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How Does A Church Survive When Big Givers Leave?.

Church Matters


Editor’s Note: Pastor Roger Barrier’s “Ask Roger” column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at

Dear Roger,

I am the pastor of a 100 member adult church and I was informed today that my largest giving family will no longer be with us. This family represented 15% of the total giving and their departure comes after the church has approved a 2014 budget. (In hindsight, we should have probably set our budget absent their giving in case such a reality occurred). Still, faced with such a financial challenge, where would you begin to make adjustments? In other words, what are the essential functions and obligations any church must meet to retain integrity through the difficult process of financial re-alignment? Thanks always for your wisdom and consideration.


Dear Kent,

Big hit! Really hurts! Crisis moment! I am so sorry for you and for the church. I have experienced this. It is traumatic, isn’t it?

When our church was small, we were debt free except for a $54,000 loan extended to the church by one of the “rich” members for a building project. The “deal” was brokered by my predecessor in conjunction with the church leaders.

I learned that several times over the years my pastoral predecessor (and others) suggested to the “rich” person that he go ahead and forgive the loan since he intended never to call for the loan to be paid. He refused; but each time, he renewed his promise.

No one bothered to tell me about the loan when I accepted the call to be their pastor.

Several years later the chairman of deacons said to me, “I have good news and bad news.”

“Give me the good news first.”

The good news is that Mr. Rich Christian promised that he would never recall the loan.”

“The bad news is that he just asked us to send him the $54,000. His daughter’s entering college and he needs the money.”

Unfortunately, we didn’t have the money.

Here are some thoughts on what to do and principles to follow as shared from my experience.

1. Take care of “home base” first. “Home Base” is the central core you cannot afford to lose. This includes the pastor’s salary, worship team, small group coordinator (if you have one) and any paid nursery staff. Everything is on the “chopping block”. If you lose “home base” you will lose the church. In other words, cut whatever is not absolutely necessary.

2. Call together the church leaders and share the problem with them and with the entire church. This is not the time to get squeamish about raising money. Make it clear what has happened and that the church is worth saving (or making up the difference needed in the budget).

3. Rearrange the budget as necessary.

4. Arrange for comprehensive prayer meetings. The church needs prayer. Get as many people to attend as possible. People who come to pray will tend to be encouraged and/or give more money to help to solve the problem.

5. I made a decision to preach regularly on giving. The average church member gives less than 2% of their income to the Lord. Talk about sin–and waste. I built my sermons around six Biblical foundation stones that I call “Biblical Economics”:

(1) Pay God His tithe right “off the top.”

(2) Pay Taxes to the government.

(3) Keep a positive cash flow. Pay off your credit card bill in full each month. The first month you cannot do that–or don’t want to–you are heading toward financial crisis.

(4) Be out of debt for depreciating items.

(5) Save 10 to 15 percent for emergencies and long-term needs–like retirement.

(6) Following good Biblical Economic will result in a surplus so we can give generously to others in need.

Over the years, Kent, our giving increased dramatically. But, unfortunately, most American Christians look at these principles and immediately refute them as impossible “pie in the sky” demands. This is because the average family overspends their income by 4% every year and the debts keep mounting.

6. Every crisis time is reevaluation time. Take time with you church leaders to decide carefully the unique mission of your church. Perhaps it is time to change the question mostpastors ask. Instead of asking “how are we going to get people back to our church”… ask… “How are we going to get our church back to the people?” Figure out how to get there.

Our $54,000 debt problem led to a debt free church and enhanced economic freedom for our entire congregation.

Kent, I am sorry for the difficulties you are experiencing. I will pray for God to lead you as you lead your people through solving this financial problem.

Love, Roger

Ask RogerDr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work isGot Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answerfrom Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.

5 Mistakes We Make in Our Sermons.

There are a multitude of mistakes that can be made in the delivery of a sermon. We can proof-text an idea or completely miss the point of a passage altogether. For the purpose of this post, I will not address the content of your expository work. Instead, I want to address the stuff that surrounds it and can help people hear the core of your message better. Here are five mistakes that we make and some encouragement about how to fix them.

1. Not preparing the introduction. A common mistake is to craft a great message and a great conclusion but stumble to get it all started. Oftentimes, we want to leave room to transition the congregation from the worship music we’ve been singing into the sermon. It is a good idea, so work with your worship leader to plan it out. Many of us have a standard opening that the church is accustomed to hearing and that works as well. Whatever is your comfort level, plan out something so that you are not fumbling with notes and searching for a transition in the moment.

