I’m sometimes asked, “Would you do anything differently if you were to pastor a church again?” I think I might. Here are some of the things that popped into my mind.
- I would celebrate more. I would do my best to find appropriate ways to celebrate what God is doing in our midst. Answers to prayer, baptisms and meaningful spiritual conversations are definitely worth celebrating but there are so many more! When we fail to celebrate we fail to give God the glory He is due. We fail to recognize He is active and at work (and if we do that for too long we can fail to recognize His presence among us at all and can begin to leave Him out of the equation all together). Celebrating energizes and inspires people to recognize and respond to God’s activity in and through them.
- I would program less. I was usually pretty careful about this, but I think I would be more vigilant. Programs are fine as long as they are helping us take responsibility for our community and make disciples. If they do anything other than that, they make people too busy, use too many resources and draw us away from what God has called His church to be doing. I would make good use of tools like the Ministry Map to help our thinking with this but I would do my best to make sure God’s people had time to actually love and serve their neighbors and build the kinds of relationships that provide opportunities to share Jesus.
- I would baptize more. Or at least I would hope to. In my last church we held a baptism service once a year and it was special service that everyone looked forward too. I think I would do it more often if the opportunities were there. We need more of these special services. Of course the other part of that statement (“I would do more…”) has all kinds of implications for what the church does for training, planning, disciple making, serving, mission – all that. I would need to pay attention to that stuff too.
- I would help my church pay more attention to welcoming and greeting and all that stuff we think happens but really doesn’t. The more I read, study and visit the more I become convinced that how we welcome visitors matters. So often on Sundays we act like we aren’t expecting anyone new to show up. We stay in our little circles. We use insider language. We assume everyone knows where the nursery and washrooms are. Stuff like that. We need to do better. Greeters and ushers need to be trained well and ready to answer questions and give tours. Signage needs to be visible. Regular attenders need to be intentional before and after the service when it comes to engaging with visitors. What happens “up front” needs to be presented with first time folks in mind. This thought should influence our preaching, announcements, how we explain and serve communion, everything. This is more that “shake hands during the music” stuff. It needs to be done well.
- I would pay more attention to my church website. Because people will show up there before they ever show up in my building. And if it is out of date, confusing, and insider focused they will never visit my building. This isn’t very spiritual stuff but it matters.
- I would create more opportunity for people to be prayed with on Sunday mornings. Prayer matters. Or at least it should. And yet we seem to be doing away with it when we gather. I think there is a place for the pastoral prayer. And there is a place for opening the alter after the service and inviting people to pray and be prayed with. Of course I would need to have people ready to pray with others. But it would be a shame if somebody walked into church needing prayer and walked out not being given the chance to pray.
- I would create as many ways as possible for people to give. Plate. Automatic withdrawal. Online. Text. I will not go too deep into this one – you can contact my friend Sandy for all the details. But if all we do is ask for cheques and cash we are not giving everyone a chance to worship through giving. Along with this, I think I would do more than simply call the ushers up. These are worship moments that need to be explained regularly. Also, giving people an idea of the kinds of things their giving allows the church to do is important (and is a way of celebrating what God is up to. Look at me coming full circle). I would make these moments matter.
So that’s a start. That’s what I would do different. I hope that helps you think through some of the stuff you do at your church.
Director of Leadership Development, the Free Methodist Church in Canada.