For NAD Pastors
How to Make Your Church Irresistible
By Rachel Lemons Aitken
One year, as a birthday present, I decided to take my dad to a Bulls play-off game. Like most dads, he’s a very enthusiastic, vocal fan. So I thought he’d love to share that energy with 20,000+ fans in the United Center. We got to our seats and started watching the game. The atmosphere was electric. In the final moments of the game, the United Center was reverberating with the screams of the fans and their energy. To my surprise, during the duration of the game, my dad was securely planted in his seat. Even at the most nail-biting moments, he sat with a church pose: hands neatly folded in his lap, watching the game intently…from his seat. But he didn’t make a noise. I was on my feet with the rest of the fans. It was a close game that was won in the last few seconds. To this day, I still don’t understand what it was about that situation that left my dad so reserved because I know watching sports makes my dad yell and cheer and shout enthusiastically at the TV.
Have you ever wondered, what makes God applaud? What gets him out of his seat and makes him yell, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”? When does He get ecstatic and enthusiastic about what’s happening here on earth? I think that question is a great jump off point for the idea of making your church irresistible.
Have you ever tried to solve a problem, only to realize that you haven’t identified the problem correctly? As churches, I think we’re often after solutions, but we’re asking the wrong questions.
One day, I was reading Matthew 6:1-3 in the Message Bible. It says, “Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater but the God who made you won’t be applauding.”
The verse is so blunt and even a bit confronting, but this shock of realism puts a lot of our actions into perspective. How often do we misdirect our actions? How often do we act for others instead of for God? Sometimes, we even do this with good intentions.
The topic of this article How to Make Your Church Irresistible is the same topic of a leadership workshop I recently presented. As I prepared the topic, I followed a few hunches, and then I began to research. My hunt led me to a couple of very popular books. Each one approached this idea of church hospitality and creating a friendly church from different angles. When I read The Five Star Church, it approached the topic from a hospitality industry perspective, encouraging churches to make everything about the experience equivalent to a five-star hotel so guests sense the specialness and the uniqueness of the experience. I then moved on to Making a Good Church Great. Similarly, this book looked at principles of excellence. It talked about how to infuse the church experience with excellence in each and every area, including guests’ experiences. While my research showed the authors approaching the topic in strategic ways, the solutions seemed to lack soul. And having been a guest at various churches throughout my life, I felt that they all failed to address the heart of the matter of how a guest really experiences churches where they don’t feel connected.
While making your church friendly is important, friendliness without connectedness is hollow. And excellence without compassion is like a clanging cymbal.
Most often, when we ask a question along the lines of “How can I make my church irresistible?”, we’re asking the wrong question. Or better stated, we’re asking the right question about the wrong person.
When we ask the question, “How do I make my church irresistible?”, it’s most likely that we’re asking it about our guests. We’re wondering, how can we make our church irresistible for our visitors so they return? Do we need to provide the best children’s program in town? Do we need to make sure we have the best music program? Should we make sure the service doesn’t run over a certain time or that we have people strategically placed at all of the right interaction points? I’m not underestimating the impact of any of these things but I wonder if when we ask this question, we should be asking it of God. So instead of asking “How can we make our church irresistible for our guests?” perhaps the right question for the right person is, “How can we make our church irresistible for God?” When we ask ourselves this question, we set ourselves up to learn what makes God applaud.
Traits of an Irresistible Church
Wayne Cordeiro expresses this very idea in his book, The Irresistible Church. In it, he mentions twelve traits of an irresistible church. I’m going to mention two of the twelve and explore a couple of ways you can lead your church towards becoming irresistible to God.
When asking and answering the question, “What makes God applaud?” there are several surefire answers we can get through a careful review of the guidance God has given us in the Bible.
One of the first things that makes God applaud — and one of the first traits of an irresistible church — is a church where the members insist that God’s presence must go with them.
This attitude reminds me of Moses’ experience in Exodus 33, when he’s journeying with the Children of Israel. God tells Moses to continue on the journey, but Moses returns to God and says, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here.”
What if, as a church body — in our ministries, our communications and our meetings — we determined we wouldn’t go forward with any programming or meeting or decision if God’s presence didn’t go with us? What would the outcome be for our churches? If this was our guiding principle, God would surely applaud that. And if God applauds it, it creates an atmosphere that’s irresistible to God. An atmosphere that’s irresistible to God is surely irresistible to people because God’s spirit will actively be a part of it.
As it relates to church hospitality and the message it communicates, a church filled with God’s presence — especially people who sense His presence and His mission for us — will be a church that embodies the idea of friendliness coupled with connectedness and compassion.
A Church Filled with Love
The next thing that makes God applaud — another trait of an irresistible church — is a church filled with love.
Hospitality is the intentionality of love. It’s a quality we see in Romans 15:7 that God encourages when it was said, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”
When we think of church hospitality, it’s not often that we group it in with our church communications. Traditionally, we’ve reserved communications to include bulletins, signage, newsletters, websites, social media and text messaging —if you’re really on trend.
In John 13:35, Jesus tells the disciples, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” That seems to be the best PR strategy that we can have as a church.
