God has blessed me with the wonderful privilege of being a Christian apologist. Part of this calling includes traveling around North America and teaching at different churches in different denominations, encouraging Christians to stand strong in the truth and contend for the faith (1 Peter 3:15; Jude 1:3). It truly is a blessing to be able to do this!
When I'm at different churches I occasionally see things that are being done that stand out to me, things that make me say “Hmm! That is an interesting way of doing things! I think I like that!"
So, I’ve been writing these things down for a while with the hope that passing them along to other pastors might prove beneficial as they ponder how to best serve God's people. Most pastors I have talked with are kicking around the questions, “What can we do better? What can we do differently?” They know the importance of loving the people, solid teaching, good worship, etc. But they also know that everything from the signs out front to the paper towel dispensers in the bathrooms affect the experience people have when they come to their church. So, with the desire to help pastors and their staffs think about different possibilities regarding ministry, I humbly, and in love, offer this list of ideas.
(Newest ideas are at the end of this article)
1. Youth-integrated gatherings.
I am seeing more and more churches include their junior and senior high kids in their Sunday morning gatherings. I think there is some real wisdom in this. Many kids who grow up in Christian churches fall through the cracks after high school. They fall off the radar as far as church is concerned. Only a small percentage seem to go on and get connected to the main congregation. One of the reasons why is that these young men and women are suddenly thrust out of the high school group and told to start attending church with adults they’ve never met. Well, for a variety of reasons that is a huge challenge to them. Not only do they not know the adults, they don’t know the pastor. There are no video games to entertain them before the service.* The worship is often different. It is an uncomfortable experience to say the least. And unfortunately, many of the young people do not make the transition. If we want them to continue to be a part of the church family as they head into adulthood, why not start including them in the adult gatherings at a younger age? Integrating the youth into the main gatherings doesn’t mean that we end our youth groups. Many of churches that include the youth in the main sanctuary on Sunday mornings still have a youth night during the week and do some fun activities outside the church, etc.
* I’m a bit surprised that some youth pastors feel the need to offer video games to kids on Sunday mornings at church. It seems to me that kids have enough time to play games during the week. Many kid’s social skills and grades suffer because of the large amount of time they devote to gaming. And then they come to church and we offer them more game time?
2. Including young children during worship.
There is wisdom in having young children participate in classes where they can be taught the Bible at a level they will understand. But something I’ve seen more and more that I like is the inclusion of young children in the main sanctuary for the time of worship before the Bible study. What a blessing for families to worship together! After the time of worship, the congregation can be encouraged to spend 8–10 minutes greeting each other, grabbing a cup of coffee or a muffin, meeting new people, and parents with young children can be excused to check their young children into their Sunday school classes. This extended time of fellowship allows for something far more meaningful to take place than the popular “Turn and greet your neighbor (and sit right back down!)” line.
3. Shorter worship on front end, longer on back end.
Worship times seem to be sweeter after a time in God’s Word than before. And yet, most congregations seem to stack the worship on the front end and then close with a short song, right after God’s people have had their hearts stirred to worship! I think there is some wisdom in reversing this and starting with two or three songs (then dismissing the kids if no. 2 above is implemented), and then maybe closing with three or four. I'm starting to see this at more and more churches.
4. Quiet time to pray on your own.
I taught at a church a while back and after the second or third worship song, the pastor prayed and then before saying "Amen," encouraged the congregation to take the next couple minutes to pray quietly on their own. This was refreshing. So many church gatherings today are so structured there is little quiet time or opportunity for a person to express their own prayer to God. The worship leader tells everybody when to stand, when to sit, leads us in songs that are written out on an overhead screen, leads in prayer, then announcements, teaching, closing prayer, closing song, dismissal. What a blessing to have a couple of minutes of quiet interlude (with maybe a bit of instrumental music in the background) to express our own words to God in prayer. Selah!
5. Communion elements available at every gathering.
A lot of churches have a special communion service once a month where bread and grape juice are available for God’s people to remember our Lord. What about just having little tables set up in different places around the sanctuary (even near the back) every week where people can partake of the communion elements during worship? There doesn’t need to be an explanation every week about what communion is (most of God’s people know) maybe just a short reminder from the worship leader about the fact that the bread and the cup are available. What a blessing for God’s people to partake of communion often and as their hearts are ready! And don’t forget to leave the elements in the nursing mom’s room, the family room, the green room (for worship team, guest speakers), etc.
