My nearly three-year-old found an ornament of a church on my nightstand and asked this probing question: "Why aren't the doors open?" At that moment I thought, "Perfect children's message! We should all be an "open door" for everyone to come to our church!"
But persistent related thoughts have kept me thinking. Thinking about the closed doors of communist countries -- closed to the gospel and the publication of Scripture. Thinking of Jesus in Revelation 3:20, "...standing at the door, to knock…"
I want to take this opportunity to talk about our church doors, both physically and metaphorically.
Have you been to a "modern" or a recently remodeled church? They have a clearly defined goal: to get visitors (guests) to the main "door." Where is that door?
Attendants in the parking lot are already waiting there to point people in the direction; to a large lobby that almost matches the size of an actual sanctuary space! It is through this "door" that everything about the church's priorities can be accessed: an information kiosk with hosts and computers, a large refreshments bar, a "can't-be-missed" entry-way to "kid's land," a place to access ministry resources, events, or even personal counseling. This is the door to social interaction and engagement.
I'm not criticizing this in anyway. It's now what our culture expects. We live in a "hospitality culture." The success of our coffee shops, the upgraded retail centers, and the 10-year mandatory remodeling of hotels is the order of the day.
In the 1940's & '50's, the rural church was not simply built with materials at a location -- it was also built in a culture! A culture where the community was family, and direct relatives dominated church rolls. Being in close spaces was comfortable for families because everyone knew everyone and they knew their way around.
But it's hard to fit into another family! Today's visitor would like "space" to learn, grow, and socialize with folks before they figure out if a new group of people "feels like family." They'd like an invitation! If we are going to be a successful ministry in a 1950's church building (and of course, this relates to any ministry; but we must work with what we have), we MUST DUPLICATE those things that make us a close knit and loving family. Of course, this opens doors to all kinds of related conversations:
- Who is responsible for developing this kind of "family?"
- How will "outsiders" know they are welcomed and wanted as "insiders?"
- What if today's culture wants more than just the nostalgia of the 1950's? (There's got to be SOME establishments rooted in the 50's that still exist today, right?)
- Are we capable of creating our own Christian, "family/church culture?"
Good News! The Christian Church was established nearly 2000 years ago, and the primary commitments are timeless: The gospel proclaimed, the sacraments administered, and the discipleship of her members as our commission.
But let's ask honest questions that are both theological and cultural. When people walk through our door, do they find a welcome mat or a deadbolt? How are conversations with visitors generated in our church? Do people politely acknowledge others and then quickly move to their favorite seat? Is there a place for people to gather to exchange a welcome, a thank you, or even find refreshments? How will someone who is new know how to take that next step to a second meeting? Do we have "teams" designated to greet, exchange information, and direct families to gatherings or ministry events? Is our website inviting, clear, functional, and updated? Do we have a "welcome packet?" Is there someone at every door to extend a welcoming smile (and did you know that there are literally 5 different doors by which people can access our buildings, but there are only 3 separate ways to gain access to our sanctuary)? Do we have greeters, or even a sign, at these entry ways?
Here are some other probing questions that speak to the long term health of our church:
Where are the newly married? Where are the young families? Where are the ministries being born out of our church? Where is our collaboration and interaction with our community? Who are the future missionaries and ministers? Is there a hunger for all things Biblical here, or are we promoting some other kind of "culture?"
If we were to recount the history of our church (and indeed any church), we would encounter a story of people who were infused with gospel enthusiasm to build a church for their community. I am not going to deny that the culture over a 150 years ago was very homogeneous and that most people knew their neighbors -- that was "small town America." But I don't believe that factor really made any difference in desiring to establish a gospel-station for our community! In those days, every parent served as a Sunday School teacher or youth adviser. In those days, children had their own choir, attended VBS, and were taught the catechism. In that day, (before some denominations started changing [hint: "liberalism"]), local churches shared in seasonal ministry events together. Choirs, men's softball leagues, Boy Scouts, fish fry's, Sunday evening services, and summer camps were a mainstay.
Who doesn't want these things to come back? But our older generations who lived through and remember these days are a tinge jaded and sadly have lost the energy to recapture those "good ol' days." Our younger generation has become so busy with non-church related pursuits, that they measure church-life according to "how-much-fun-will-I -have-because-everything-else-is-work" mentality. The combination of both generations leads to a disjointed discipleship model!
It would be easy to say, "Just remodel some of the buildings for a fix!" It's not a bad idea... all churches should have top-notch children's classrooms and childcare facilities! Most people today expect to access a building with a large open lobby that provides information, resources, and "space for socializing."
But the true remodeling must begin in our hearts and convictions -- and by making HONEST ASSESSMENTS about what our church is doing in this present culture. Do we still have the enthusiasm that our founders had in establishing and building a gospel preaching church? Will we realize that this will require more attention than simply listening to a children's sermon? It will also take more than simply adopting a "culture" of hospitality. We will need true spiritual zeal with Kingdom advancing wisdom to complete this task. I'm praying that others will join me in praying for, and providing some open doors! - km
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