Around the New Year for the past five years, I’ve presented my top 10 list of non-theological issues I feel lessen the effectiveness of our faith community. Surprisingly, little changes from year to year, which may contribute to the malaise affecting churches and members; there seems to be little interest in self-examination. A few readers report signs of change. One reader recently noted her large-church pastor announced “meet n’ greets” and “self-identification” will be replaced with pre- and post-service hospitality — a step in the right direction. With best intentions for our faith community, I forge ahead and present my top ten list for 2015, in no particular order.
Reduce proof texting
Many preachers use a form of sermon delivery incorporating “proof texting.” Taking a theme, they support it by dozens of texts from all over the Bible. Recently I attended a service at a well-known evangelical church in town. The pastor spent the majority of his talk time quoting so many verses of Scripture that by the end, my biblically-rooted head was fairly spinning. An unnecessary and defensive practice, it confuses and possibly misleads more than it informs.
Takeaway: Proof texting is not the best practice
Balance social gospel outreaches
Some churches spend so much time focusing on social gospel issues, they fail to inform and inspire membership on understanding the totality of the gospel. While social gospel issues are important, too often they duplicate the work of the state and community dealing with individuals and families with needs, who may have no interest in the gospel or a spiritual life, making churches welfare agencies.
Takeaway: There’s more to religion than social gospel
Adopt customer service attitudes for your guests
After 15 years of visiting area churches, I find most lack in treatment of guests. Usually I’m ignored, not welcomed, and leave with more questions than answers. However, churches tend to avoid self-examination, denying such behavior exists. The untrained serve as greeters, providing poor hospitality. I’m traveling in my ancient truck as I write this. Needing a spare tire I located the appropriate wheel at a wrecking yard, and took it to a well-known Oregon-based tire company. Carrying the wheel inside, I was surprised when a representative opened the door, took the wheel from me, while asking me what I needed. My need was quickly serviced, and I was on my way with a smile. From that experience alone, I’ll go to that company in the future. Despite Genesis 18 counsel, and numerous Pauline exhortations, few churches do this. Greeters need to be similarly trained, pure and simple.
Takeaway: Customer service attitudes are needed in churches
Clean up church websites
Too many church websites are a mess — out of date, poorly designed and maintained, lacking service times and locations on the main page. Beautiful pictures of mountains, lakes, rivers, and forests adorn most church websites. Yes, Alaska is very beautiful but our natural beauty has absolutely nothing to do with the work of any church.
Takeaway: Poorly designed and maintained church websites hurt more than help
Provide guest parking
Too many churches do not provide any guest parking, or if they do, designate a pitiful number of spaces. Signs saying “First Time Guest Parking Only,” translates to “Welcome, we expected you.”
Takeaway: Guest parking is not an option, it’s a must
Stop blasting people
The worst sound I experienced in 2014 was 117db, equivalent to the sound of a jet taking off from 100 yards. This behavior is anti-Christian by its insensitivity. A mother with a newborn was across the aisle from me, about 30 feet from the stage. I believe that child suffered permanent ear damage from it. Here’s a thoughtful take — including a useful chart — on the subject.
Takeaway: It’s un-Christian to blast guests with excessive sound levels
Create a millennial-friendly environment
The millennial generation offers the greatest hope for the church, yet most churches provide millennial-unfriendly environments. Few churches actively study the massive amounts of research on millennials to understand and address their needs. The average member doesn’t know what a millennial is, what their issues are with churches and religion, and seem not to care.
Takeaway: Understanding millennials is critical to the survival of most churches
Cultivate hospitality attitude
How many sermons on hospitality have you heard during your years of church attending? Probably none or few, especially compared to the number of sermons you’ve heard on giving, missions, or you name it. Hospitality is a practical application of the Christian life. Guests are stranded in a strange land when they visit a church using non-inclusive language. Compare this with how you would treat someone in your home. Sitting down to dinner you might recognize your guests, and let them know how happy you are to break bread with them. You might say a prayer, noting it’s your custom to hold hands around the table as it’s said. This doesn’t usually happen in churches, but recently I attended a communion service where it was done. It was wonderful — like being part of a family! “Meet and greets” and calls for guests to identify themselves was the topic of a recent column citing a survey by church researcher Thom Rainer as the top reason first-time guests do not return.
Takeaway: Customer service understanding can pay big dividends for your church
Rethink attitudes toward music
Most evangelical and Pentecostal churches devote a lengthy amount of time — perhaps 30-45 minutes — to music. Songs tend to be contemporary, and presented in pop/rock format at excessive decibel levels (see above). Often congregants are so unfamiliar with the songs, there is little singing. In essence, it becomes a concert performance with lyrics that are often theologically dubious or sentimental. A few churches are discovering the beauty of hymnody. Catholics too are going through a renewal of their music.
Takeaway: It’s not about the music wars; it’s about the meaning of the music
The mission field is really Alaska, not elsewhere
Alaska church people still send people to far-flung mission fields on expensive, short-term mission trips instead of recognizing the mission field is here. Most African mission fields, for example, are much more Christianized than Alaska. Why are people and millions going there instead of resources being devoted here?
Takeaway: The mission field is here
Happy New Year and joyful church-going!