2. Poorly planned illustrations. An illustration is only as great as its delivery. We’ve all found a great story or illustration, thought about it for a few moments, and written it into our notes. The problem is that we never thought about it again until the moment it needed to be said out loud in the sermon. With every illustration, you need to practice the delivery. Illustrations normally have a pivot point where you take people from the illustration to how it helps them apply the scriptural truth to their lives. Make sure you verbally work your way through it in your preparation.

3. Allowing your voice to fry. Recently, I had my voice go out on me about two-thirds of the way through my sermon. It is awful. I felt it coming on, and there was nothing I could do about it. But there is a way around it. Warm up your voice before the service. Don’t strain your voice while singing. And, for me, a significant key is to begin my message with a conversational tone. Whenever I start out with an uptight, overly-excitable, on-the-verge-of-shouting tone, then my voice is not going to make it. So… calm down.

4. Uh. Well. You see. If filler words and phrases are not the lowest form of communication, then they are in a close second to grunting. As you review your messages (and you should review the audio of them each week), discover why you tend to use filler sounds like uh, umm, and well. Make sure you mentally prepare for the transitions between points so you are not forced to make a grunt while searching for a transitional statement. It will also help if you will limit the number of last-minute edits you make to your notes. If you will finalize your notes in time to do a verbal run-through during the week, it will limit your filler words. Finally, don’t be afraid of a moment of silence. You don’t want it to be awkward, but there is also no need to create a continuous onslaught of sound with no audio break for the entire message.

5. Asking insulting rhetorical questions. Any time a speaker says “Do you hear what I’m saying?” or “Do you understand what I mean?” then the fault is most likely with the speaker. Of course they hear you. You’re standing right there talking. Of course they understand what you are saying. They are reasonably intelligent people. As speakers, we normally use such phrases when we are not getting the feedback we’re hoping to receive. It is more of a sign of insecurity than anything. To counteract it, plan out your statements and rhetorical questions that will draw the church into discovery rather than push them toward a defensive posture.

I am sure that there are many of verbal miscues that we make while delivering our messages. As I stated earlier, take time to listen to your messages each week. If your church does not record them, then use an app on your smart phone or a digital recorder. Preaching is a sacred and spiritual endeavor but that does not limit us from being disciplined in honing our craft.

by Philip Nation

This article was used with permission from


Two Very Different Ways to Treat Sinners.

Paul Tautges

There are basically two different ways we treat fellow sinners. We either act like self-appointed judges who, like the Pharisees, act out of our supposed self-righteousness, or we act like needy sinners who never step very far away from the cross and, therefore, like Jesus (who, unlike us, was not a sinner at all!), are quick to dispense grace and forgiveness. To summarize it another way, we either live by the letter of the law, which kills the soul, or we live by the Spirit, which gives life (2 Cor 3:6).

These two approaches are what we see in massive contrast in John’s account of the woman caught in adultery. The contrast is startling. Please stop here. Take two minutes to read John 8:1-11 before proceeding.

In John’s example of the redeeming love and grace of Jesus we see the difference between treating people according to the letter of the law and treating them according to the Spirit. Here we see pompous leaders, who long to squash a sinful woman like a bug, contrasted alongside a Savior whose abundant grace pursues and ultimately restores her.

How a Self-Righteous Pharisee Treats Sinners

The scribes and the Pharisees, the self-righteous religionists, drew public attention to the woman’s sin in order to bolster their own reputation as spiritual experts of the law. Their accusation, though true, was for the purpose of trapping Jesus. However, in order to do so they used the woman’s humiliation, public shame, and condemnation for their own self-serving purposes, not for the nurture and care of her broken soul. In short, these spiritual leaders thought first of judgment, but never of mercy, grace, or restorative love.

But something unexpected happened. Jesus turned the tables on the “punishers” and they were caught in their own trap just as passages like Psalm 7:15-16 predict.

How a Grace-Dispensing Savior Treats Sinners

When Jesus effectively turned the focus of the self-righteous leaders to their own guiltiness before God (that they too deserved death as violators of God’s law), they lost the grounds for their accusation and judgment of her. Jesus, on the other hand, pursued the sinner with grace—the kind of grace that first forgives and receives before instructing to live in holiness and obedience to God (2 Cor 5:15).

When sinners are treated according to the letter of the law the soul is killed and any attempt at restoration fails miserably. However, when sinners are treated with the redeeming grace of God then the Spirit gives life as He grants the twin gifts of repentance and faith and the subsequent ability to heed the call to “go and sin no more.”

