Earlier this summer, I wrote about my desire to worship in every Illinois Baptist church. Even though it would take years and years of attending a new church every week, I can’t think of a better way to invest my Sundays than to meet, and listen to, and worship with, as many Illinois Baptists as possible.
Since writing about that desire, I’ve already been invited to worship in eight new churches for the first time on a Sunday morning. Some have been invitations to come and speak, and some have been invitations to simply join the church for worship, which I enjoy just as much. But I am so grateful for each of these churches that responded to my simple question, “May I come to your church?” with the same gracious answer: “Sure, we’d love to have you.”
It’s made me wonder how many people are asking that same question every week about your church or mine. They probably don’t ask it directly of us. In fact, they probably don’t even ask it out loud. But they drive past, or read about, or perhaps hear someone talking about our church. And they wonder what it would be like to go inside.
Of course, their question is really multiple questions. What exactly happens in there on Sunday mornings? How would I know where to go and when to do what? Would I know anyone, and do they know anything about me? How would I be treated? Would I like it? Would I want to go back? Do I know anyone who would go with me? What about my kids?
I think we would all like to answer the simple question, “May I come to your church?” positively and warmly. Of course we want new people to come to our church! But if we really expect it to happen, we have to realize that these “questions behind the question” reveal potential barriers that may be keeping people from taking the first step.
For example, my sons tell me that most people their age will not seriously consider attending a church that does not have a decent web site. It’s not necessarily that they are looking for a technologically sophisticated church. It’s just that their generation gathers information that way. Whether they’re trying to answer a trivia question or shop for the best price or consider attending a church, they usually go to the web first, to check things out.
An effective church web site can be a wonderful tool for helping people anonymously answer their questions about your church in advance. But some people are going to look to the newspaper, some to the phone book, and some are going to want to call the church on Saturday night. In other words, an effective, inviting church is going to do everything it can to answer the questions behind, “May I come to your church?” before they are ever asked out loud.
Of course, just as important as answering these questions in advance is answering them on site at the church, especially on Sunday. A first time guest to your church needs all kinds of help that your regular attenders don’t need. That would seem obvious, but I am sometimes surprised at how difficult it is to find a church’s service time, or address, or directions. And even if the church is easy to find, it can be unclear where to park, or what door to enter, or where to go once you’re inside.
Fortunately, almost all of the churches I attend, even for the first time, do a great job of communicating in advance, and welcoming warmly when I arrive. And if I’ve not yet been to your church on a Sunday morning, I would still love to come and join you in worship. But far more important than my asking this question are the many people in your community who may be asking it silently every week: “May I come to your church?”
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.