Monday, July 5, 2010


When I am on vacation, I like to visit other churches for Sunday morning worship. This last week was no exception. I decided upon a church I had never heard of but one that looked contemporary. It was only 8 years old, but was already running four services on the weekend.

We had a difficult time finding the church, but finally arrived about 10 minutes late. Pulling into the parking lot we saw the "Visitor/Handicap Parking" area and parked there. We were greeted at the door and given a bulletin. The worship space was located immediately to the right of the nice, two-story lobby area complete with Welcome Center, Coffee Bar, and areas to sit and chat. The worship center was plain, blackened out ceiling, plush detachablbe chairs and at stage. The band was lead by a female worship leader.

I noticed that the congregation was not participating in the song. It was a new song to me so perhaps it was to them. However, the band slowed things down with a contemporized version of "Jesus Paid it All." The congregation sang very well on that song.

Next, the High School pastor led us in a time of communion. He pointed out that there were communion stations set up throughout the room and we were invited to get the elements, sit down and take them as we felt ready. While we were getting the elements the keyboard player and worship leader provided appropriate music.
I noticed that many people took this time seriosly. Many bowed their heads and were praying. After I took the elements, I looked at my son and noticed he was praying. I was very pleased to see how seriously he took communion.

Next the pastor preached. He preached a very traditional salvation message. There were no big skits, or video clips (although I am sure he uses those things). The message was very simple. I had a sermon insert but could not take notes. I didn't have a pen and there were no pins in the chairs. (They didn't have a place for pens or communion cups). So I listened.

At the invitation, he invited anyone who was willing to accept God's free gift of savlation to stand. Apparently someone did because he thanked them. Afterwards, he asked all of us to stand and we were dismissed. Those who made decisions were asked to come to the front and me with the pastor and get a packet.

All in all it was a good service. I am so used to being up front that it was refreshing and interesting to sit in the congregation. I tried to resist the temptation to critic and constantly prayed for God to open my heart. Of course, I knew the content of the message before he preached it (I guessed most of the blanks before he got to them!).

I think every Christ follower should take the opportunity of vacation to visit other churches. It is great to worship with God's people-even if you don't know any of them. It is encouraging to see that God is at work everywhere not just in your little corner of the world.

Monday, June 28, 2010

User Friendly Churches

Yesterday the following headline caught my eye:: "Church Tries to be More Inclusive: Church Changes Name, Removes Cross to be More Welcoming."The following is the link to the video about this church’s attempt to become more “user friendly:

The terms “seeker sensitive” or “user friendly” are often polarizing. Obviously, in the case of this church and many others, the term has come to symbolize a complete rejection of the symbols and message of Christianity in an effort to attract people.

This is seeker sensitive to the extreme and is not biblical. No matter how seeker sensitive a church becomes, the message of the cross will offend. Those who wish to remove the offense of the cross cease to be a Christian church and thus exist only as a organizational club that talks about God-in the most unoffensive way of course!

Personally, I am all for being seeker sensitive, but not at the expense of the cross of Christ. I believe that churches do need to be sensitive to seekers. After all, Sunday morning is the time when most people are likely to visit a church. How does one become sensitive to seekers?

1. Create attractive environments. Seekers notice things the average long-time attendee does not. When I refer to creating attractive environments I am referring to clean rooms, restrooms, uncluttered hallways, etc.

2. Create inviting environments. By this I am refereeing to the attitudes of the teachers, greeters, and other personnel. The experience for a seeker begins in the parking lot; therefore, it is imperative that there be designated guest parking areas, friendly greeters at the doors, and informative welcome center, and appropriate signage. When they enter in to the worship area, they should be greeted with good pre service music, etc. When they good to a classroom, they should be greeted by a friendly teacher.