Which of these two approaches describes us? Are we like the scribes and Pharisees who were quick to pronounce judgment on others and rid their life of offensive sinners who were beneath them? Or are we like Jesus who—without lowering God’s standard of holiness—reached out to sinners with patient grace? Have we forgotten that the ground is level at the foot of the cross? Do we recognize that no matter how long we’ve been a Christian we will never get to the point where we will have the “right” to condemn another? Are we daily conscious of the reality that there is only one who has the power to condemn and that it is not you or me? (Rom 8:34).

Let’s get honest with ourselves. How do we treat fellow sinners, really?

Can We Build the Church By Being Against the Church?.

Church Matters


It’s hard to read a Christian book or blog post or to hear a sermon without hearing some overt or implied criticism of some part of the evangelical Church as a whole. That’s not even counting the Twitter feeds of Christians.

I’m reading a terrific book right on the centrality of the gospel by one of my favorite author/preacher/bloggers. It’s a book that is both challenging me and inspiring me. But even this favorite author can’t resist the easy stereotype of “most churches” or “most Christians” or “The Church is …” It seems nearly impossible for us to build up our ministries without having to use another expression of Christian ministry as a foil.

I know this because I do this myself. In my forthcoming book, I spend a considerable time pushing back against the pressure to be perfect among 2nd-generation kids. I felt (and still feel) it was a legitimate criticism. And yet I wonder at our motives. Are we genuinely concerned about the perceived blind spot in this generation’s evangelical movement or are we simply trying to provoke so as to build our own tribes? Are we being truly prophetic or are we trying to position ourselves as more pure than our ministry brothers?

These are questions worth asking ourselves, I think. Now please understand that this is not a plea for squishy, doctrine-free tolerance. I loathe the progressive movements that advocate tolerance for everyone except those whose beliefs they despise. Doctrine is important. Warning our flock about the dangers of aberrant theology is vital for their spiritual lives.

But we could all do better at examining our motives and check our facts. Scoring cheap points in a message or blog post or book based on broad stereotypes of the Body of Christ is both intellectually lazy and it’s an insult to the Bride Christ loves.

I want to be faithful in shepherding my flock, which includes speaking the truth about what’s false. But I don’t want to build my ministry on the foundation of someone else’s failures (perceived or real). Let’s build our ministries on the unchanging Word of God as our source, on the radical nature of the gospel message. And let’s remember that we ourselves are fallible, flawed messengers easily prone to our own errors of judgment.

Every Leader Needs a God-Sized Ambition.

Rick Warren

Rick Warren

Many leaders never achieve the level of influence they could potentially have because they drift through life on autopilot, maintaining the status quo, without a big ambition. They have no master plan, no big purpose, no dreams pulling them along. But if you’re going to be a great leader, you need to dream great dreams.

When you stop dreaming, you start dying. If you have no goals, you have no growth. God put in your mind the ability to think great thoughts and dream great dreams and have great visions. When you’re stretching and growing and developing, you’re a healthy human being. We grow by being stretched. We grow by facing new challenges. In fact, I would say that if you’re not facing any challenges right now, you need to go find one quick.

There are three common misconceptions that keep people from having a great ambition in life, and these are especially prevalent among pastors and Christian leaders.

We Confuse Humility and Fear

God wants you to be humble, but He does not want you to be fearful. And fear will prevent you from accomplishing meaningful things. Every leader is unique, with an individual makeup of spiritual gifts, passions, abilities, a unique personality and unique experiences. And God’s desire for how a leader will influence the world around them is closely tied to that uniqueness. But however God has uniquely shaped you, you need to desire all the influence He will grant you in your leadership so that you can make as large an impact as possible for the kingdom’s sake.

Humility is not assuming that I can’t be a great leader and have a meaningful impact. That’s fear. And fear will strip us of our ability to do great, world-changing things. Humility is rightly understanding my identity as I am defined by my Creator and my relationship to Jesus. While fear holds us back, genuine humility propels us forward because we believe that we serve a really big God!

We Confuse Contentment With Laziness

In Philippians 4:12, Paul says, “I have learned to be content in every situation.” But that does not mean I don’t have any ambition, that I never set any goals. Many leaders believe that because of this verse, they should never have any goals for their church but should be content with wherever it is. Paul was not saying, “I don’t have any desires about tomorrow. I don’t hope for the future. I don’t have any ambitions.”

