Out with the old, in with the church’s new front door
Webster informs us that a door is “a moveable structure for opening or closing the entrance to a building or room … giving access … .” We know the Church is not a building, it is a Body of Believers. Yet, the Church has a front door. Like the door to a building or room, the front door of the Church is moveable, as evidenced by the way it has changed over the years. Let me explain.
When I began ministry as a pastor over 40 years ago, the front door of the Church was Sunday School. Most of the ones who joined the Church, first joined and participated in the Sunday School. In those days, Sunday School attendance was always larger than worship attendance. That used to give me an inferiority complex. It said to me, “People loved Sunday School, but couldn’t stand my preaching.” (A friend tried to help me with my inferiority complex saying, “Gary, it’s not a complex, maybe you are just inferior.” He didn’t help.)
A couple of decades later, I began to observe that the Church’s front door was no longer Sunday School, it became the worship service. Prospects no longer checked out the Sunday School first to sense the pulse of the Church. They field tested the Church through the worship experience. Worship attendance began to exceed Sunday School attendance. Was my preaching getting better? (I thought so until I overheard one member say, “Every sermon Gary preaches is better than the next.”) I expected new members to be connected to a Sunday School class when they joined, but to my surprise, they were not. So began the effort to move church members into Sunday School groups.
Like it or not, the Church has another front door in our day. No longer is the front door Sunday School or worship. Today, the front door to the Church is relationships. People first attend a church because someone they have a relationship with (at work, in the neighborhood, school, social setting, etc) invites them. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints began learning this several years ago. They tracked their visitation and conversion rates and discovered that they were seeing only one tenth of one percent become members. That’s one person out of a thousand. They tried a different philosophy and began to invite people into their homes and focused on building relationships with them. Their conversion rates rose astronomically with a 500 percent increase. Five hundred out of one thousand would convert to their church.
Relationships! If I had to sum the Bible up in one word, I would use the term “relationships.” God’s Word is all about relationships. Vertical relationships and horizontal relationships. Persons having a relationship with God, and persons having relationships with others. How natural it is. Once we have a relationship with God, we have the Divine capacity to develop productive relationships with others, as well as Divine commands mandating that we do (Matt. 28:19-20, John 13:34, John 20:21, etc.).
One of the greatest challenges facing the Church today is to learn how to establish and build relationships with unchurched people. Let me offer a practical suggestion. Develop friendships with the unchurched. Most of us realize that the longer we are Christians, the fewer unchurched people we know. Most of us knew and related to more unchurched people when we were first saved, than we did five years later. When I served as pastor of First Baptist Church, O’Fallon, I would encourage members at the welcome time of the worship service to “not just be friendly, but make friends.” Yes, people want others to be friendly, but, more than that, they desire to make and have friends.
I was thinking of this as Cindy and I left the hair salon recently. We began to build a friendship with the stylist over a year ago. We prayed for the friendship to grow, and for the opportunity to share Christ with her. A few haircuts ago, that opportunity came. We were the last ones in the salon. She had been very talkative. We felt the time was right. I began to share my testimony of coming to know Christ and what He means to me. I asked if anything like that had ever happened to her. Through tears, she said, “No.” I told her how it could, and she prayed with us that night to receive Christ. She didn’t have a Bible. We brought her one the next week with suggestions of where to read. She is no longer just a friend, she is now a sister in Christ.
Think of it: when you got up today, you walked out into a world surrounded by a sea of faces – some belonging to people you know, but most to people you don’t know. What if you made a habit of approaching each day with the ultimate goal of seeing how many of those people you could have at your side when you cross the finish line of this life and enter the presence of God for all eternity? It all begins with establishing a relationship. Once the relationship is there, they will be much more likely to accept your invitation to meet you at church as well as learn your relationship with Christ. Relationships! What a fabulous new door to Church. (Gary Taylor is the Missouri Baptist Convention’s director of evangelism.)