Our church communications must be freed from the bulletin and unloosed from the shackles of belonging to one person or a committee of a few people who are gifted with words and cameras and audio equipment. Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I have worked in church communications for the past five years, and I have a deep understanding of the importance of this area of our church. However, as leaders and as church members, we should understand that each of us is a walking bulletin. Every church member’s actions can be as helpful or as harmful as a tweet. The way we talk to one another in meetings, in Sabbath School and at potluck can be as effective as a church newsletter. Our church’s hospitality (or the lack thereof) is a major part of our church communications strategy, and these two ministries are intertwined. Our communications is who we say we are. Our hospitality is the opportunity for people to experience who we are.
This is what God applauds. He applauds the intentionality of our love. He applauds us not just for being friendly but for connecting with people that He’s brought to visit our churches. He applauds our compassion. He applauds our love because it’s a reflection of His character.
How to Make Your Church Irresistible
While asking the right question can lead us to understanding the problem, having sight of a solution is even more powerful. As a church leader, how can you lead you church towards becoming a church that’s irresistible to God?
In Luke 6:31, we have clear guidance on how we can develop empathy, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” One of the most powerful ways we can create a church that’s irresistible to God, especially in the area of hospitality — which is a part of a church’s communications — is to empathize with the people who we expect to visit our churches.
Many members in our churches were born and raised and have met and married in our churches. Their lives are routine. They may not remember what it’s like to walk in a room and not recognize a single face. It is possible they have never experienced hearing unfamiliar theology or hearing greetings like “Happy Sabbath!” for the first time. How can you or your church members know or remember what that feels like if you don’t actively practice empathy?
Many visitors stand at the door of a church, look around and feel like they’re watching a gathering they weren’t invited to with everyone chatting, smiling and greeting one another but leaving them feeling alone — on the outside. Sometimes they don’t return for this reason. Often, we become so entrenched in our church’s life, culture and relationships that we forget what it’s like not to belong. As a leader, you can actively encourage ministries to practice empathy in their planning, as they create programming and in the implementation of their ministry ideas and events. As a leader, if you’re really looking to overachieve, why not visit another church (when you get a chance) to put yourself in the shoes of your visitors?
A church that longs for connectedness among its ministries and for its members and visitors is a church that God applauds. Connectedness promotes unity and Jesus prayed that we, as a church body, would be one, just as He and the Father are one. Actively promoting connectedness and finding ways to promote it among ministries will be a big boost for the church’s hospitality and making your church irresistible to God.
I once visited a church in Chicago that struck me with its emphasis on creating a sense of connectedness. The experience has stayed with me for years. On my first and second visits, I was struck by the way multiple people approached me to welcome me to the church. The pastor called me a few days after my visit and several people added me on Facebook. It felt like a totally organic experience — a church with really friendly people who were interested in connecting. Much later, I met with the pastor and remarked on the friendliness of the church, and he told me that creating this environment required lots of intentionality and planning.
Creating connectedness helps all of your church’s ministries get on the same page about the church’s mission. Ultimately, our mission is to spread a message of love and redemption to a dying world. Within a church body you may be pursuing something more specific, like creating a church that’s a part of its local community or reaching out to young families in the area. In talking with your communications team, you may realize that they’re trying to reach out to the community with a particular campaign or to get visitors to gain awareness of the church through increased signage. The communications team may have a social media campaign running aimed at attracting people from the community. Separately, you may have the hospitality team working to create a welcoming environment. Your small groups ministry may be looking to expand some of the church’s small groups, and Sabbath Schools may be working to survive in this modern age. Are these ministries talking? Are they looking for synergy? Does each ministry realize the important role it plays in creating a hospitable environment that God would applaud?
When you create connectedness, all the ministries begin to work in concert. The communications team’s message — that you’re a community church — should flow through to the hospitality team and inform them as they do their greeting, providing a sense of purpose to the smile, handshake and bulletin being handed out. Perceptive hospitality team members can alert friendly and compassionate members of visitors they’ve seen entering the church so the visitor can be greeted again by a church member. Children’s Sabbath School leaders should anticipate visitors because the service has been advertised to the community and have a plan in place to welcome visitors to attend adult Sabbath Schools. Opportunities to attend small groups should be made available in Sabbath School for those that connect with the idea of a group Bible study. Having this sense of connectedness offers multiple opportunities for your visitors to receive the message the communications ministry — and all the other ministries — is trying to communicate. Most importantly, it allows multiple interaction points which give visitors opportunities to connect and provides a shared sense of purpose for your church.
So if you’re wondering, what makes God applaud? If you’re curious to know what gets him out of his seat and makes Him ecstatic, consider how your church treats its visitors. Consider the atmosphere of connectedness that has been created in your church. When we get this right, we create a church that’s irresistible to God and to visitors.
Native Chicagoan Rachel Lemons Aitken is the Communications Coordinator for the Greater Sydney Conference in Sydney Australia, which she now calls home along with her Aussie husband Peter; Rachel is passionate about reframing the conversation around church communications.
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