As a pastor, you need to learn to be happy while your church is at its current stage of growth. There’s a misconception that says, “Once my church has 300 members (or 500, 2,000, or some other number), then I’ll be happy.” No, you won’t. If you can’t find joy in the place where God has you right now, you won’t be happy as it continues to grow because you’ll always fall into the trap of “when and then” thinking—“When I get such and such, then I’ll be happy.”

On the other hand, if everybody used contentment as an excuse for laziness, who would work intentionally to build churches that reach people? Who would care about world hunger? Who would fight for justice and equality? We cannot confuse contentment and laziness.

We Confuse Little Thinking With Spirituality

Some people use God as an excuse, and Satan is an expert at getting us to think small. There’s the old myth that quality is the opposite of quantity. Actually, they’re both important. In a ministry, you want to reach as many people for Christ as possible, and you want them to grow as deeply as possible.

Don’t confuse little thinking with spirituality. I encourage you in your prayer life to start saying, “God, enlarge my impact.” We who serve a great God should have great expectations of what God can and wants to do in, around and through a surrendered leader.

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America’s largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times best-seller The Purpose Driven Life. His book The Purpose Driven Church was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of, a global Internet community for pastors.

For the original article, visit

Written by Rick Warren

7 Lies Pastors Tend to Believe.

What lies has Satan tried to deceive you with lately?

What lies has Satan tried to deceive you with lately? (Lightstock)

My heart is for the pastor. Maybe it stems from the fact that I spent so many years as a layperson, a deacon and Sunday school teacher and, now, as a pastor.

I realize now how much I didn’t understand about the position. The role has a lot more expectations and pressures than I previously imagined. I always loved and supported the pastor, but looking back, I wish I had been an even better pastor’s friend.

One of the other realities, and it’s rather sobering to me, is how isolated many pastors feel from people in their congregation. Isolation almost always seems to lead to a misunderstanding of reality.

In essence—and here’s the problem and purpose of this post, if we aren’t careful—we can begin to believe lies about ourselves or our ministries. (That even seems to have biblical precedence—believing lies got us into trouble from the beginning.)

Here are seven lies we often believe as pastors:

1. “I’ve got this.” The enemy loves it when we begin to think we have completely figured out life or ministry. He loves us to place total confidence in ourselves. Self-confidence, if unchecked, can lead to arrogance, a sense of superiority and a lack of dependence on God.

2. “That didn’t hurt.” Sometimes we pretend what the person said or did to us doesn’t hurt. We can even spiritualize it because we wear the “armor of God.” In reality, most pastors I know (this one included) have tender feelings at times—some days more than others. We are human. Maturity helps us process things faster, but we never outgrow a certain vulnerability when working with people.

3. “I’m above that.” If a pastor ever thinks, “That’s too small for me to be concerned about,” watch for the fireworks to begin. The devil will see some points he can put on the board. Equally dangerous, when we as pastors believe we are above temptation of any kind, we have the devil’s full attention.

4. “I’m in control.” It would be easy to dismiss this one with a strong spiritual response. Of course, Jesus is in control. Hopefully every Bible-believing pastor reading this “Amens” that truth. But how many times do we believe we have more authority than we really do—or should? Danger.

5. “I’m growing this church.” We must be careful not to take credit for what only God can do. I can’t imagine God would let this lie continue long without equally letting us “believe” (and experience) that we are responsible for declining this church.

6. “If I don’t do this, no one will.” We stifle the spiritual growth of others when we fail to let them use their spiritual gifts. Additionally, we deny the hand and foot their individual roles within the body. And, sadly, we often burn out ourselves and our family.

7. “I’ve got to protect my people.” I once had a pastor say he couldn’t allow “his” people to believe God still speaks to people today, other than through His Word, because there are too many “strange voices” out there. There are, and I believe the Bible is the main source of His communication, but God still speaks. If He doesn’t, let’s quit suggesting people pray about how much God wants them to give to the building fund.

When we try to protect “our” people by keeping them from His provision, we make them our people and keep them from fully understanding they are really His children. Let us instead teach them how to know God more intimately and discern His direction. His sheep know His voice.

I’m sure there are many other lies we can fall prey to as pastors. Exposing them can help us from being distracted by them and allow us to call on His strength to overcome them. Trading prayers for pastors as I type this post.

What other lies have you seen pastors believe?

Ron Edmondson is a church planter and pastor with a heart for strategy, leadership and marketing, especially geared toward developing churches and growing and improving the kingdom of God.

