What makes a church desirable? Is it new carpet, the sound system, its location, or potlucks? As a church growth consultant, I have often brought in “outsiders” to evaluate churches. Usually the leadership of the church rates their church higher than visitors do. Programs are only as good as the congregation’s attitude. Is your church a five-star church or a halfstar church? Here are a few ways to evaluate your church.
When a person goes to church, he or she is looking for God.
People are searching for something bigger than themselves to give
them hope in their lives. When people walk into a church, they know
within minutes whether or not God is present. If you were to hire a
reporter to come into your church today and rate his or her experience,
what do you think the outcome would be? People sense God’s
presence in a praying church. The more you and your congregation
pray, the more you feel God’s presence and grace. Is your church
saturated with prayer and the presence of God?
Focus on people
Some churches are self-centered, and some are others-centered.
It’s not hard to tell the difference. A friend recently entered a
church lobby on a Sabbath morning. The people were talking and
laughing and having a good time. They liked their church, but they
never noticed the visitor. After a few minutes of uncomfortable invisibility,
she proceeded to the worship center, where she sat alone in a
pew for 10 minutes. Finally, an older lady sat and talked with her. The
older lady also was new. By contrast, an others-centered church is
immediately interested in new people, what they need, and how the
church can help. Such churches have a customized approach that
changes for every person.
What is the focus of your church? Is it self-centered or does it
love others? How intentional are you about meeting people’s spiritual,
emotional, and physical needs? If your church were taken out
of your community today, would anyone notice?
How often in your worship service or Sabbath school do you
use churchy or denominational terminologies that confuse new
people? What does this say about your church and its ability to
communicate to your community? What do people hear when you
speak? Church vocabulary may mean something different outside
the church walls and may confuse guests.
One day I decided to take an unchurched friend to church with
me. Because I was visiting in town, we chose a church I had never
attended. During the entire service, my friend was asking questions
like “What does ‘investment’ mean?” “Why would I want to fall on
‘the rock’?” “How does a lamb’s blood cleanse me?” “What is revival?”
He had never been to church, and it was eye-opening to realize how disconnected this church was from the visitor. Healthy
churches tend to speak in terms that everyone can understand.
Does your congregation look the same? If a young person
walked into your church today, would he or she feel welcome or out
of place? How diverse is your congregation? Is there diversity or will
people find uniformity in race, age, and attire?
Recently I was talking to my assistant about her experiences
with church. She is a seminary student, and her parents are known
in the denomination; however, her appearance is not that of a typical
pastor. She shared with me that when she first walks into a church,
she can tell that the members are silently judging her. As soon as
they find out what she is studying or who her parents are, everything
changes, and suddenly she has lunch invitations and friends.
How do you treat people who look different? How intentional
are you about reaching out to all ages, races, and types of people?
The church that wants to be integrated may have a challenge
getting started; however, it is amazing how even the smallest symbols
can make an impact. Seeing one person who looks and dresses
“like me” can communicate an open and inviting atmosphere.
Harmony does not mean that everyone agrees with everything.
Rather, it is about how your church feels. When a new person or
even a regular attendee walks into the building, does it feel like a
healthy and safe place to be or is there tension in the air? How does
your church handle problems? A healthy church is not problem-free,
but it knows how to handle its problems. Are questions asked and
answers given with defensiveness or love?
One day a man told me that he and his family had decided to join
my church; he said he wanted to join because he felt “love in the air”
and “safe” in the church. He also said that he was so glad to have
finally found a home where he could communicate with people on
an honest level without feeling judged or condemned.
How accessible are you physically and emotionally to your
community? Most people who come to church feel beaten up Sunday
through Friday; they are not looking for another beating on Sabbath.
They come to church for healing and hope. They want to hear
the good news of Jesus Christ. They want to be told that God is
there, that God has not forgotten them, and that God will bless them.
The church that truly believes and lives that message is the church
that breathes spiritually healthy air.
S. Joseph Kidder is a professor of church growth and leadership
at the Andrews University Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary
in Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA.