I write this from a foreign land. Tammi and I moved to Northwest Arkansas last spring and had the experience of doing something we’ve done only a few times in our 46 years together—deciding which church to join.
As a church staff member, the choice was made for me. Grace Baptist Church expected their youth guy to join Grace Baptist Church. For my last 20 years as a layman, we were members of one church. It’s different being the new guy in a new church. If you’re a pastor or staff member, you may be unaccustomed to having to evaluate churches; but the people who join your church have likely done so. Maybe by sharing what we thought about before joining First Baptist Fayetteville, Arkansas, I can help you think about the experience of potential church members in your church.
First, let me say that we didn’t primarily base our decision on the Sunday service—music and preaching. Granted, there is a baseline there of serious (not grim, not silly) music that we expect from any church, as well as preaching that highlights the gospel and comes from the Bible. A person can’t assume those baseline things, but I am assuming you have already established those priorities in your ministry. Here are some things we did consider:
Simply, we didn’t want a church that had a small or casual relationship with the rest of our Southern Baptist fellowship. That means participation, as in more than 5 percent, in the Cooperative Program. Cooperation means that the church makes a big deal about the Lottie Moon missions offering. It means that the church is Southern Baptist in its actions. I think your church will benefit from having new members who think cooperation matters. What would be your answer if a knowledgeable prospective member asked about your participation in the SBC?
Interest in us
When we moved back to Texas in 2001, we visited about 10 churches. No more than four even called us after we filled out a visitor card. We joined one of those four. Our primary questions were not details about the church ministries—we knew how to find those things out. Question No. 1 had to do with whether the church was remotely serious about reaching new people.
There’s a feeling of disorder or decline in some churches. While many churches go through times of transition, that’s not what I mean. Does the church seem to have its priorities in hand? I’ve seen pretty small churches that were doing the basic things as well as they could, even without a pastor. I’ve seen larger and well-established churches that were not. New members aren’t eager to jump into chaos.
Does the pastor share his faith? Is he pushing that priority out through the membership by providing opportunities and training to share the gospel? It’s very basic, but it’s also something many churches find difficult. A visitor who believes his church should be evangelistic can tell pretty quickly if this is a priority.
I’d never join a church if I didn’t think I’d be put to work. I had a friend who was a trained chef. She was a humble lady, but she could cook! She wanted to help with Wednesday night meals at her church but found the hospitality committee “didn’t need any new person messing up the system they’d used for years.” However that story plays out in your church—committees, teaching, ushering—new members need a way in. I can’t imagine assimilating into a church if it didn’t need me to serve. God wouldn’t lead me to a church that doesn’t need what He has gifted me to do.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
A happy, prayerful, grateful fellowship of believers is an effective church. It’s never perfect or universal in joy, but a happy church is generally sweet, and it is led by loving people. I haven’t always done this, but I’d counsel that a person spends enough time in a church to determine if this is the sort of culture they are joining. Are these people who will lift you up in your walk with God?
We’ve joined churches as small as 50 and as large as 10,000, so my point should be applicable to your church. Finding out about the experience of those who visit your church could be as helpful as those surveys restaurants solicit after you visit them. It tells them if you intend to come back and why or why not. The work of your church and mine is even more important than Chick-Fil-A!
Are there some things you should consider to better reflect the important mission of your church as it is experienced by newcomers? Are you leading a church that you’d join if you had a choice?