“We tried that once and it didn’t work.”
“This is the way we’ve always done it.”
“That won’t work round here.”
Most church leaders at some stage in their ministry have heard such statements, particularly if they try to change anything.
One church leader told the story of when he arrived as pastor in his first church. On the first Sunday one of the members said to him, “These pews are uncomfortable – but we love ‘em!” A statement that spoke volumes – it said ‘hands off!’
Another church leader started moving the platform furniture about little by little. The communion table would move each Sunday, first this way and then that. A church member asked, “Why do you keep moving the furniture around?”
He replied, “I need to demonstrate that constant change is here to stay!”
If you are to engage with the community, your congregation will need to come to terms with the fact that it will be messy. Things will never be the same again.
Dary Northrop, senior pastor of Timberline Church in Colorado, told the story of a woman who came up to him one Sunday and said, “You are ruining our church, bringing all these bikers and such like here!”
Dary wisely replied: “I know; will you help me?” And she did.
The question is: how do you move a congregation’s thinking on so they are ready to welcome those you connect with?
This is a tough question which, in time, together, we might answer. The pointers from what we have learnt so far are:
Tell the stories of engagement – how churches and individuals are reaching out to those in their community. Tell the stories of churches that are like yours. (Some of those stories you will find elsewhere in the website). Tell your own stories; those from the church’s past and those from the church’s present.
Encourage your members publicly and regularly to tell their own stories. Care for the Family has built its speaking programme on sharing personal stories – honestly and openly. Such stories have great power.
Build an atmosphere of love where people who are different are welcomed. Show videos of such stories.
One church leader decided to take a huge risk and show the music video that accompanied Christina Aguilera’s song “You’re so beautiful…”. In the video, a punk is shunned on a bus; a puny adolescent stands looking at himself in the mirror lacking self-worth; a transvestite is dressing for a night out; a gay couple kiss.
Having warned the congregation that the content would shock, he asked them what their response would be to these people. The congregation admitted it would be to step back; to walk away politely.
He then asked what they thought Jesus’ response would be. An elderly man put up his hand and said: “He would move towards them while singing, ‘You’re beautiful to me’.”
You could have heard a pin drop. Then the church leader simply asked: “Will we be Jesus to those we meet?”
These suggestions may seem simple – that’s because they are. But often the biggest moves start with the smallest steps. If you have your own suggestions, then you can share them here.
People come to church for many reasons but they stay for only one -they feel loved.