6. Including sons and daughters on retreats.
A lot of churches have men’s retreats and separate times for the ladies, great getaway opportunities for people to grow in their relationship with the Lord. How about encouraging fathers to bring their sons and mothers their daughters? Considering the state of young people today, it seems obvious that young men and women could benefit from some extra time with their parents, especially in a retreat like setting. If we really want our sons and daughters to grow up to be godly men and women, why not let them spend time with godly men and women?
7. Bringing potential deacons before the church.
The pastor of a church I taught at in New York recently brought potential deacons before the congregation at the end of announcements and explained how the pastors at the church thought these men would make good deacons, but that the pastoral staff wanted to hear from the congregation (“So over the next week, we want to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly regarding these guys. If you know something we should know about them that might disqualify them from being a deacon, we want to know…”) What a great idea! I think there is a lot of wisdom in doing this. One of the qualifications for deacons—and there are many (see 1 Tim. 3:8–12)—is that they must be beyond reproach. What better way to find out if a person is beyond reproach than inviting the congregation to give you feedback on the individuals being considered for this important position.
8. Offering parenting seminars or conferences.
Parenting is a huge challenge. I have five kids. I know. I am constantly talking with married couples around the country who need help in this great task. How encouraging it is to see that more churches are holding parenting seminars, parenting conferences and even parenting classes. These can be good events to invite nonbelievers to as well. If you are considering doing this but are wondering about a guest speaker, you might contact Craig Caster with Family Discipleship Ministries. Many of my pastor friends highly recommend him.
9. Better looking websites.
I am amazed at how many churches still have old looking websites with poor quality photographs (if any), clipart from old Microsoft Word programs, and very little information. Well, for the younger generation who spends so much time surfing the web, watching high definition television screens, this is unacceptable! Why would a young person who is interested in finding a church in his neighborhood consider going to a church that instantly appears out of step the moment he opens their website? Very few people visit a church today without first visiting the church’s website. Websites are the front doors, even the foyer, into the church. They should be current, vibrant, and beautiful. Here is one person's list of 63 of the best church websites for 2015. Let these inspire!
Also, you might tuck the “Give” and “Donate” buttons down away at the bottom of the site somewhere. I wouldn’t put them on the top row of links. You don't want newcomers to think that’s what you like to talk about (what they can give to the church). Also, I think it is wiser to say "Donations" (rather than "Give" or "Donate") as both "Give" and "Donate" sound like imperative commands—a bit too strong—whereas "Donations" is informative about where to click if making a donation is something the Lord is leading the person to do.
10. Welcome video on church website.
Think about allowing a creative team of people in your church to film and put together a two or three minute "welcome video" where people who are considering visiting the church can meet the pastor and maybe get a little tour around the building so they can know what to expect the first time they come, etc. Check out this great short video that Metro Calvary in Roseville, CA, put together. No words, just visuals. A video like that is not that hard to make.
11. Easy to find gathering times and street address on church website.
Because of the amount of guest speaking I do, I'm always having to go to websites to look up directions and service times. Well, it is often a bit frustrating to try and find when and where the worship gatherings are. If it takes more than a minute to find when and where your services are, you are going to frustrate people. I have often spent three to five minutes looking, before I finally just have to call the church and say, "When are your services on Sunday morning? What is the street address?" People shouldn't have to do that. Make those details easy to find. Here are a couple of good examples here and here.
12. Saving money and paper by sending out e-bulletins.
Some churches spend more than a thousand dollars a month on toner and paper, printing up full-color bulletins...most of which end up in the trash after a quick glance, often times within a week. If you'd like to save the church money (who doesn't!?), I suggest sending out an interactive online church bulletin every Friday to your congregation. I think it's safe to assume that 95% of the people in your congregation have a computer and a large percentage of them have smart phones, so accessing the bulletin will not be a problem. My friend Jeret, the graphic artist at Calvary Chapel in Chino Hills, California, has created an easy to use program that will help you create and send beautiful bulletins to your congregation for just $39 a month. Lots of churches are using it and loving it! Check out how they can help you out at Bulletin +.