3. Acknowledge their presence. In the old days, guests were often asked to stand or remain seated while everyone else stood. I don’t recommend this method. I’ve been a guest in a church that did that and it was embarrassing! What I mean by acknowledging their presence is in the preaching side of the service. The pastor should provide them with direction in finding a passage. For example, “Please turn to 2 Peter 1. Now if you go to the last book of the Bible called ‘Revelation’ turn left slowly and you’ll run into 2 Peter. If you hit 1 Peter you’ve gone too far.” Also, the pastor should acknowledge a seeker’s doubts. For instance, if preaching on Jonah, the pastor should explain why he believes this is a true story, but he understands that some in the audience may be unsure. However, the issue is not to debate the historicity of whether Jonah got swallowed by a big fish, but to show the main point of the sermon (e.g., what happens when you run from God.). Don’t get me wrong, I believe the story of Jonah and would explain why, but the bigger issue is running from God. Seekers can identify with that topic! In other words, don’t create obstacles that the seeker has to navigate before they can get to the message.

4. Provide steps. Let the seekers know what they need to do. For example, announce a connection class or membership class as the next step. In this class one can explain the next steps (e.g. getting connected into a small group, etc)

Here are a few warnings regarding being seeker sensitive.
1. Do not water-down the truth of God’s Word. I may surprise you to find that seekers want the truth. They may not always like the truth, but they are there because they want to know the truth

2. Do not run from the cross. . The message should always lead back to the cross of Christ. Somewhere in the message, the Gospel should be presented. It doesn’t always have to be full-blown Gospel message, but somehow the connection to the cross should be made. The seeker needs to understand that the answers are ultimately found in Christ.

3. Do not slam people. This one is has been difficult for me because I grew up in a culture that thrived on slamming political leaders, religious liberals, etc. While one may feel the attacks are justified, to the seeker this sounds cold, harsh and mean. Again, one doesn’t have to put down others to make a point. One may show the fallacy of their ideals, but attacking individuals simply reinforces the seeker’s belief that the church is unloving and unkind.

I’m for being seeker sensitive but never at the expense of the cross.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Churches are known for their programs. The temptation is to think that the more programs a church has, the more spiritual it is. Furthermore, the sentiment is often that one cannot discontinue a program. After all, God never takes a break! Church

To discontinue a program or take a hiatus is an indication that one doesn't love God. For many people church programs are like government subsidies: once you start it is almost impossible to stop!

Unfortunately, this mindset cripples and hinders and church's effectiveness in several ways:

1. Leaders get burned out. Leaders are people too who need to refuel and regroup. When they are constantly expected to produce, they can slide into mediocrity at best or burnout at worse.

2. Momentum decreases. When a program becomes nothing more than a "have to" issue, people lose excitement.

3. Creativity decreases. This goes along with the leader's slide towards mediocrity. It is especially true if the leader senses a loss of momentum and, consequently, participation.

4. Loss of purpose. After years of a non-stop program, people forget why they have the program. Consequently, there is a loss of priority on the part of the people (and leader too.)

I am sure that there are other reasons, but these are a few that I can think of quickly. What is amazing is the number of people who insist that such programs continue despite the obvious fact that they are dying or dead!

God has given us an obvious lesson in His creation that we too often ignore. Every year most of us experience four distinct seasons: Spring, Summer, Winter and Fall. We look forward to Spring after a long, cold winter. We can't wait until summer because we can get out on the lake or go to the ocean. If it were summer all the time, these things would loose their importance and excitement. Personally, I am glad that God didn't say "Everyone should learn to live in a world where it is winter all the time"!

I have come to believe that it is no different in the church. Programs have cycles-they even have life cycles. When we give our leaders, workers and even attendees a break, the results are rest, revitalization and an opportunity to regroup.

I am sure that some don't think programs should discontinue because they are afraid they will not restart. If one is afraid a program cannot get restarted, then one must ask if the program is even worth having!

I look forward to summer because we slow down at the church. Personally, I need the break. Yes, I still preach on Sunday mornings, but we take a break from our Sunday night programs and most Wednesday night activities. Personally, this allows me to regroup, refocus and rest so that I am prepared to restart again in the fall. I have found that a season of rest and planning can result in a restart with momentum built in. People are ready to get back. Winter is over and summer is here!