When someone goes to a small church for the first time, what should they expect?
That’s an easier question to answer for big churches. When you’re serving hundreds of people, certain expectations are universal. Age-appropriate Kid Ministries, high-end musicianship, professional-quality graphics and printed materials, etc. It’s like going to a brand-name restaurant when you’re traveling. There’s a comfort level in knowing what you’ll get.
But the experiences you’ll have in small churches vary widely. It’s more like checking out the local diner in a new town. You don’t know what you’ll get, but you take the risk because you’re hoping for an experience you can’t get anywhere else.
Here are a few principles that meet a minimum standard that every guest has a right to expect in any healthy small church.
1. Genuine, Intentional Friendliness
It’s intimidating to walk into a small church for the first time. The way we help guests overcome that is to make sure they get the best part of the small-church experience – connectedness and community.
All healthy small churches should excel at this. Receiving, or not receiving a genuinely friendly greeting may make or break the entire experience for guests.
You may think your church is friendly. Most church people do, because that’s where their friends are. But friendliness is not automatic. We must be intentional about reaching outside our own circle to welcome others in.
2. Meeting The Pastor
When someone visits a church of hundreds or thousands, there’s no expectation (or need) to meet the pastor. But the smaller the church, the more important it is. And in a church of 100 or fewer, it’s essential.
As a pastor, I know how frantic Sundays can be. But a simple handshake and greeting with newcomers before or after the service may say as much to them as the best sermon you’ll ever preach.
3. Sincere, Passionate Worship And Prayer
Your church’s worship team probably isn’t putting out a studio-quality worship album this year. In fact, your response to that last sentence may have been, “Yeah, right. What worship team?” But that doesn’t mean your worship can’t be sincere and passionate.
Real worship isn’t about the musicianship, It’s about hearts turned towards Jesus in praise and prayer.
4. A Building That Looks Like It’s Cared For
In 2013 my wife and I were in a Gypsy church in Eastern Europe. The poverty was oppressive. The building had no indoor plumbing. But what they did have was tended to with great care and respect.
If your church has a building, it needs to be kept up. That means budgeting for long-term maintenance like painting, repairing leaks, etc. It doesn’t need to be perfect – after all, a lot of small churches aren’t able to pay their pastor’s salary, so it can be hard to justify upgrading the building. But the free, or almost-free things like painting the building and cutting the grass show care and concern.
You don’t even need to own a building to do this. Wherever you’re meeting needs to be scrubbed clean. Especially the restrooms and kids’ areas.
5. Accurate, Up-to-Date Ministry Information
Whether you have a handout bulletin, a website, or a Facebook page, the information must be accurate and up-to-date. You’re better off having nothing than having inaccurate or out-of-date info.
Even if your church is more spontaneous in your worship experience, it’s helpful to add a few lines in the bulletin that tells newcomers what they can expect in the service that day.
6. Obvious Signage
It doesn’t need to cost much, but people should be able to find you. And once they’ve found you, they need to know where everything is – especially the bathrooms and kids’ room(s).
7. A Clear, Practical Presentation Of The Gospel
This must be the priority in any church, whatever its size.
We should never be sloppy, boring or inaccurate in our presentation of the Gospel.
Nothing else matters if the Bible is not honored, taught, preached, and lived in the simplest, clearest way possible.
The message should also have some serious study and prayer put into it. Whether we’re speaking to ten people or 10,000, we should never give anything but our best when it comes to presenting God’s Word.
8. Opportunities To Serve – Inside And Outside The Church
Look at your bulletin. Listen to your announcements. Is it all about internal events? Or are there opportunities to serve each other and minister to the community that would be obvious to anyone coming to your church for the first time?
New people don’t come to a small church to be an audience. That’s much easier to do in a bigger church. They come to participate – in fellowship, worship, and ministry. Don’t make people search for ministry opportunities. Put those opportunities front-and-center.
(Photo by JourneyPure Rehab | Flickr)