For the original article, visit

Written by Ron Edmondson

7 Ways to Gauge the Effectiveness of Your Local Church.

Men's discipleship

Does your church have a discipleship program? (Lightstock)

Often evangelical leaders are under the false assumption a local church is doing well because they have good Sunday attendance, receive large amounts in tithes and offerings, and offer a plethora of programs for their church family. All these things are fine and important if done as part of a larger biblical context.

Other important elements need to be part of the life of a local church in order for it to be an effective church.

The following are some of the biblical essentials needed to be an effective church:

1. The church must be a disciple-making church. Jesus never told us to merely win new converts but to make disciples of all the nations (Matt. 28:19).

Years ago, we believers thought our main job was just to hand out gospel tracts and/or witness. Many people prayed the sinner’s prayer, but very few converted. An effective church not only draws crowds and has multiple decisions for Christ; it is, above all, a church that matures new converts into disciples. A disciple is a committed follower of Christ who also practices the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading, prayer, commitment to a local church, sharing their faith, and volunteering to serve both church and community.

True disciples also disciple other people. When a local church has as little as a handful of such people, the results can be powerful! I have heard of some megachurches with several thousand Sunday attendees who barely have 100 people serving in the ministry.

Their percentage of volunteers is less than 10 percent of the congregation!

On the other hand, the effective church celebrates a culture of serving, giving, witnessing and spiritual formation so the majority of the congregation gravitates to this spiritual vortex and become disciples of Christ. We have too many Christians (a word only used twice in the New Testament) and not enough believers (an action word) or disciples (a committed student/follower of Christ).

2. The church must produce leaders. Every local church has a mandate to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:11-12). These saints are to grow in their redemptive gifts (Rom. 12:4-8) and spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:4-11) and express their faith in love (1 Cor. 13:1-8), building their lives upon the foundation of Christ (1 Cor. 3:10-15). People like these usually rise to the top and become servant leaders of the flock.

3. The church must send out leaders to plant other churches and ministries. Many of those mentioned in the previous point become elders and deacons, and some eventually become fivefold ministers who are sent out of their church (Acts 13:1-2). Hence, an effective local church is not merely one that brings souls into the church but also sends many out of the church to multiply churches and transform culture.

A church that is not sending out its best leaders is a church that is inwardly focused and can eventually become a swamp that stinks! Only as the church functions like a river that feeds (sends people) into the larger ocean of humanity will it remain healthy and life-giving. A church that is not a sending church will frustrate emerging leaders and/or discourage potential leaders from maximizing their potential.

4. The church must empower marketplace leaders. Church leaders are called to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, which, according to Ephesians 4:10-12, has to do with sending people out to fill the earth with the glory of God. This goes along with the cultural mandate of Genesis 1:28, in which God called His followers to influence all of culture.

In order to influence all of culture, we need to equip and send out marketplace leaders to serve communities and build nations. The church that only emphasizes Sunday ministry or ministry within the four walls of the church is probably espousing a church culture in which only the professional clergy are honored and expected to minister.

No matter how large these walled-in churches grow, the surrounding community is not positively affected.

5. The church should have community influence. Jesus called the church to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matt. 5:13-16) and taught us to pray for His kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven (Matt 6:6-9). That being said, our primary mission field is the earth, not the church! Our primary mandate is cultural influence (Gen. 1:28). Jesus told the church to disciple whole nations, not just individual converts (Matt. 28:19).

The most effective churches are those in which the senior pastor is also the shepherd of its community and in which the congregation is encouraged to let their lights shine before (lost) people and help transform the community by loving it and serving it.

6. The church should have a multiplicity of ministries instead of being a one-man show. I have been in many churches where the senior pastor is not only the primary preacher, but also “the chief cook and bottle washer”! An effective church is one in which the senior pastor focuses on what he does best and delegates the rest. (If someone can do a job 80 percent as good as you, then let them do the job while you coach them.)

Senior pastors of effective churches develop effective teams in which to process key leadership decisions and disseminate ministry functions. The larger the base of leaders, the more God can send to the church without the senior pastor burning out.

Sometimes the senior pastor is the biggest hindrance to growth because his micromanaging style becomes the bottleneck that limits ministerial and leadership capacity!

7. The church must have a corporate ear to hear the voice of God. The effective church understands that its first ministry is to the Lord and not to men (Acts 13:1-2). Hence, its people spends much time in seasons of corporate fasting, prayer, worship and adoration. Like the church of Antioch in Acts 13, this kind of church will hear and be directed by the voice of the Lord.

