Then we’ll teach them about Jesus and they’ll pray the prayer and bam! We’re all good.
If we really believe in an irresistible Savior whose love is the most powerful force on earth, why is it we cling to manipulative tools, gimmicks and cheap material resources to all but bribe someone into the kingdom of heaven?
We can create relevant environments and put our leaders in the best possible position to start relationships, but it’s imperative to remember that for all our children and many of our teenagers, it’s the parent who brings them to church.
Here are 10 ways to affirm parents who attend your church each week: