Posts

Four Reasons Our Church Does Not Stand and Greet

You were there on Sunday. The worship team finished their powerful set, the upbeat and informative announcements concluded, and to avoid that tense transition for the pastor to quickly arrive on stage, you were exhorted to rise out of your comfortable seat and to turn to those around you and smile, shake a hand, and “greet” one another.

Pastors feel it is a great transitional element in the service. Regular churchgoers appreciate a moment to make their way back to their normal seat because they arrived late for church. And first-time guests consider it the most horrific moment of their week, and a great reason why they won’t be coming back to that particular church.

Here’s four reasons why our church doesn’t do the “stand and greet one another” moment:

1. It’s Awkward

Does anything more need to be said here? Consider what it’s like to be a visitor at a church you’ve never attended before. You’re coming to worship with a congregation of people you’ve never met. You’re listening to a teacher you don’t recognize. Ideally you would be evaluating your experience based on how God moves and speaks to you. But the level of uneasiness you feel in this new environment causes you to seek what is comfortable and recognizable. Visitors are anxious and apprehensive about everything in your church: the location, the style of music/preaching/prayer, the kids’ ministry, the theological beliefs and philosophy of ministry, and if the mission of the church is something they can get behind. But more than anything, visitors are nervous that they won’t connect with anyone in this body.

But more than anything, visitors are nervous that they won’t connect with anyone in this body.

Requiring someone in this position to stand up and randomly say hello to someone under compulsion creates a very awkward moment, to say the least.

2. It produces a culture of disingenuous courtesy.

My wife and I love to visit churches while on vacation because it is always encouraging to see how other people are doing ministry in a different context than we are. One time while visiting a church in the foothills of North Carolina, we attended a small enough church that it was pretty obvious we were first-time visitors. On cue, we stood during the “greeting” time, and not a single person greeted us. I was actually offended that no one would extend the courtesy to say hello to me, and had a hard time appreciating the rest of the service.

To build honest courtesy at our church (Shoreline), we have parking attendants welcoming visitors as they arrive and park. As people walk through our doors, they are welcomed with a smile and a fistbump. We have a table set up in our foyer called a “Welcome Center” where there are various information cards about different aspects of our church. In the back of our Worship Center we have a “Guest Center” where we encourage guests to bring their connect card and exchange it for a gift (a coffee mug and helpful information about our church). And rather than taking the time to informally greet, we utilize those 30 seconds each week during our announcements to thank people for visiting our church. We address them as our “guest” and point them towards our information class that we host on the last Sunday each month so people know exactly how to get plugged in and how to get involved in our church. So our church culture all points towards considering guests as a primary focus, not an afterthought.

 3. Hospitality is more than a handshake.

The Bible mentions greeting one another a lot. In fact, in Romans 16 Paul mentions “greet” 22 times! When we consider the New Testament church’s greeting, it was much more “awkward” and “invasive” than a handshake. It was actually a kiss, and is mentioned in five different places and by both Paul and Peter (Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:26, 1 Peter 5:14).

Vine states “There was to be an absence of formality and hypocrisy, a freedom from prejudice arising from social distinctions, from discrimination against the poor, from partiality towards the well-to-do.  In the churches masters and servants would thus salute one another without any attitude of condescension on the part of or disrespect on the other.  The kiss took place between persons of the same sex.” (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, by W. E.Vine).

The word ‘Hospitality’ means to show love to strangers. In the Old Testament, it was a command for Israel to extend love to the outsider (Leviticus 19:33-34). In the New Testament, it was a central part of Christian worship (Romans 12:13, 1 Peter 4:9, 3 John 5-8). This is why hospitality is a core part of who we are as a church. We make sure that every “stranger” is welcomed, loved, and received by our church so we can honor Jesus and reach our community.

We make sure that every “stranger” is welcomed, loved, and received by our church so we can honor Jesus and reach our community.

4. People need an environment of true depth and intimacy

Thirty seconds of handshaking doesn’t create an environment of depth and intimacy. It actually creates the opposite. People who aren’t greeted (like my wife and I on vacation) may end up feeling slighted. When people say, “Good morning, how are you?,” and you don’t know them (or you only have 30 seconds) chances are you aren’t going to really divulge the stressful details of your week. You’re just going to force a smile, shake their hand back, and say, “Good, how are you?”

In today’s churches we are seeing an increase in slick production and “professional”-style ministry. There is a wide gulf between the elevated stage and the audience, both literally and philosophically. People are used to following celebrities with big personas and retweet their short catchy statements to their own followers. Worship becomes an emotional event about us rather than being about the Gospel. Our relationships are becoming reduced to text interactions that require minimal risk and minimal reality.

Our relationships are becoming reduced to text interactions that require minimal risk and minimal reality

I actually heard about someone giving their “two-weeks’ notice” over text!

In social circles, people seem to be more “shallow” than ever before. What we need is more genuine koinonia and life-giving relationships in the place where people need it most: the church of Jesus Christ. So take my advice, drop the “greeting” time, and start building true community this Sunday. I promise I’ll give you a fist bump the next time I see you.

 

Pastor Pilgrim is the lead pastor of Shoreline Church, a new church in Southwest Florida. You can check out his blog or follow him on Twitter at @pilgrimbenham.

The Benefits of Vision

Solomon observed, “Where there is no revelation (God-inspired vision) the people cast off restraint; but happy is he who keeps the law” [Prov.29:18]. The immediate context is that when God’s word is not known and honored the people run wild. On the other hand the ones that know and do are blessed. Vision for our purpose is a God-inspired attractive future. The perceived benefits encourage people to put the vision into effect. There are three critical elements for effective God-inspired vision: receiving the revelation from God, communicating the vision, and then implementing the vision.

Effective church leadership requires leaders to sense where God wants to move His people during any particular season of ministry. Often the sense of an attractive future is expressed as the church’s vision for the coming season(s). So church leaders will communicate a vision for the coming year that might focus on evangelism, prayer, community groups, community service, being disciples who make disciples, Bible-study, etc. The possibilities are seemingly as infinite as our infinite Lord.

Effective church leadership requires leaders to sense where God wants to move His people during any particular season of ministry.

In 2015 Calvary Nexus’ vision focuses on connecting with Christ as part of our church community. First the benefit, connecting with a healthy local church is a fundamental means to connect with Christ and become a mature follower of Jesus. How do you know if you are connected to a church community? Here are seven statements that reflect a connection with Christ and others in a local church:

1. I know and resonate with the mission of the church, “Loving God and living His Word.”

2. I regularly attend weekend services.

3. I’m involved in mid-week community.

4. I’m involved in service at the local church.

5. I can identify seven friends in this church community.

6. I invite unbelievers and unchurched people to become part of this community.

7. I’m committed financially to advancing God’s kingdom through this church community.

Our church leadership believes that the greatest benefit to the people who call Calvary Nexus their home church is to help them to develop community here so that we can grow together as mature followers of Christ. So our great desire is to see 100% of our church community able to respond affirmatively to the seven statements described above. We know that this will be a process for each of us. Also we don’t want anyone to feel that relationship with Christ is based on performance. Similarly we don’t want people to be motivated by guilt, shame, or manipulation.

We must consider how to most effectively communicate the vision to the church community. Is the vision clear? Do you understand what is expected or desired as you read the vision? What personal benefits do you perceive from implementing the vision? How often should we share the vision [e.g. monthly, quarterly]? What mediums should we use to communicate the vision [e.g. web site, mobil app, videos, flyers]? Unfortunately we often need to communicate the vision ad nauseam before those that we are speaking with see it, hear it, and get it.

We will also consider how to most effectively implement the vision among the nexus community. We seek to encourage progress and growth without being heavy-handed. Whenever accountability is encouraged there is a tendency to create conflict with people potentially feeling over-controlled or being improperly motivated. So we earnestly want to determine how to measure progress in a proper way. We will look to discover what are some of the obstacles you and others at our church are likely to experience? Does the vision resonate with you? Why or why not? What progress are you making in regard to implementing the vision?

Why is all this so important? Despite the obvious challenges a great vision is unlikely to yield benefits without effective communication and implementation. Vision helps people reach a desired attractive destination without running wild. We are Christ-confident that if you implement the vision in this coming season that you will make significant growth as a disciple of Jesus in connection with Him and others in community. Or as Solomon declared, you’ll be blessed!

Vision helps people reach a desired attractive destination without running wild.

Pastor Bruce Zachary planted Calvary Nexus in Camarillo, CA and is the director of Calvary Church Planting Network. Many of his resources are available for free online, including Kingdom Leaders and the Church Planting Manual. You can follow Pastor Bruce on Facebook.

Book Review: “Community: Taking Your Small Group Off Life Support”

Pastor Jay Fulton in New Jersey wrote this insightful review about Brad House’s book, Community, which focuses on the importance and structure of small groups.

—————————-

As a church planter I appreciate the wealth of resources that are available to me that encourage, provide insight, or reinforce some things I might already know.  One of those resources is the book “Community: Taking Your Small Groups Off Life Support” by Brad House.  In many ways this book has helped to shift how I think about community groups and the limits I placed on them.  Quite often churches view community groups as peripheral ministry and not as essential—after all, we disciple and fellowship sufficiently on Sundays, right?  Well this was how I viewed community groups too, but the early church knew nothing of such a notion!

The reality is that the concept of Community is central to our experience in Christ and essential for discipleship and effectively spreading the Gospel.  The description of the early church found in Acts 2:42-46 provides a sketch of community that is the basis (or should be) for all that we do as church planters and leaders: “And they continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers…all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need…continuing daily with one accord…breaking of bread from house to house, they ate food with gladness and simplicity of heart.”  Did you catch that?  The early church did “life together” on mission for God.  And the result is that God added to the church.  So why then is this kind of community lacking?

the concept of Community is central to our experience in Christ and essential for discipleship and effectively spreading the Gospel.

