Lost Before You Preach the First Word
What if it were possible that your preaching is spot-on. You are prayed up and prepared. You are in tune with God’s Spirit and teaching from His Word in a way that captures attention and is used by God to draw people toward Himself. What if all this is true—yet through no fault of your own, you have lost your potential audience even before you stand at the pulpit?
I believe in the power of God’s Word and the method of preaching to be used of God to move the hearts and minds of men. I also believe, however, that there are certain practical and simple matters that reflect our country, culture and way of life, that are necessary for the experience of “going to church”. If we do not get these practical things right, then often the spiritual things suffer. In fact, I believe that Satan uses these non-spiritual and practical items to thwart the real work of God’s men in the pulpit. Here are some items to think about outside the pulpit that are very important to bringing open, listening ears into your Worship Center.
Finding Your Church. Sunday services are often where the church is most prepared to welcome and share the Gospel with the lost, yet many churches make getting to a service difficult and confusing. Start with your website—is there a map to your church, clearly marked service times and schedule, and is this information on your home page or no more than one very simple click away? Is your church well marked on your street—will someone passing by be easily able to spot your building? Are you providing tools to your congregation like simple invite cards that help them invite others to the services and inform them of the times and location?
Knowing Your Pastor. Next to your location and service times, the number one thing a guest will investigate about a church is the pastor. I’m often stunned at how little information there is about the preacher on church websites and in other church advertising. Is there a bio of your pastor and picture on your website? Is your pastor on social media like Facebook and Twitter so guests can connect and see what kind of man he is? Many things draw people to a church—parents look for great ministries for their kids. Singles look for a large pool of other like-minded singles. But largely adults as a group look for what kind of preaching they are going to experience.
Poor performance in these two areas—making sure your church is easily find-able and visible, and that information is readily accessible about your pastor—will eliminate half or more of your potential guests. Half or more. You have not preached your first word and already eliminated 50% of your potential audience. If you are among those who lament the fact your church has empty seats while the neighborhoods around you teem with lost people, the first response may be to get these simple things right to eliminate these most common of barriers to attendance.
Coming On Campus. When a guest arrives on your campus, they are determining in the first 10-12 minutes whether or not they will ever return. The band hasn’t even started the prelude and you may have lost guests forever. Most churches have no clue how many guests they have pushed off their campus due to snarky parking volunteers, poorly trained and introverted greeters, inept welcome desk staff, clique-ish staff members talking among themselves instead of engaging others.
Church consultant Thomas Hammond related a story of a church that experienced growth after making changes like increasing guest parking from two spaces to twenty, using the word “guest” instead of visitor and focusing volunteers on spending 30-50% of their time getting ready for guests. Here again you see an example of simple guest-centric changes that have nothing to do with God-honoring preaching but radically affect a church’s ability to retain guests.
A clean campus, well maintained, with good directional signage, clean and well stocked restrooms, an excellent greeting and guest services ministry and, importantly, a cheerful and secure nursery are key ministries that create guest comfort and get them relaxed and open to hearing the Word of God. If a guest is not confident in the volunteers she left her child with, do you really think she is going to be listening to your sermon, or rather biting her nails until she can pick up her precious son or daughter? This sounds like a far-out example, but let me assure you this is a commonplace concern among guests in many churches in our culture.
Leading Up to the Sermon. Finally we come to the service itself. Most pastors do spend time in this area, ensuring that the music and service flow prepares the worshiper for the message and is engaging to both members and guests. It’s important to realize that no matter what attracted someone to your church initially, whether singles or family ministry, a personal crisis, spiritual questions, the desire to belong to a social group—every guest comes to your church for a reason.
It’s not random happenstance or chance that brought them to you. God drew them to His people, represented in your congregation. Before the Word of God is preached, we must also ask, how are we ministering to and connecting with those who God has brought our way? Our confidence is in God’s Word preached. But if the ears never reach the message-giver, we must adjust the other aspects of our ministries beyond the preaching to ensure we make the most of each opportunity to share the Gospel through our Sunday services.
Author: Eugene Mason, Communications Director for Cross Pointe Church under the leadership of Dr. James Merritt.