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Sunday, March 5, 2017

“Visitors, we want to make you feel welcome!”



Recently I was worshiping with a church that still uses the “forced meet and greet” where everyone is supposed cheerfully to greet other attendees. Never mind that multiple studies have shown that guest, and many members, hate this part of the service. It ranks right up there with those country churches where the pastor tell guest to “stand up and introduce yourself to us.” Well, at this particular urban church, the Minister who welcomed everyone literally said, “Visitors, we want to make you feel welcome!” I could barely believe my ears. First, he used that world that ministers should never use, “visitors.” This is clear language to tell guest that “you” are not one of “us.”

Second, along with using the “visitor” term, he actually said that the membership “wants to make you feel welcome.” You simply cannot “make” someone feel welcome,

  • especially after the guest walked across the parking lot without anyone speaking to him.
  • especially after the guest walked into the building and past the greeters who was so busy talker to each other that they neglected all guest who came to worship.
  • especially after the guest had to hunt for an order of service, because the greeters did not hand him or her one, and God forbid that the guest has to go to the greeter and ask for an order of service.
  • especially after the guest had walked into the sanctuary without anyone speaking to him or her.
  • especially after the guest had sat in a pew for ten minutes before the service started and nobody spoke to him or her.

With such an experience, how can the church now, through a forced meet and greet, make these neglected guests suddenly feel welcome. Come on church, you can do better than this and our Lord’s guests deserve better from us!

The truth is that most of the older traditional urban churches are closed and unfriendly. Long-term members rush to visit with other members and greeters do not greet, because they too are talking to other members. Sadly, most pastors do not know this, because they think there congregation is friendly, and it is to the pastor. I suggest to pastor’s that they have “secret worshipers” come over a period of 4-6 weeks and then report back; in fact, some denominations will provide this service. I know that the Metrolina Baptist Association in Charlotte, North Carolina provides this service for pastors and churches.

My normal greeting when worshiper at a new church goes something like this, “I am so excited that you and I get to worship Jesus together today!” Recently during a “forced meet and greets,” I said that to a woman, and she smiled at me and said, “That’s the nicest greeting.” I’m not trying to get accolades here, but I am trying to cheerfully redirect attention away from the awkward, forced, and despised “meet and greets” and back to the reason we show up in the first place – to worship the Lord!

What is your favorite greeting to use when attending an unfamiliar church for worship? Please share it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Church Outreach



Times change and church outreach methods have to change with the times or they become ineffective. Churches unwilling to change their methods of worship and discipleship will die, and the church’s death rate significantly increases the more the church is unwilling to change. Likewise, the church expedites its own death if it fails to modify its methods of outreach. What I am talking about is church suicide. Churches become so entrenched in their own personal preferences, no matter how ineffective in today’s society, that it commits church suicide. It is reasonable to assume that our Lord will hold those accountable who are unwilling to adapt their ministry for the damage caused to the bride, the larger ecclesiastical church, unless sincere repentance occurs. The problem is not God. He is still effective! Our Lord is still on His throne and He is still working in the lives of His created! The problem is that bold men and women willing to modify their outreach and style of ministry are indeed rare, and possibly the reason that Jesus said in Luke 10:2 that the “harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”