The amount of worship and prayer the typical church can engage in on Sunday is limited if we want to attract new people and evangelize. Thus, we should have other nights or times designed for the committed believers of the church to engage in elongated, intense prayer and worship, which gives God space to speak clearly. Churches not regularly engaged in this kind of spiritual discipline will often plan activities without God’s leading and then expect God to bless its endeavors. This wastes much time and causes people to operate without the grace and power of God, which also leaves leadership open to spiritual burnout and moral failure.

In conclusion, there is much more that can be said, but starting off by focusing on these seven points can make a church incredibly effective and powerful for the glory of God!

Written by Bishop Joseph Mattera

Joseph Mattera is overseeing bishop of Resurrection Church, Christ Covenant Coalition, in Brooklyn, N.Y.


10 Signals That Say “You Are Not Welcome In This Church”


“You shall love (the stranger) as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34).

As a retired pastor who preaches in a different church almost every Sunday, a fun thing I get to do is study the church bulletins (or handouts or worship guides) which everyone receives on entering the building. You can learn a great deal about a church’s priorities and personality in five minutes of perusing that sheet.

As an outsider–that is, not a member or regular here–I get to see how first-timers read that material and feel something of the same thing they feel. I become the ultimate mystery shopper for churches. That is not to say that I pass along all my (ahem) insights and conclusions to pastors. Truth be told, most leaders do not welcome judgments from visitors on what they are doing and how they can do it better. So, unless asked, I keep it to myself. And put it in my blog. (smiley face goes here)

Now, in all fairness, most churches are eager to receive newcomers and want them to feel at home and even consider joining. And the worship bulletins reflect that with announcements of after-benediction receptions to meet the pastors, the occasional luncheon for newcomers to learn about the church and get their questions answered, and free materials in the foyer.

Now, surely all the other churches want first-timers to like them and consider joining. No church willingly turns its nose up at newcomers, at least none that I know of. But that is the effect of our misbehavior.

Here are ten ways churches signal newcomers they are not wanted.

1. The front door is locked.

One church where I was to preach has a lovely front facade which borders on the sidewalk. The front doors are impressive and stately. So, after parking to the side of the building, I did what I always do: walked to the front and entered as a visitor would.

Except I didn’t go in.

The doors were locked. All of them.

After walking back around the side and entering from the parking lot, I approached an usher and asked about the locked door. “No one comes in from that entrance,” he said. “The parking lot is to the side.”

I said, “What about walk-ups? People from the neighborhood who come across the street.”

He said, “No one does that.”

He’s right. They stay away because the church has told them they’re not welcome.

One church I visited had plate glass doors where the interior of the lobby was clearly visible from the front steps. A table had been shoved against the doors to prevent anyone from entering that way. I did not ask why; I knew. The parking lot was in the rear. Regulars parked back there and entered through those doors.

That church, in a constant struggle for survival, is its own worst enemy. They might as well erect a sign in front of the church that reads, “First-timers unwelcome.”

2. The functioning entrance is opened late.

Even if we understand why a rarely used front door is kept locked, it makes no sense that the primary door should be closed. And yet, I have walked up to an entrance clearly marked and found it locked. The pastor explained, “We unlock it 15 minutes prior to the service.”

If that pastor is a friend and we already have a solid relationship, I will say something gracious, like, “What? Are you out of your cotton-picking mind? A lot of people like to come early. Seniors do. First-timers like to get there early to see the lay of the land. That door ought to be unlocked a minimum of 45 minutes prior to the announced worship time.”

If the pastor and I are meeting for the first time, I’ll still make the point, although a little gentler than that.

3. The church bulletin gives inadequate information.

The announcement reads: “The youth will have their next meeting this week at Stacy’s house. See Shawn for directions. Team B is in charge of refreshments.”

Good luck to the young person visiting that day and hoping to break into the clique. He has no idea who Shawn is, how to get to Stacy’s house or what’s going on if he dares to attend.

So, the youth does not return. Next Sunday, he tries that church across town that is drawing in great crowds of teens. For good reason, I imagine. They act like they actually want them to come.

4. The pulpit is unfriendly to first-timers.

The pastor says, “I’m going to call on Bob to lead the prayer.” Or, “Now, Susan will tell us about the women’s luncheon today.” “Tom will be at the front door with information on the project.”

By not using the full names of the individuals, the pastor ends up speaking only to the insiders. Outsiders entered without knowing anyone and leave the same way.

5. The congregation sends its own signals.

Is visitors parking clearly marked? And when you park there, does someone greet you with a warm welcome and helpful information? Or, do you find a parking place wherever you can and receive only stares as you approach the entrance?

