Developing an Infrastructure for the Future

What you do today is as important as what you might do tomorrow. In 2 Kings 2, we read about the prophet Elijah walking with his understudy, Elisha. Elijah was preparing to go home to be with the Lord, and Elisha wanted to make sure the mantle of Elijah fell on him, so he stayed ever close. Much like Elisha, the church must wish to remain so close to God and his plans for the local church that the church people move with him when he moves. 

When you look at your local church, where is the mantle of the church? Is the church stuck in the 1970s as an elaborate museum of the past? That is not where God is; he is in today and tomorrow. As a leader, you are called to be like Elisha, who is desperate to see God move, so much so that you would stay close to him in your prayer, preaching, and participation time. When Elijah was taken into heaven, Elisha claimed the mantle of Elijah and would see more signs and wonders than his teacher. A double-portion blessing had fallen on him. The established church has a second and third act of her life if she is willing to stay close to God and obey his commands. But it takes a leader like you to get out of God’s way and begin following him.

Recently I went on the website of a church that runs over 600 in weekly attendance. The website was something out of the early 2000s. It was antiquated and hard to navigate. If I were a guest, I would instantly see that they were stuck in a time warp of a past era, making me pause. Why? Because people want a church that is alive, not half-baked and on its way to death. You may say, “Well, the church must be doing something right because of its size, yet, it’s not preparing for the future as most of the congregation is older.” Without tweaking the foundation’s outer edges, the foundation will not stand under the weight of deaths that will come with age. Like Elisha, the church has to become hungry for guests. That takes the church developing an infrastructure for future guests. Your website, social media pages, podcast, signage (inside and outside the church), room design, etc., speaks volumes to the church’s values. 

In 2 Kings 2:19, “The men of the city said to Elisha, ‘Look, our lord, this town is well situated, as you can see, but the water is bad, and the land is unproductive.” The town was there, but the infrastructure for sustained future growth needed to be improved. Just because you have people today does not mean you ignore what may happen ten years later. You have an obligation to redesign and instill the infrastructure that will help your local church become productive well into the future. 

Care for the Facility with Guests’ Eyes

Elisha asked the men telling him the ground and water were unproductive, to bring him a new bowl. In essence, he said, let’s look at this problem with fresh eyes. Gather with a group of members who are willing to see the church change to reach its neighbors. This small group should be ready to critically evaluate all aspects of the church from the inside out. Much like laying the groundwork for a new street or neighborhood, the church has to envision where things should go and how things should come in the future. One small example of developing infrastructure is your guest’s information card. What is the purpose? If the intention is to gather and share information, is the card streamlined enough to accomplish that task? Guests do not want to feel like they are filling out an application for a loan to attend your church. Make sure it asks for basic limited information that somebody can glean and plug the person or family into ministries in the church. 

The church should not use the guest’s card to collect details that the church will never use. One way my local church uses a subliminal message through the guest information card is to list five service organizations that we invest in as part of our mission at the bottom of the guest card. We share that if a guest fills out the card when spoken about from the stage during the service and circles one of the five organizations, we will donate $5.00 in their name to that particular agency of their choice. By adding value to the guest card, we are saying to the guest we not only value you for showing up and the information you are filling out, but we value the partner agencies we get to partner with as a church—place value where value needs to be placed and eliminate all unnecessary distractions.

Create Easy Onramps

Do not make it difficult for a guest to find your church. Ensure your website has your physical address, telephone number, and other essential information at the very top of the page. Far too many church websites hide that information in a tab or at the bottom of the page. Guests do not want to search for basic information. They want it quick and fast. Look at your website and social media pages as if you were a guest. Have selected ages within your church go to these sites and provide honest and open feedback. Make sure you do not leave out any age. If you do not have children in your church, ask your grandchild or a neighborhood teen to do so because their feedback will be valuable to the church’s future. It would help if you had a plethora of feedback to enhance what you are already doing to capture guests. 

Review all materials that guests may touch:

  • Bulletins. These should be designed with the guests in mind, not members. For instance, information about the next potluck should have enough information that guests would know where to go, what to bring, and how to get there. Information placed weekly in the bulletin should be about sharing the church’s values, not just information for members. Be honest with yourself; guests do not care how much money the church has brought in weekly, how many people attended last week compared to the previous year, or the names on the prayer list, as they most likely do not know anyone. What they do care about is the order of service, the next activity they could join, and where to find the pastor/church office number if they need something during the week. 
  • Announcements. Fewer are better. If the announcement is in the bulletin, has been shared on social media, or a slide before service, why does a guest or a member want someone to read what they have already read themselves? Yet, announcements are as crucial as offering in some churches. Announcements were made in churches years ago because most people could not read. Today we have a high literacy rate in churches. Only announce the important stuff, not everything the church is doing. Develop instead a monthly newsletter that can be mailed or emailed to members if you want to share announcements at greater length.
  • Greeters. During the pandemic, we heard a lot about essential workers. Greeters are the church’s front-line essential workers who can leave a positive or negative impression on guests. One sour greeter can ruin the church for a potential attendee, so make sure greeters are trained in customer service to welcome, guide, and have a conversation with first-time guests. 

These highlighted areas are only a small handful of what should be reviewed as you look at onramps for first-time guests. 

Connect Through Varying Avenues

Once a guest comes several weeks in a row, what then? Find creative ways to get them plugged into the church culture. Ask them if they would like to help pass out bulletins, serve coffee, or be a door greeter. Think about all the frontline opportunities for people to serve. Be cognizant that they should not be put in positions of authority or overseeing children but placed in areas where they can feel they are part of a family and not just an outsider. Over the last number of years in my local church, there has been a significant shift in leadership from those serving for decades to newcomers. This shift has created excitement for the newcomers that they feel part of something larger than themselves, while the long-term members can see the value of newer people coming to the church. I would be reticent not to say that some long-term members have felt pushed out or rejected when new members have come into positions of service, which has caused friction. But you cannot allow the negative mindset of some to hold back the church from growing forward in a new Christ direction. 

Finding ways for newcomers to serve is redigging the wells needed to be more productive in Elisha’s time. As Elisha was brought a new bowl (2 Kings 2:20), Elisha put salt in the bowl and then went out to well and threw it upon the waters. “This is what the Lord says, ‘I have healed this water. Never again will it cause death or make the land unproductive’” (2 Kings 2:21). By obeying God and preparing the church for future guests by evaluating and then enhancing the church’s infrastructure, you are making what once was dead and bringing it back to life. Trust the God process and allow God to help transform the old into the new.

Desmond Barrett
Desmond Barrett
Desmond Barrett is the lead pastor at Winter Haven First Church of the Nazarene in Winter Haven, Florida. He is the author of several books, most recently, Helping the Small Church Win Guests: Preparing To Increase Attendance (Wipf & Stock Publications) and has done extensive research in the area of church revitalization and serves as church revitalizer, consultant, coach, podcast host and mentor to revitalizing pastors and churches.