Through observation, I have concluded three essentials to modifying the traditional church to becoming more effective in outreach. Now don’t misunderstand, I am not saying that these are the only three things a church must do, but every church must, at a bare minimum, do these three. Depending upon the people who make up a particular church, there may be many other neglectful habits and sinful behaviors that must change, but every church must do these three items in order to be obedient and effective.
  1. Churches must move from paper to digital, with a current website to provide information and advertisement on social media to help intrigue adults and youth with relevant topics. Websites must be current, relevant, and contain the times and locations of people orientated services and events. Social media can also be used to advertise people oriented special events and promote weekly topics for Bible study for relevant life topics. Advertisements are very reasonable on social media and churches can reach a larger and more targeted audience with social media than with print media. Technology can be used to teach a new song being used in the upcoming worship, which both teaches the song and engages the mind to think and prepare for worship. Encourage those in worship and Bible Study to use digital media to advertise the event. If you ask worshipers to send out a tweet to their friends, you will reach thousands of their friends and it will not cost the church any money!
  2. Evangelism must move from attracting to going; from the old in-home visitation to lunch, home, and office visits. It is learning to meet people where they flourish. Homes have become a place for a quick respite to renew and re-enter the urban life. Adults spend more time in restaurants, bars, and coffee shops than ever before and most are willing to discuss church and faith if engaged by a friend. A growing number of churches budget funds for this type of evangelistic outreach, especially for the pastor and staff to engage adults who have attended worship or Bible study. Too many urban churches are dying because they are not out in the community, walking with and talking with those who live and work in and around their church. Learn the names of those who wait on your table, and ask them if there is anything you can pray about for them. Let them know you care about them as a person made in the image of God.
  3. The gospel presentation itself must be made simpler and used in worship at times when the church has their largest number of guest attending – such a Christmas Eve Candlelight services, which is a must for an urban church. One of the more recent popular presentations of the gospel was developed by Lead Pastor Jimmy Scroggins called “ThreeCircles." It was demonstrated for the Family Church in South Florida and it may be viewed on Vimeo. This simple presentation is also explained as a Life Conversion Guide available through the iTune app store. Unlike Evangelism Explosion and many of the older evangelistic tools, this approach is very simple to learn and use, and does not require a lot of memorization. The three circles can be sketched on a napkin over coffee or lunch, sketched in chalk on a sidewalk, or shown on your phone or iPad.
The fact is that people are still open to the gospel, and they desperately need urban churches to be willing to share faith with them. Often churches move out of the inner city to suburban areas for a variety of reasons, but city dwellers still need Jesus and they are still open to a conversation about spiritual matters. Cities need churches that are willing to make a commitment to be incarnational in the city in order to reach urbanites for Christ. This means that the church and its members are willing to remain in and live among the people in order to reach them for Jesus. Urban churches will face many obstacles, but God can enable them to flourish. Inner city churches have a great opportunity and must accept the challenge to be biblical, evangelistic, and relevant, and their members must work to be visible, viable, and involved in urban living in order to propagate the gospel.   

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Dying to Breathe



If you have ever experienced an Asthma attack, you know the agony of trying to breathe and get air into your lungs. Thanks to some of the newer preventative medications, my asthma has been controlled for years and I seldom have to use my albuterol sulfate inhalation aerosol, but I still carry one with me at all times. As a pastor and educator, I like to keep up with various worship styles and so today, I went to worship once again with a contemporary church. This particular church has very load music, strobe lights, and fog machines to the extreme.

Now I understand that throughout Scripture, God’s glory filled the temple as a cloud (II Chronicle 5:14). Isaiah speaks of the seraphim’s voices shaking the temple and God’s presence filling the temple with smoke (Isaiah 6:4). In Revelation, John sees the temple being filled with smoke from the glory of God and His power (Revelation 15:8). Today many churches try to simulate or evoke the presence of God through shaking the building with load music to the point that worshipers are provided earplugs, and then using various forms of fog machines to fill the building with a misty fog to simulate the presence of God. This is the same fog used in horror films and haunted houses at Halloween to instill fear, which some people now experience in churches using fog machines as they struggle to breathe.

Contemporary churches, in their attempt to inspire the worshipers are bringing harm to the health of some of the worshipers they seek to amaze. The church I was in today left the fog machines running for the entire service. I was in the third back-to-back service of the day and the misty fog was thick in the air throughout the service. It was not long until I was having some difficulty breathing and was forced to use my inhaler. Five hours have now passed since service ended and I am still having difficulty breathing.

Contemporary churches need to rethink their constant use of fog machines, load music, and strobe lights. Fog machines can have an adverse effect on a person’s respiratory heath. Some types of fog machines are more dangerous than other fog machines. One article that might help churches make wiser decisions is found at https://www.uic.edu/sph/glakes/harts1/HARTS_library/smokefog.txt; of course, I would also encourage churches to Google “health dangers from fog machines” and read some of the articles. Bright digital and strobe lights can also trigger a multitude of health issues: Photosensitive epilepsy, migraines, nausea, dizziness, and disturbed vision; just Google “health dangers from bright strobe lights” or click this link for a fair discussion http://www.bbc.co.uk/safety/resources/aztopics/strobe-lighting.html. Churches that provide earplugs to their worshipers are already acknowledging that the music can cause a range of hearing loss.

A word of warning to contemporary churches, you should considering the danger to your worshipers from the use of visual and audio effects, and use them in moderation. If you do not, you are likely to become mired in legal issues in the future. Contemporary churches should not only consider the spiritual issues of using fake visual and audio effects to simulate the presence of God, but they should also consider the health dangers their actions present to their worshipers. If you love of your worshipers, you will want to protect them from long-term health issues.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Spiritual Alertness To God’s Activity – Part II (Acts 11:19-21)




Not only did the Antioch church regularly process what God was doing, but also they purposely joined in what God was doing. As the Christians at Antioch looked around their multi-cultural city, they knew the church should reflect this multi-cultural framework, and they were willing to invest in what we today call “social capital.” Antioch was a bustling walled seaport city of approximately a half million people. It had theatres, coliseums, offices, stores, and government buildings found in large cities today. The official language of the region was kione’ Greek, although Syrian, Aramaic, Hebrew, and other languages were also spoken.