Did you get the impression that you were sitting in someone else’s pew today?

Did anyone make an effort to learn your name and see if you have a question? Or, was the only handshake you received given during the in-service time as announced in the bulletin? (Those, incidentally, do not count when assessing the friendliness of a congregation. Only spontaneous acts of kindness count.)

This week, a pastor and I had lunch at a diner in downtown New Orleans which I’ve visited only once and he not at all. We were amused at some of the signs posted around the eatery. One said rather prominently, “Guests are not to stay beyond one hour.” My friend Jim laughed, “I guess they’re saying we shouldn’t dawdle.”

Churches have their own signs, although not as clear or blatant as that. Usually, they are read in the faces, smiles (or lack of one), and tone of voice of members.

6. The insider language keeps outsiders away.

Now, I’m not one who believes we should strip all our worship service prayers and hymns and sermons of all references to sanctification, the blood, justification, atonement, and such. This is who we are.

However, when we use the terms without a word of explanation–particularly, if we do it again and again–first-timers unaccustomed to the terms feel the same way you would if you dropped in on a foreign language class mid-semester: lost.

We signal visitors that they are welcome in our services when we give occasional explanations to our terms and customs which they might find strange.

7. No attempt is made to get information on visitors.

Now, most church bulletins which I see from week to week have the perforated tear-off which asks for all kinds of informations and even gives people ways to sign up for courses or dinners. But I’ve been amazed at how many do not ask for that information.

So, a visitor comes and goes. The church had one opportunity to reach out to him or her and blew it.

A church which is successful in reaching people for Christ will use redundancy. That is, they will have multiple methods for engaging newcomers, everything from greeters in the parking lot to friendly ushers to attractive bulletins and after-service receptions.

8. No one follows up on first-timers.

One of the ministers of my church helped me with this. He said, “Asking people to fill out a guest card implies that there will be some kind of contact with them afterwards.” He pointed out that our pastor informs them “no salesman will call,” but even so, “Someone phones many visitors and letters go out to most.”

The first-timer who visits a church and does everything right has a right to expect some kind of follow-up from a leader of that congregation.

We’re frequently told that people today cherish their privacy and do not want to give their name and contact information until they decide this church is trustworthy. My response to that is: it’s true, but not universally true. Many people still want to be enthusiastically welcomed and will respond to invitations to give given the grand tour and taken to lunch afterwards.

In most cases leaders can tell from guest cards whether a visit will be welcomed. If not, at the very least a phone call should be made. If the caller receives an answering machine, he/she leaves the message and may decide this is sufficient for the first time. (Every situation is different. There are few hard and fast rules. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you.)

9. Intangibles often send the signals loud and clear.

In one church I served, a couple roamed the auditorium before and after services in search of anyone they did not know. Lee and Dottie Andrews greeted the newcomers, engaged them in conversation, and quickly determined if an invitation to lunch would be in order. Almost every Sunday, they hosted a visiting family at the local cafeteria. At least half of these joined our church.

In another church, a husband and wife who sold real estate brought their clients to church with them. Some of the most active and faithful members who joined during my years in that church were introduced by Bob and Beth Keys.

Often, it’s nothing more than a great smile that seals the deal. Or a warm, genuinely friendly handshake.

A friendly, “Hey, have you found everything you need here?” may be all that’s needed.

Some churches install a newcomers desk in the foyer, where visitors can meet knowledgable leaders, pick up material, and get questions answered. Those can be great, but there is one caveat: you must have the right people on that desk. Individuals gifted with great smiles and servant spirits and infinite patience are ideal.

10. What happens following the service can make the difference.

You the newcomer have enjoyed the service, you were blessed by the sermon, and you would like to greet the pastor and begin an acquaintance with this church. Most churches are set up for you to do just this. But not all.

I’ve been in churches where within 5 minutes after the benediction, the place was deserted. People were so eager to leave, they hardly spoke to one another, much less guests. The signal they send the visitor is clear: “We don’t care for our church and you wouldn’t either.”

Healthy church congregations love each other and welcome newcomers and their people are reluctant to leave following the end of services.

One wonders if pastors and other leaders realize just how scary it can be for a person new in the city to venture into an unfamiliar church. It is an act of courage of the first dimension.

The Lord told Israel to reach out to newcomers and welcome them. After all, they themselves knew what it was to live in a strange country where the language and customs were foreign and they were missing home. God wanted Israel to remember always how that felt so they would welcome the stranger within their gates.

