I was running recently on a route I’ve run many times, but I missed this sign until this particular run. It was too “good” not to stop and take a picture with my phone.
I saw the sign and the first word that popped in my head was “Closed”. As another sign I saw in a store window said recently (which I don’t completely understand) “Closed for Business”. (How can you be closed “for” business?)
None of us would intentionally place a sign like that on our church doors. “Closed for business”. I’m sure that’s not the intent this church has with this sign. Yet I’m certain that some of our practices serve the same purpose.
Over the years, Cheryl and I have visited dozens of churches. Whenever we travel we try to find a church. I’ve spoken at and consulted with a lot of churches. All types and sizes.
From personal experience — here are some ways you can place a closed sign to visitors on your church.
Only do “church” on Sunday. Don’t attempt to build community with people who attend — especially not with someone new to “the community”. Let people know by your actions — or lack of actions — that you’re comfortable with the people with you now and there is little room for new friendships. Don’t reach out to people you haven’t seen in a while. We recently visited a church, filled out a visitor card, and only placed our email and phone number on the card. Two months later we have yet to hear from anyone.
Don’t act like you’re happy to see people. Have no one greeting in the parking lots or at the doors. I once was the guest preacher at a church. Not one person greeted us in the church. I literally had to go find somebody to tell me when to preach. Not one other person besides the person I found ever spoke to us. I realize that’s the extreme but I wonder how many times visitors feel that same way in our own churches.
Confuse people. Display confusing signage or, better yet, none at all. And, don’t think about using people as guest hosts. I can’t tell you how many churches we have been to where it was very confusing which door to enter and where to go once we entered the door. At times, if I weren’t the speaker — as an introvert especially — I might have left. Just being honest. I have to be honest even more and say that was somewhat true of the church where I am pastor now. Hopefully we are making strides towards correcting that with signage and people.
Make it uncomfortable for visitors. If you really want a closed sign up, everyone should talk to the only people they know. It’s either that, or you could make visitors feel very conspicuous. Have them stand up maybe — or raise their hands — and keep them up until an usher comes by.
Have your own language. Use acronyms. Yes acronyms please. Just pretend like everyone already knows what you’re talking about. Don’t differentiate between VBS and vacation Bible school. Everyone knows that, right? And, use names during the announcements that no one knows but the regulars without any explanation of who they are.
Have closed groups. And don’t start any new ones. When any small group has been together more than a few years — with no new people entering the group — it’s a closed group. A new person coming in will not feel welcome. They won’t know the inside jokes. They don’t know the names of everyone’s children’s. They feel left out when personal conversation begins.
Beat people up without giving them hope. Be clearer about how bad they are than how great the Gospel is.
Those are a few of my suggestions. If you’re looking for a way to put up a closed sign.
I spent most of my adult life outside vocational ministry. I’m amazed at the opportunities God has given me in ministry, but in many ways I am still a newcomer. I have just over a dozen years in this career. It’s challenging in some ways, because I see things differently from some who have only done ministry, but it also gives me a unique perspective from some pastors. I sat “in the pew” far longer than I’ve stood “behind the pulpit”.
One thing my experience has done for me, especially since I’ve become a pastor, is to help me realize how much I didn’t understand about being a pastor. Like the feeling that work is never done. Like feeling you are never really “off”. Like knowing people are going to be upset with every decision you make — and balancing whether to move forward or give into their frustration. Like the pressure of “Sunday’s coming”. (Pastors — know that one?) Like carrying the weight of everyone, but sometimes feeling you’ve got no where to share your own struggles. Stuff like that.
The “fun” stuff I didn’t know prior to being in ministry. Plus, in the business world, we handled problems so differently from how they are typically handled in ministry. A lot faster sometimes.
I also spend a lot of time investing in other pastors. It fuels me personally. I’ve learned some of their challenges. Some of their concerns. Some of their wishes.
Along the way, I’ve learned some great lessons of what it takes to build a healthy church — many I didn’t previously understand — even though I was very active in the church. Things look different looking at the church from this perspective.
So, if I were ever on the other side again — and I was back “in the pew” — I’d change a few things about myself.
Here are 10 things I’d do differently if I weren’t a pastor today:
I’d make church attendance a priority. I’d build my week around the services of the church, knowing how vital every person is to the body. I’d understand what an encouragement it is to the pastor when people give the same priority to church that they give to other places in their life.
I’d love my pastor. I mean really love my pastor. Knowing how many expectations are placed on the pastor, I’d be among the group that’s always ready to help, but, recognizing he’s only one imperfect person, not one to get my feelings hurt if the pastor didn’t do everything I hoped he would.
I’d be a generous giver. Understanding that there are really a small number who financially support the work of the church, I’d be a Kingdom investor.
I’d be an ambassador for the church. I’d use my influence in the community and where I worked to bring people to church and Christ. I’d look for people I didn’t know on Sunday mornings and try to help them acclimate to the church.
If I had a problem with the pastor, I’d talk to the pastor. Not his wife. (That’s always a bad move.) Not other church members. Certainly not the community.
I’d try to get less upset about things that impact only me — that are mostly matters of personal preference.
I would pray bold prayers for the church. Daily.
I would support the pastor and his family. I would understand he couldn’t be everywhere, and never make him feel guilty for not being where I hoped he would be.
I would smile when he preaches. I’d give visual witness that I was paying attention. I might even say “Amen” when appropriate. Oh yea..definite amens.
I would serve where needed. In fact, I’d volunteer without being asked.
Pastors, anything you’d add to my list?
I’ve often heard people say you can’t measure discipleship. I don’t know if that’s true.
It is true that you can’t necessarily put a number or percentage on discipleship growth, but you can tell — over time — if it has happened or is happening.
Here are 10 indications a church is making disciples:
Those who have been in the church the longest complain the least. - Do everything without complaining or arguing. Philippians 2:14
The leaders of the church are most likely to give up “their” seats, park further from the building, or do whatever is necessary to help the Body. – The greatest among you must be a servant. Matthew 23:11
The church celebrates most when those far from faith come to faith. In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away! Luke 15:7
Members care that others needs are met more than their own. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. Philippians 2:4
The church is willing to make sacrifices to attract the lost – And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Acts 15:19
There is joy even during suffering – Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds. James 1:2
The teaching is a balance of truth and grace. Jesus came full of grace and truth. John 1:17
The financial needs of the church are funded, with people willingly sacrificing. No one begs for money. Each person should do as he has decided in his heart–not reluctantly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7
There are no petty disputes and grudges among the people of the church. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up. 1 Thessalonians 5:11
The church takes care of each other well. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. Acts 4:34
Let’s keep this going. These are a few that come to my mind. There are others. Prayer. Forgiveness. I’d love to post again — maybe “21 Indications a Church is Making Disciples”. Add one of your own in the comments. (And, give your Bible reference.) I may choose yours for my next post.