Adam & Keira Smallcombe
“We’re just checking you out…” is one of the most common phrases church planters hear when starting a church.
I remember when we had just started holding *real* services in our church. This is after the pre-launch phase and team meetings. Now spectators, and even critics, were coming to church.
Each Sunday we were so excited, anticipating the new guests that would walk through the door and finally see if our marketing efforts and dollars had actually worked. Every week Keira and I would stand in the lobby greeting people as they came to church. And for some reason, when talking to guests, I began to hear a pattern emerge in conversations.
Every time I would welcome someone new, they would make a statement like, “We’re just checking you out.” As if to make sure I understood that they were going judge everything about the service – my preaching, the sound levels and everything else – before they would commit to joining. I can remember the nervous pressure that put on me as a pastor, to make church as comfortable and attractive to them as possible.
Now, not only did these comments come with pressure to do things right, there was also pressure from some new guests to not do certain things at all.
Like one time I was greeting a gentleman who I hadn’t met before. He was a big guy and as he walked into the lobby I reached out my hand and said my usual welcome greeting, to which he responded… “This isn’t one of those ‘tongue’ speaking churches is it?” A little startled, I replied… “Well, umm, maybe, sort of, yes?” He then rolled his eyes, grunted under his breath and without shaking my hand (that was still stretched out) just walked straight into service.
I began to notice that all the people who I wanted to like the church were also the ones that didn’t stay very long or caused nothing but frustration while they were there.
So one time, as I was greeting a family that had just stepped into our church for the first time and said that annoying sentence, “We’re just checking things out…” I, maybe out of frustration, replied with… “Oh good, because we’re just checking you out also.”
They looked immediately shocked at my response. I continued… “Because we’re a passionate church, with wild faith and a big vision, and this church isn’t for the faint hearted.” The husband looked at his wife and then looked back at me and said, “I think we’re going to like it here.”
That was the moment we began to build a church we actually liked.
You see, so many church planters feel the pressure to perform for people and make church nice and neat so that people will stay. This will cause you to play things safe and may even prevent you from moving in the Spirit, for fear of things getting messy.
It will also create a church that you don’t even like going to. What a tragedy, to build a church of 1000 people and not like any of them.
Now I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t be diligent with following up new guests and being smooth with our transitions… but if you begin to forego values in order to keep people, then you are in a dangerous zone. You urgently need to get the leverage back.
The Bible says that the church is the bride of Christ. We aren’t some ‘thirsty’ girl.
We are not desperate for a date and willing to negotiate on our values so that people will like us. No, we hold to our convictions and create an atmosphere that is a privilege to be a part of. Everyone is welcome, of course, but at the same time we clearly know who we are and who God has called us as a community to be. This is how you gain the leverage and create an atmosphere where new guests are intrigued by the service, rather than critical of it. In fact – let me give you three simple ways to do this.
- Define your distinctives.
Most churches similar to yours will believe in the core elements of Christianity, faith and the Presence of God, but what is it that makes you distinctively you? Is it your passion, your discipleship, your responsive culture or your lean toward social justice? These distinctive’s are what set you apart and define the flavor and feel of your church.
- Set your standards.
Simply put… what you allow and don’t allow. For example, is barefoot worship leading cool with you? Can people freely spirit dance with streamers in the aisles? Are random exaltations from shofars appropriate? If not, these things have to be addressed immediately, with the only reason being that it isn’t the way you do things.
- Create a strong culture.
Is your culture stronger than the culture people will bring with them? Most people coming to your church plant in the early days will be Christians coming from another church setting. They will bring with them a strong idea on how church should be done (even though they left that church). You will find that a fledgling church is more susceptible to strong opinions, so these voices can hijack your culture fast. Be steadfast in your convictions and repeat, repeat, repeat your culture at any and every chance you get.
Trust me when I say that you will still build a large church, now it will just be one that you like going to.