I visited another church in the area this past Sunday morning. On vacation, but not out of town, I wanted to see how someone else does “church.” Here are a few things I learned:

1. It’s tough to go to a church you’ve never been to before. Even though I’m a pastor and have been going to church all my life I found myself a little nervous getting ready to leave the house. I think Christians should understand how much courage it takes someone, who doesn’t go to church regularly, to walk through the doors of a strange place and to go through the foreign (to them) experience of worship.

2. There is a difference between greeting and welcoming. As I walked through the front doors, which were opened already, I was greeted by a kind woman, “Good morning, glad you are here today.” I walked through the somewhat crowded lobby looking for a sign to the worship space. As I entered the worship space about 5 minutes early I was handed a bulletin, “Good morning.” I found a seat on an empty row, which wasn’t hard since at this time 95% of the people were still in the lobby. That was the end of my welcome.

3. During one of the early songs there was a welcome time, though I couldn’t hear it because of poor sound mixture. The row in front of me turned and each offered a smile and a handshake with a “Good morning.” They were the last people to speak to me. I will say that people were talking to those around them in pleasant tones with smiles on their faces, but there wasn’t much welcome for me. I don’t think this is unusual for churches. We are often much more friendly to one another than to unknown guests who haven’t come with someone. And we will respond to questioners that we are a “friendly church.” Maybe we should look at our friendliness from the perspective of the unattached visitor.

4. I enjoyed the music and the preaching was great, a wonderful message on the importance of Scripture in our lives drawn from Psalm 119. It was odd though that on this Sunday it appeared that only about 10% of the congregation brought their Bibles. Perhaps that was a holiday weekend anomaly.

One of the greatest tools of the church over the past 100 years is the outreach oriented Sunday School.

One of the greatest weights around the neck of the church over the past 100 years is the inward focused Sunday School.

Every church makes a choice about focus of their Bible Study hour, small groups, cell groups or Sunday School (whatever you call it most churches have some type of Bible study in small groups that meet during the week, either Sunday morning, afternoon, evening or some time during the week).  You either choose for it to be focused on growth or on “fellowship”.  I think you can have both, but we most of those who focus on fellowship tend to not incorporate much growth while those focused on growth find it easier to incorporate fellowship.  So, as you might guess, I think it better to focus on growth and allow the fellowship to naturally happen.  I think our natural instinct is to fellowship and so we don’t need to spend much time on that aspect while growth is a stretch for us.

Growth requires change.  Change our room, change our seats, change our teacher, change our structure.  Growth requires us to become uncomfortable with new people, new places, new structures.  It’s easier to just keep everything the same and keep our friends and let our relationships grow deep.  Over time the easy way leads to stagnation, paralysis and, ultimately, decline.

To challenge you and your Sunday School class I would like to take some time to think over, discuss, respond to this blog if you like, the following questions:

  1. What would be the best arrangement of our class to welcome visitors?
  2. Are there good seats available for the person who visits for the first time?
  3. What are some things we can do to help a visitor want to join our class?
  4. How many could fit in our class before it would be best for us to sponsor a new class?  (keep in mind the 80% rule: you can’t average over a long time more than 80% of your capacity)
  5. Do we have a plan to make immediate contact with visitors to our class?  (studies show that people are most likely to attend a church again if a lay person contacts them within 24 hours of their visit)
  6. How must I change to reach more people, to grow my class? (the answer for a teacher is probably different than that for a member of the class)

Perhaps if we take some time to think these things through we can see how God might change us to grow our Sunday School.

Okay, so this is my youngest daughter, Courtney.  Been a while since she shaved.  🙂  Actually she is dressed up to play a part, I have no recollection who, at our VBS this past summer.  While the face may not show it, she really does get into this kind of stuff.

I pastor a great church on the north side of Houston in Spring.  We live in a township called Oak Ridge North.  My wife teaches Kindergarten at The Woodlands Christian Academy.  My two kids, Holley, 17, and Courtney, 16, go to Oak Ridge High School, play in the band, and provide endless entertainment for their parents.  They are great kids who work hard, get good grades, love the Lord and drive like maniacs (not really ORN police, I’m just kidding).  But if you see a red Dodge Durango or a white and blue Jeep CJ-7 I would advise you keep your distance.

I’m starting to write this wondering if I’ll keep it up.  I’m really not much of a writer, more of a talker, but I would like to put a few things down in cyberspace so we’ll see how it goes.