How Rediscovering the Church as Family Changes Everything
Feels Like Home
WHO: Lee Eclov, senior pastor of Village Church of Lincolnshire in Lake Forest, Illinois.
HE SAYS: “Being a part of the family is in every Christian’s spiritual DNA. There is no Christian anywhere who is not a brother or sister.”
THE BIG IDEA: Because we are the family of Christ, the church should feel like home. This book details what that looks like.
Part 1, “Our Family Album,” examines the design for “God’s household” in Scripture—our covenant relationships, the significance of being called brothers and sisters, and the relationships that arise from our mutual commitment to Christ.
Part 2, “Interior Design: The Spiritual Art of Decorating a Church Home,” explores the ministry spheres that especially make a church home.
“The church as home has always been a rich theme in our Bibles. Part of pastoral work, of church leadership, is drawing people back home.”
A CONVERSATION WITH LEE ECLOV
What are some simple steps pastors can take to make their church feel like home?
Start by telling your congregation that they are God’s family. Tell them often. Tell them in different ways. Preach passages or books that emphasize our relationships (e.g., Ruth, Philemon, John 13:34-35, 1 John). This is a slow process because it is counterintuitive to the American church.
Be sure you know names. Help others know names. You can’t love people very well if you don’t even know their names. Pictorial directories are important if your congregation changes very much.
See visitors. It’s amazing how a visitor can be invisible to us and our people, as if they’re camouflaged. It isn’t enough to be friendly at the door. We need to engage and befriend people, so we have to see them. Don’t embarrass them. Befriend them. Talk to them.
Think through with your leaders how you’d “do church” differently if you they thought of their roles as parental rather than administrative, or to put it another way, if they thought of the church as family rather than as an organization. How would your meetings change? If elders are overseers, what would they actually be looking for if they think of their flock as God’s household entrusted to their care?
In making church feel like family, does it matter whether it’s a megachurch or a small church?
Yes. Honestly, I don’t know how to accomplish this in a megachurch, although I know that some are able to accomplish it. In one way or another, a megachurch must create “country churches” in their congregations. (I say that because I grew up in a country church.)
But a smaller church obviously has some significant advantages. People don’t tend to get lost. Smaller churches are usually better at personal attention, when someone is sick, for example, or in praying for a brother or sister. Smaller churches often have worship services that seem more family-like—the sense of being among ordinary people and the absence of professionalism and staging.
The pastor of a smaller church can invest more in individuals—as pastors should do. We are not quite so consumed with management. We can invest in what I call the inefficient imperative of pastoral care. I’m just not sure how large churches can do that, especially with the people who don’t join small groups.
How can churches turn from a numbers and church-growth mindset to one of loving guests?
Start by preaching from Scripture what the Bible says about healthy churches. The only time numbers are mentioned is in the first stories of the early church and again at the very end of our story in Revelation where the numbers are beyond counting. Biblical emphasis is on holiness, love for one another, orthodoxy, and a good reputation among unbelievers. Our sense of ecclesiology is very poorly formed. I love the image of the party thrown by the father for the prodigal son. That’s what our church should be like.
We ask our people to pray for three things every week: (1) that all who come to our service would know that “God is really among you” (1 Cor 14:25), (2) that they would know that these people really love one another, and they loved me (John 13:34-35), and (3) that these people are a “pillar and foundation” of God’s truth (1 Tim 3:14-16).
We have also adopted a rule that I saw (of all places) in the basement of a Marriott Hotel when I got off at the service floor by accident. There was a big sign reminding their workers of “The 15/5 Rule. When a guest comes within 15 feet, stop—make eye contact and smile. Within 5 feet, we engage and verbally greet the guest.” So on the monitors in our foyer we always have our little code, “15/5,” to remind our people to connect with our guests.
Finally, I virtually never speak of our church size as the measure of anything important. Of course I’m encouraged if new people come, and we do what we can to make that happen, but not really so that we can grow but so that we can love them.