One of the highlights of my first year with North American Ministries was a visit to the Ebenezer Free Will Baptist Church in Miami, Florida with a group of Free Will Baptist pastors and their wives. Pastor Jose Rodriguez and his congregation made us feel so welcome, and we had a wonderful time of worship and fellowship with them.
The Ebenezer Church’s services are bilingual, so much of the worship service we attended was in Spanish. Five minutes in I was wishing I had paid better attention during that one year of Spanish I took in high school. I was desperately trying to figure out what was being said – especially when Pastor Jose was introducing me to sing. I knew he was talking about me because I heard “Jim McComas,” but other than that, until the English translation, I was pretty lost.
The source of my confusion in this example was a language barrier. But, in visiting many Free Will Baptist churches throughout the year, often I get left with the uncomfortable feeling that “I have no idea what’s going on!” Let me give you some examples:
TRYING TO FIND THE CHURCH
When I am heading to a church, I just need a couple basic pieces of information: The address and what times services start. You would be amazed at how difficult this simple information is to find from many of our churches! No website, no facebook page, no recording on the churches phone system with this information – Understand, I want to attend this church, but I have no idea what’s going on!
A simple website, a social media presence, a phone recording – all of these things are simple to arrange, at little to no cost, with very little time and “know how” needed – yet it’s amazing how many of our churches don’t have them.
Chances are, that prospective visitor does not have the latest copy of the Free Will Baptist Yearbook laying around at home with your church address in it. Not having the most basic information about your church readily available to the public makes the statement that “we really don’t care if you come to our church or not – we are satisfied with the folks we have now.”
TRYING TO GET IN THE CHURCH
Some churches have great signage, a clearly marked parking area, and clear directions in the building sharing where everything is located.
Some do not.
Visiting one church recently, I was trying to enter what looked to me to be the main front door. However, it was locked, and I could tell by looking inside that there were potted plants and various other things blocking the entrance. Just then, a church member walked by on the sidewalk and yelled “Why are you trying to get in that way? We haven’t used that door in years!”
Apparently they knew it , and the folks who had been attending the church for years knew it.
But I was visiting for the first time, and I had no idea what was going on!
THE WORSHIP SERVICE
THE BULLETIN – Here’s an announcement for you: “The ASFJ are holding their annual PD at the Jones Family residence this Saturday at 2:00 p.m.”
Say WHAT? Can somebody please interpret for me? As it turns out, the All Stars for Jesus, which is the children’s Bible club on Wednesday nights, were having their “pinewood derby”, which is a small wooden car race, over at Jones family home that weekend.
I guess it made sense to somebody, but hey, I’m just a visitor, and I have no idea what’s going on!
THE SINGING – Lots of churches are singing a variety of new songs these days in their worship service. Many of those churches also project the words to their songs on the wall instead of using hymn books.
This is all well and good – unless your song leader is singing “Song A” and your A/V technician decides to put up the words to “Song B” on the projection screen.
If I don’t know the song you are singing (and I probably don’t ‘cause I’m an old fuddy duddy) I am up the creek without a paddle – because I have no idea what’s going on!
THE TOP SECRET SOCIETY RITUALS – I have seen so many things take place during worship services that went unannounced, and it seemed as if I had been placed in a secret club with secret rituals, except no one had let me in on the secrets!
Everybody is together in one room in Sunday School, and suddenly, with no announcement, folks are scattering out every door to places unknown! Where am I supposed to go? Do I leave or stay here? Where are the kids going? Who knows? I’m just a visitor, and I have no idea what’s going on!
Worship service is moving along and then, out of the clear blue, folks start making their way to the front, dropping money in a bank, and everyone starts singing “Happy Birthday”! What just happened? Does the money go to the person who is the oldest, or is that paying for a membership in AARP? I’m so confused and I have no idea what’s going on!
One of the keys to church revitalization is serious self-examination of all that we do and how we do it. If we are going to be successful, we are going to have to be honest with ourselves. The truth is that many of our churches are stagnant because they place a higher priority on those that are already within the four walls than those that are without.
How many folks will be sitting in your church this weekend thinking to themselves, “I have no idea what’s going on!”
Coming next – Practical ideas to help make it easier for visitors