Sunday, 21 April 2013

Church - Arrivals and Departures

This week I was blessed by some people who were keen to see their church grow and one of the issues that caused some pain was the comings and goings, and oddly despite the pain of caused by loss, it was the gain that brought forth challenges and questions.

'How do we get new people in? . . . How do we get them to stay?' . . . How do we get them to become disciples? . . . How we make it so they don't feel uncomfortable when we stand, sit, kneel or do other stuff? . . . what does this mean for those who want to maintain a traditional church rather than all these 'seeker friendly' things?''

And on the questions went on, and the pain, frustration, fear and feelings of pressure was obvious and, to be honest, rather challenging (for me too!). Here are a few thoughts on the question which may (or perhaps not) be helpful:

Bringing them in
One of the problems is that so many churches, congregations and fellowships have this amazing idea that people will just come in because they are there. If only this was true; but at least some of those asking the questions were under the impression that they needed 'bringing in'.

Roll up, roll us, come and see the show
Another problem is that some put on 'Seeker Services' which have the very best in preaching, welcome, music, refreshments and the like; then having hooked them (or so they think) abysmal service is restored. Do this and you'll not only lose them the next week but you will have an almost impossible task to bring them back again (once bitten - twice shy). And regardless of the 'God will bring them in' words, God might but we can chase them away too!

Keep it honest
If your services are pants then change them! If you make them attractive, efficient, enjoyable, then the current members will be happier (well I know I would have been in some churches I have been in had they done this) and what's on offer will be winsome and appealing too (just don't ditch liturgy, theology or practice to do it ;-)  ).

Getting them to stay
Simple really, make them feel at home and engaged with. If you are someone who wants choir, organ and the like then you're probably not going to stay in a heavy metal church and vv. But, if you can endure the music and the preaching and service and people are not off-putting then you're 40% of the way in! (10% knowing of the church, 10% being invited to a service, 10% for finding you liked the people and what went on another 10% and the final 10% for not feeling:
i. pressured
ii. ignored
iii. conned

How do they becomes disciples
Here's a tough one (for many) because the answer is that we become disciples and model it for the new people. The real sadness is that so many want newcomers to become what the existing members aren't (and if by some chance they do, they often get jealous of the 'zealots') without being committed themselves. Well they often are committed, but to their roles, positions, opportunities and the like - and guard them fiercely. Bring them in - work with them - encourage them - show them what being part of the body is by being it!

But we're traditional
And that's not a problem, after all, that's what the church was for years. In fact some have a problem with the worship band, happy clappy, exuberant styles and feel more comfortable with 'proper church'. That said, King James Version and too much of the Thees, Thous and God knowest stuff and you'll queer the pitch somewhat!

And we're Rad man!
Great, you can bleed the air our of our radiators (you do have a rad' key don't you?).

Seriously - bleeding edge church can be great but dumbing down, amplifying up and the like doesn't make it  relevant, and that's the key. Meeting people where they are not where you want them to be. Contemporary worship and an end to liturgy isn't the answer, because at the end of the day there's still the sacred and sacramental to be dealt with (isn't there?)

Stand, Sit, Kneel (fetch?)
Not a problem - you say, 'We stand to . . .' or, 'We sit (or kneel) to  . . .'
If you tell people what you're doing then, generally, they do it.

This is something that clergy encounter all the time when they arrive at the crematorium or church for funerals, weddings and baptisms. Even if the rest of Christendom thinks it's weird, as long as the people in service are happy and know what they are doing (why helps as well!) - crack on and enjoy relaxed and informed people.

The key to it all is for us to put ourselves in the newcomer's place and engage in some critical questioning narrative  - here's a few for starters:

How would I feel about what's happening if I were a newcomer?
Why should I come in?
Why should I come back?
How do I fit in to the place, people and stuff?
What does it all mean?
Where do I sit?
When do I do stuff (and why)?
Who's here to help me?

(Make up your own)


Anonymous said...

Am I the only one to have actually felt a sense of relief at the leaving of some church members?

Where we are we have many visitors but none stay. The congregation often feel put down by this because "no one wants them". Some who have left lately wanted things to be done their way and were a really negative influence and did little other than what they wanted. Lots of views but nothing positive or supportive to the clergy team or the work of the church. Think there was a bit of a silent cheer when they finally blessed us by leaving to be some one else's worst nightmare.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

From conversations with others (ministers and members alike) I have to say that I would suspect that there are many who have breathed a sigh of relief at the departure of some.

I'm always sad to see people leave but realise that (generally) people do have to move on at times because their journey with Christ demands it.

As for keeping them - we have had three 'mystery worshipper' visits (in as many years) and although we've been well received by them, there are always things to be done to make the experience better and more engaged (and engaging too).

Being is a small church, the variable attendance and comings and goings can make the whole experience (for all involved) quite challenging too.

Thanks for the comments