I won’t attempt to completely answer that question in this post, but House identifies at least once reason for this result, and that is our individualistic identities.  We tend to value individual accomplishment over group achievement.  But the church should demonstrate a collectivist view of life.  I don’t mean this in a political sense, being a populist.  But it’s how Dietrich Bonhoeffer summed up the notion: “Christian community means community through and in Jesus Christ.”  It is through Christ that we have been reconciled to God and to one another. It is in Christ that we are united together like a family who shares the bloodline of Jesus.  Basically, the witness of community is more powerful than an individual witness.  Loving your neighbor is much easier if you never have to deal with them.  Living in light of the Gospel is much harder in community where people sin against you” (House).

“Christian community means community through and in Jesus Christ.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Having provided a foundation on which to build, House begins to outline two additional major steps for building thriving community groups: [1] redefining community groups by applying the theological and philosophical convictions to the real experience of living life together, and [2] effecting change in those groups which takes prescriptive approach to transforming community groups.

While both of these final two sections provide a detailed perspective and approach to implementing and changing community groups, I will leave you with some quotes from the book that I found to be beneficial.  In the meantime, I recommend adding this book to your reading list in the new year!

 “I have heard many purposes for joining community groups, including but not limited to: belonging, making big church feel small, learning the Bible, pastoral care, fellowship, friends, closing the back door of the church, evangelism, and so on. Each of these purposes has merit and can be argued as essential to the church. I would suggest, however, that these “purposes” are in fact the product of community rather than its ultimate goal.”

“In the case of the church, our goal is to produce disciples of Jesus who worship him and exalt his name. If we aim at a product such as belonging as the purpose of community, we can achieve that goal without pointing to Jesus.” 

“When retaining people becomes our goal, we inadvertently communicate that our purpose is to grow the church rather than glorify God. We become more interested in building the church rather than advancing the kingdom. We lift up the church rather than the name of Jesus.”

“As we prepare to change the direction of community groups in our churches, we must take time to look at what God has called the church to be. Where we have missed the mark, we should follow the example of Josiah and lead our people in repentance.”

Small Groups Q&A

Josh Bowers is the Fresh Life Groups Pastor at Fresh Life Church in Montana. They currently have 70 small groups meeting across the state in different cities, with about 700-800 people involved (about 60% of their average weekly adult attendance), and roughly 150 leaders.
As 2014 kicks off, and churches across the nation gear up to re-launch small groups, I thought it would be insightful to hear from Josh about what is working for them…
————————————–
1. What’s the vision behind Fresh Life Groups?

The vision of Fresh Life Groups is the same as the vision of our church. To see people stranded in sin find life and liberty in Christ. Fresh Life Groups is the “Life and Liberty” part.

 
2. What’s one of the biggest challenges your church faces with connecting people and how do you overcome it?

One of our biggest challenges is having enough groups for everyone to plug in to. We are finally at the place where the amount of groups has pretty much caught up to our growth. I don’t know of an easy answer for how to overcome this. Who you place in leadership is incredibly important. A small group leader has a platform, and they can use it in a bad way. We’ve all experienced the negative side of small group leadership. Personally, I would rather not have enough community groups, and wait for the right leaders, then to put someone whom I didn’t feel comfortable with into a leadership position. I say wait and God will put the pieces together. He always works it out in the long run.

I would rather not have enough community groups, and wait for the right leaders, then to put someone whom I didn’t feel comfortable with into a leadership position. 

3. Obviously small groups are an important part of Fresh Life – how have they impacted the health and growth of the church?
The impact of Fresh Life Groups in our church cannot be overestimated. Since we started Fresh Life Groups I would say that our counseling load has gone down by 80%. No joke. And of the people who come in for counseling now, I would say 80% are not in groups. This is just one part of the overall effect of groups in our church. Those who are in groups see tremendous growth in their lives. They have people to hold them accountable, pray with them, encourage them, and do life with them. Our groups have walked people through some of life’s hardest challenges. In short, the body has become the body. And the body is best when it ministers to the body.

the body is best when it ministers to the body.

4. What would you say to the skeptic, or to the person who’s not convinced of the need for groups?
No church grows, or is healthy, without community. If you aren’t intentional about how you create community, people will find it on their own. It’s going to happen one way or the other. Creating groups helps plug people in who might fall through the cracks, and it gives you the chance to structure and cultivate how you want community to look in your church. That way you’re not spending all of your time facilitating the left handed quilting Mom’s ministry, but creating a group environment that is furthering the overall vision of the church.
This is not to mention the fact that we all need to be connected. God hasn’t just called us to Himself, He’s called us into His body.
Our pastor, Levi Lusko, says to our church all the time “If you are not in a Fresh Life Group you are getting half or less of what this church has to offer you.” We all need to be connected. Groups is how we do it.

God hasn’t just called us to Himself, He’s called us into His body.  

5. Are there any resources (books, blogs, websites) you’d recommend for people who are trying to launch groups in their church?
Yes! “Sticky Church” by Larry Osborne was our biggest resource in creating our current small group format. “Community” by Brad House is another great resource.