How much more should a church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Church Matters.

Why You May Need Some Fresh Ideas for New Sunday School Classes.

Small group

Do you need fresh ideas for your church’s Sunday school classes or small groups? (Lightstock)

When a church begins new small groups or Sunday School classes, eternity is impacted. New hands are put to the task. Easy entry points are established. Members are more likely to invite lost friends. Peripheral members become involved. And Christians joyfully rediscover the outreach purpose of the church.

Imagine what would happen if your church began lots of new classes this year. Need some fresh ideas?

  • Life changes offer opportunities for new classes. Provide a small group for expectant parents or engaged couples. (These will evolve into new parents and newlyweds classes.)  How about a class for recent retirees or college students? If your youngest adult class has aged a bit, add a new class for younger adults.
  • Your church ministries may provide opportunities for new small groups. Example: A church with weekday childcare could invite those parents for a new class.
  • Consider establishing a new small group for each decade of adults. Fresh new classes attract newcomers and others who do not currently attend. Provide a list of new members who aren’t active in a small group, as well as recent guests and uninvolved church members. Advertise the new class in your community.
  • Look at growing areas in your church. If the youth group is exploding, you might begin new small groups for parents of middle- or high-school students.
  • Look at “holes” in your current attendance. What groups of people are uninvolved? What segments of your community are untouched? What types of new classes would include overlooked people? Example: About a third of adults in your town are unmarried (see Are you organized to reach them?
  • Kick off a targeted new group with a themed study. For example, if there are lots of artists in your town, the class could begin with a short study of biblical art.
  • Ask church members to submit suggestions about needed small groups, along with ideas for leaders and names of people that might attend.
  • Challenge current classes to multiply themselves. The current teacher shares responsibilities and helps train a co-teacher, and then some group members go with that teacher to begin a new class. Small groups in our church plant are committed to reproduce regularly, and 24 new Christians have been baptized as a result!

It’s a new year. Will your church make an intentional plan to reach new people for Christ by establishing new small groups?

Diana Davis is an author, speaker and wife of the North American Mission Board’s vice president for the Midwest region, Steve Davis.

For the original article, visit

Written by Diana Davis

Attracting Younger Visitors.


They needed to make themselves more appealing to young visitors.

It wasn’t cool or interesting for young people to visit, so they had to find a way to bring them in and then keep them coming back. The alternative was to lose the next generation, and as a result, the future of the institution.

So the leaders moved the main gathering area to an open-air pavilion.

They cranked the music up.

They went with edgier graphics.

And it worked.

Though most had never attended before, once they came, they found they wanted to come again because the experience inspired them and gave them a connection to something they were clearly missing.

The name of the church that engaged this plan was…

Okay, it wasn’t a church.

It was the Chattahoochee River Recreation Area in Georgia, featured in a USA Today story about how many national parks have to change in order to attract and then keep younger visitors.

But that you thought I was talking about a church speaks volumes about the obvious parallels.

Knowing that “It’s a profound experience when youngsters are immersed in nature for the first time,” national parks are doing all they can to lure young people into the parks for that first experience that will mark them for a lifetime. “The underlying goal is to give kids an experience that develops their relationship to a point where they care about the parks.”

Why is this simple lesson, being learned by necessity over and over by other groups, agencies and enterprises, so resisted by the church?

The quick answer is that the church stands for orthodoxy, and cannot change its message with the times.

This is true, of course, but disingenuous. This has absolutely nothing to do with the message. Think about the national parks. Nobody is wanting to water down “nature,” or trying to do away with streams or trees.

It’s not the product that is in question.

The programs offered call for staying overnight, taking hikes and even turning off all electronic devices while there.  All things that enhance the engagement of nature at its most pure. The parks are simply hoping to find a way of introducing nature to the next generation.

The point is that it’s not about changing the message, but the methods. It’s not about watering down the experience, but opening the door to actually experiencing it.

The goal is not transformation, but translation.

Which means no one is going after tradition, just traditionalism.

The parks are what they have always been. A new generation needs them, but has never experienced them.

Park leaders know that they must change their ways of introduction and outreach, as opposed to sitting back on their laurels and past success in order to meet the challenge.

As a ranger at the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park said, “We need to engage that next generation in preserving our heritage.”


James Emery White


“Parks change to attract and keep younger visitors,” Judy Keen, USA Today, April 5, 2012. Read online.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, N.C., and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is A Traveler’s Guide to the Kingdom: Journeying Through the Christian Life (InterVarsity Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log on to, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.


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