13. Keeping worship song selection current and fresh.
I have really noticed in my travels around north America that churches that don't keep their song selection current and fresh (and by that I mean incorporating newer, current, popular worship songs into their sets) are not successfully reaching (and therefore, ministering to) 18-40 year olds and young families. People this age just do not seem to stay at the churches that continue with an "old school" worship vibe. It's uninspiring to them. And so, churches that are still doing "Lord I Lift Your Name on High" (loved it in 1990!) with maybe something as current as "Shout to the Lord" are dwindling in size and growing old. The average age of the fellowships that do this seems to be about 50-60. So, I suggest to pastors, if they are interested in reaching younger people, that they talk with their worship leaders about this and give them some direction on what they would like to see change. Now, having said this, I am not suggesting we abandon the old songs all together. I love the old songs and hymns occasionally mixed in with the newer songs. There is a place for them. But there are also reasons why the Bible says, "Sing to Him a new song (Psalm 33:3)."
14. Updating the church's interior décor.
I have noticed another characteristic of aging churches (where 75% or more of the congregation is made up of 50 to 90 year olds)—they almost always have outdated décor. Of course this isn’t the only reason these churches are failing to attract and retain young people. But I think it is a factor. Young people come into the church and look around. The building looks like it was decorated back in the seventies or eighties and never updated. The sanctuary has old carpet, worn out chairs, and thirty-year-old satin banners on the walls decorated with fake flowers layered in dust. Young people (whether they are Christians or non-Christians) look around and immediately feel out of place. It’s like nowhere they hang out. If you want young people and their families to call your fellowship their “home” church, I encourage you to think about taking down most of the things they would never put in their home. I would ditch the fake flowers, donate the old banners, lose the fake marble columns, repaint the purple walls, etc. If or when finances permit, I would remove the old carpet, replace old tile, put in new faucets and touchless paper towel dispensers in the bathrooms, etc. Need ideas? Ask the 20-35 year olds in the church. Can’t afford a major over-haul? Well, start by doing the little things the church can afford—painting, removing banners, etc. That won’t cost hardly anything. But also make it known to the church congregation, that the young people in the church have some ideas on updating the church décor and that the pastoral team would love for people to help out with the make over. You may be surprised at how many jump at the chance to help tear stuff out, paint, etc.
15. Bookmarking the passage in the loaner/give-away Bibles.
Your church probably already passes out loaner or give away Bibles at the beginning of a teaching for the sake of new people or those who don't own a Bible. Great! But I was teaching at a church recently that took it a step further. They slipped bookmarks (something as simple as a church business card) into the Bibles to the page where we were going to have everyone turn. Of course, most people who need a loaner Bible don't know their way around the Bible very well. And because of that, they will have a hard time finding the place the pastor tells them to turn to. A Bible that is bookmarked right to the passage will help them turn right to the passage and read along. And speaking of these Bibles, if your church can afford it, I do encourage you to make those "loaner" Bibles "give-away" Bibles. Tell the people, "If you don't own a Bible, this is our gift to you. We want you to keep it." A Bible in their home could change their lives!
16. Free gym at the church.
This was a first and I thought worth mentioning. A church in New York state turned part of their building (an unused classroom) into a gym with exercise equipment and offers "free gym memberships" to people in the community via a sign out on the road and on their website. I think this is an interesting idea. Churches use VBS, concerts, plays, etc., to invite non Christians to church. If your church has the space and the budget for some exercise equipment, weights, etc., why not pray about a small gym to attract people who want to get in shape or stay in shape? There are people in your community who want to work out who might jump at the idea of a free gym close to their house, right there at your church. And when non-Christians are in the gym, they will be running into and interacting with Christians, pastors, church employees, etc.
17. Alternatives to the dreaded "Turn and greet your neighbor" time.
Surveys have shown that just about everyone, visitors and established church members (with the exception of strong extroverts), hate the "Turn and greet one another" time during worship services. And they have raised a variety of good reasons the practice should be abandoned and replaced with better alternatives, some of which Thomas Rainer lays out below:
• "Seven Steps Churches Are Taking to Replace the Stand-and-Greet Time"
• "Should Your Church Stop Having a Stand and Greet Time?"
More ideas to ponder in the weeks ahead…
CHARLIE H. CAMPBELL (Twitter: @charlieabready)
Charlie Campbell is the Director of the Always Be Ready Apologetics Ministry and a popular guest speaker at churches and conferences. He is the author of numerous articles, books, and DVDs, including:
• Scrolls & Stones: Compelling Evidence the Bible Can Be Trusted
• Evidence for the Existence of God
• One Minute Answers to Skeptics
• Archaeological Evidence for the Bible
• The End Times: Ten Upcoming Events in Bible Prophecy
• The Case for the Resurrection
• Teaching and Preaching God's Word
His DVDs and books have been endorsed by Norman Geisler, Charles Colson, Chuck Smith, Ed Hindson, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Jeremy Camp, and many others.