Battling Familiarity in Your Church

When first-time guests walk into the local church, they see the church with a fresh perspective—and that isn’t always positive. They view the worn carpet, smell the unaired basement, see the cluttered classroom, and observe the bathroom that seems more at home in the 1960s than in the current age. Many churchgoers have become comfortable in these familiar surroundings and miss the opportunity to invest in the infrastructure of the local church. But guests do not. There is a saying, “First impressions are lasting ones.” What the church facilities look like is as vital to first impressions as how guests are greeted when they arrive.

Has your church become so comfortable in the familiar that it misses what guests are experiencing? Guests will break through the confines of the comfortable and see Christ, or they will see the church stuck in the familiar and never return.

Familiarity in Loss 

Established churches, those that have been around for decades, have most likely seen their numbers fluctuate over time. These changes would have been absorbed and unnoticed in decades past. But with the onset of COVID-19 and pandemic-induced inflation, the church has faced two strong headwinds that have sped up membership declines. 

The familiarity with loss is exacerbated by long-term members not coming back to church regularly, and the lack of families with young children attending. As guests enter the church for the first time, they can sense that the church is lacking. While they might not be able to put their finger on what it is, they can see the stress and strains of the loss. 

Instead of focusing on the loss, church leadership should focus on what could come from new families visiting the church. The church must embrace its season and not make excuses for the failures, but begin to define a new normal to move forward. God is not surprised by what is happening in the local church; instead, he has given us the tools in the form of people, programs and positions to propel the church forward in this new season.

Familiarity in Uncertainty

When loss comes to the church, a time of personal and spiritual reflection takes place. It is natural to talk, observe and pray through the loss. However, many established churches have found themselves stuck in uncertainty, and it has become their friend instead of an action step to behold. Nowhere in Scripture can I find that God wants the church to sit in uncertainty for an extended period. Instead, I read that he constantly propelled his people forward to capture new ground for the kingdom. 

As guests enter a church for the first time, they are already uncertain about what they will find. If church leaders are making excuses for why something is not done or done a certain way, how does that build confidence in your first-time guests? It does not. It makes them more certain not to return. 

There is no better time than today to begin to capture God’s new vision for the local church. If you have a lot of empty classroom space in your building, reimagine the area. See what the neighborhood around the church needs. Can your local church help meet those needs by providing space for an afterschool program, counseling space for addiction, or grief support groups? 

Outside the church’s campus is a world that needs your local church. Be a church that reflects the community’s needs by opening herself up to meet those needs in partnership with the neighborhood. Do not get stuck in the uncertainty of time but be confident that God still has more for your local church to accomplish.

Familiarity with the Familiar

I have heard it said that people should come to church for Jesus, not for what the church looks like on the inside. While I will not disagree with the heart behind the comment, people look at the facility’s facade and judge the church’s effectiveness from that point of view. Right or wrong, it happens weekly. So, if you know that church shopping and consumerism Christianity take place, what will the local church do about it? Sit back and wait, or take preemptive care in caring for the facility? The answer should be caring for the facility as an extension of honoring God’s plans for the established church. 

Spend some time walking the facility with crucial leaders, observing from the parking lot to the pew and everywhere in between what guests might see. Review outdated bulletin boards to inadequate trash cans, and rank the issues from easiest to fix to the hardest. Tackle the low-hanging fruit and develop a long-term plan to solve the significant problems. Share what is being done weekly, and celebrate when things get completed on the list. If a guest is sitting in the pew and hears this message on their first Sunday, they see/hear the action of the church coming back alive, and they might want to join in the efforts of reviving the declining church. The challenge will be to become more familiar with the list so that you remember to complete the list and constantly evaluate what needs to be added to the list over time. 

Realize that the best days of the established church are not behind her but what lies ahead. Help your local church move from familiar to further preparing for guests so they feel welcomed, comfortable, and part of the family they want to join when they come.