These early Christians were determined to reach their city for Jesus and equally determined not to allow language, race, or cultural barriers to prevent the spread of the Gospel. Oh, that today's church would have that same burning zeal to reach others with the Gospel of Jesus! Do you understand that less than five percent of American Christians have ever shared their faith with another person in an attempt to lead them to salvation in Christ? The Antioch Christians knew that God was at work in bringing people from all over the world to Antioch, and they chose to participate in what God was doing. Not only did they make a conscience decision to be evangelistic across racial and cultural lines, they made a conscience decision to cross cultural and racial lines in order to worship with those who were believers.

Friends, it’s “heart-check” time. How important is it to you to reach across racial and cultural lines for Christ? How important is it for you to worship with other races and cultures?

It is important that we realize that the Church at Antioch was an ethnically blended mix of people from all over the world, and which represented God’s heart. Understanding God’s heart in this matter caused the church to desire to reach their city and the world. This ethnically blended church started what we today call the “mission” movement!

God gave John the revelator a glimpse into heaven and he saw a great multitude worshipping God. Revelation 7:9 states, “I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.” Verse 11 tells us that they all “fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God. Listen my friend; our churches should be a foretaste of heaven.

The Antioch Church was willing to change in order to be involved with God. Laying aside their personal preferences, the Antioch church loved others enough to break with tradition in order to worship God as one. With members from at least three continents in their membership, the church ceased worship in Hebrew. No longer were the language and past traditions their style of worship. Baptist Churches have done a great job at loving others on one level. We have loved others enough, literally to go around the world to ensure that people hear the wonderful message of salvation. However, we have not loved others enough to change our style of worship, so that we might worship with other Christians from other cultures.

Are you willing to place a Latino and an African American on staff to help reach the Hispanic and Blacks in your city? Are you willing to begin mixing Black Gospel with Southern Gospel music? Are you willing to share leadership with these other cultures? The Hispanic population in United States is the largest minority group. There are now more Hispanics in United States than Blacks, and it is projected that within the next thirty years the Hispanics will out number Whites in the United States.

Notice who made up the church staff at Antioch (Acts 13:1). Barnabus was from Cyprus. He was the Levite who sold his property and gave the proceeds to the Jerusalem Church (Acts 4:36f). The Apostle Paul was from Tarsus. Simeon was a Black Jewish Christian. Lucius was from Cyrene in North Africa. Manaen was a politician and close friend with Herod Antipas. The Antioch church was an International, multi-lingual, and multicultural congregation with staff representing three continents. So you see, churches diversifying staff is not a new thing, it is an old truth, going back past the Antioch Church to the heart of Jesus. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is for “whosoever” will come.

A couple years ago, I was preaching at Charlotte Chinese Baptist Church in both their English and the Chinese worship services. Afterwards I talked with then Pastor Steven Wang, and asked him about the English service, thinking it was for second generation Chinese-Americans. I fell in love with Pastor Wang when he gave me his answer. He said God had convicted his heart and that of his church, that they could not be a Great Commission Church if they reached only the Chinese people. Oh, that God would give us more Pastor Wang’s and more churches like the Charlotte Chinese Baptist Church.

God longs for His churches to have multi-cultural, international, and multi-lingual staffs to lead multi-cultural, international, and multi-lingual churches. God has been patient with His people for hundreds of years, but in these last days, he is calling us back to an old truth. The Trinity is the DNA of the Church. Where God’s DNA is, God’s people hear God and obey His teachings. Church staff’s must diversify!

Now we come back to the question I asked in Part I. “Why did the disciples miss the miracle and the working of God?” The disciples missed the miracle and the working of God because they did not take the time to process what God had done in their presence. Dear Reader, Having read this blog, you are now faced with a decision. Are you willing to process that which God is doing and seek to understand God's purpose? Can you agree that God is working a miracle by bringing the people of the world to your City and State? Can you process the why of this social occurrence and understand that this is a God thing? All Christians need to individually and collectively pull aside with God and process this miracle. We need to be concerned about the action of God in moving people around the globe and not focused on bounders and the legality of this dispersion. Are you willing to join in and participate in the mobilization of the masses though helping to care for and share Jesus with those God is relocating? Are you willing to over-ride your personal worship preferences to help others come to know Jesus?

If not, then you heart will grow harder. You will become more distant from Jesus, and you will find it harder to recognize the next miraculous movement of God.