Capitalizing On Visitors

Capitalizing On Visitors

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

It is a pretty courageous move for someone to make the decision to attend a church they are unfamiliar with full of people they do not know. From the moment they park, they are deciding whether or not this is a one-time deal or the first day of a beautiful relationship. Church growth statistics say that things like the cleanliness and attractiveness of the facilities, the preaching and worship services, and the location of the building are important, but so many of the factors revolve around how members respond to them. Thom Ranier gave a list of 10 reasons why over 1,000 people surveyed never returned a second time. The list included unfriendly church members, no place to get information, bad church website, poor signage, insider church language (not theological terms as much as initials–think CYC, EU, MPR, etc.), and members telling visitors they were in their pew (Source). How can we prepare for, then provide for a great experience for visitors, then make progress with those who “check us out”?

TEST. Evaluate.How are we doing at this? Every single church whose members are asked, “Are you friendly?,” invariably answers “yes.” Most visitors, when asked by poll-takers and surveys, say of a church that they are unfriendly. How could that be? We are more often friendly to those already “part” of the group, but not to people we don’t know. We’re uncomfortable talking to “strangers.” We’re afraid of offending someone who we find out is already a member. We’re unsure of what to say. But, we need a way to evaluate where we are and how to improve. This may be done through something akin to “secret shoppers,” perhaps brethren from far enough away not to be known to local church members who pose as visitors and report their experiences to church leaders. This can be done by QR codes and/or Google forms hosting.a brief survey evaluating their “guest experience.”

TEACH.  What the leadership emphasizes, the membership internalizes. What does Scripture have to say about this vital interaction? James 2:2-4 is the most explicit New Testament passage, warning against personal favoritism with such encounters. But Matthew 4:19 says we’re to be fishers of men, and these are fish who have fallen into our own pond. 1 Timothy 2:3-6 reminds us of God’s feelings toward every “all men” and “all,” which certainly includes those who visit. We are to be “finders” (John 1:40-41), and who is easier to find than one who comes to us. These are just a few passages which should build our conviction to connect with visitors.

TRAIN. We may need help to become more effective at making the most of the visitor’s visit. That includes emphasizing the discipline of simply looking for those who may be new or what to say when inviting someone to come. It includes getting organized, properly utilizing the welcome center, greeters and/or ushers, new member orientation, and all that needs to be implemented and improved to make us intentional with newcomers, first-timers, and returnees. It is really the whole-life mentality that we must incorporate to further this precious relationship.

TIME. In the 1980s, Herb Miller published the statistics that 85% of visitors return if visited in the first 48 hours, 60% if in the first 72 hours, and 15% if visited in the first seven days (Source). Today, that may mean text, email, or call, but even in today’s tech-first world, it’s hard to beat even a brief, friendly face-to-face visit. But, following up quickly is key to success. Taking it to the next level includes building a way for more than elders and preachers (or even deacons) to be the one making contact.

TRANSFORM. What is or should be our interest in visitors? We are trying to move them from the “visitor” column to the “member” column. If they are not New Testament Christians, that means something totally different than if they are “transfers” moving from another location. To transform the relationship, we must inform them. That includes where to go, who we are, what we are doing, etc. That can be in a welcome brochure or packet, or with an attractive, informative web site, or with a key “front man” or “front woman” who connects with them when they come through the door. Ideally it is all of the above. Likewise, to transform the relationship, we must communicate with them. Where’s the bathroom? Where’s their child’s classroom? Why are we taking the Lord’s Supper, singing instead of having a concert, or doing X instead of Y? That can be done in a user-friendly rather than confrontational way that is positive and helpful. The point is, we often assume people understand more than they do. To transform the relationship, we must connect with them. They will need to form at least five connections, according to experts, in order to “stick.” Again, this must be intentional. To transform the relationship with specifically non-Christians, we must study with them. At some point, we must work up the courage, when we know they have not obeyed the gospel, to ask them if they will study the Bible with us. That takes us back to the “training” step because the more of us trained to do that (and the follow up with new Christians), the more we will grow and the better we will transform those who come among us.

Consider this list more of an appetizer than a five-course meal. There’s so much needed to leverage these crucial relationships. This is the easiest opportunity within the Great Commission. These are the “come into all the buildings” rather than “go into all the worlds.” Let’s be good stewards of our visitors. The stewardship principle includes the idea that the better we manage what we are entrusted with, the more opportunities we are given! Let’s make the most of those opportunities (Col. 4:5)!

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WHY PLANNING IS POWERFUL

WHY PLANNING IS POWERFUL

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

 

 

 

 

 

Neal Pollard

  • It forces us to focus. So often, churches just “do stuff.” We don’t ask who, what, where, when, or how. We don’t ask if the thing is effective, evangelistic, edifying, or empowering. Is it outmoded? Is it merely self-serving? Can it be improved? Planning clarifies. 
  • It makes us intentional. Whether we are looking at what is currently done or what should be done, planning makes us deliberate. Especially is this true when we consider whether or not the activity, program, or work is merely internally-focused (for us) or externally-focused (for lost souls). Do we plan to grow? Reach a tangible number of people each year? Increase the depth of our footprint in the community? If so, how? Specifically how? 
  • It says that leadership is thoughtful. Planning takes precious man hours from the leadership, but how it pays off! Personal analysis, congregational analysis, and biblical analysis require thought. Done well, it will build conviction that doctrine is never to be tampered with, but that methods and means in harmony with Scripture require judgment, discrimination, and scrutiny. Putting thought into the church’s works and needs is Acts 20:28 in motion.
  • It combats chaos. So often, a church’s works lack cohesion and coordination. There are no filters in place to ask if an individual work fits with the church’s vision and mission. Works may be good, but who knows what goes on with them or if they are working. Who is accountable? To whom are they accountable?
  • It expresses discontent with the status quo. It is easy to continue with works, programs, and activities that are already in place and have people managing and executing them. But, most of our methods and means of doing church work need to be evaluated regularly to ask if changes are needed. Change brings discomfort and takes work, but as our resources change–time, talent, treasure–we may find that we are more or less able to engage in the various works of the church. We should always be looking for more and better ways to serve and glorify God. 
  • It is biblical. Jesus had a tangible plan for world evangelism (Acts 1:8). Paul had a tangible plan for growing the church through the missionary journeys (Acts 15:36ff). Look at how 1 Timothy reflects and requires planning to help the Ephesus church (1 Tim. 3:15). Paul had a tangible plan for establishing elders in congregations throughout the island of Crete (Ti. 1:5ff). Something that was in God’s mind in the eternity before time (Eph. 3:9-11) deserves our best effort, using our brightest minds to find biblical ways that are most effective to grow and strengthen it! 

Goals, dreams, intentions, and ideas will not, by themselves, accomplish anything. We must work to make those things a reality. But, a crucial first step is to articulate where we want to go. That makes planning so powerful! 

Study The Bible!

Study The Bible!

Thursday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

I doubt that many of us would question the importance of knowing our Bibles. We talk about this a lot as a church family! While some Christians may approach Bible study with the mentality of loading their theological guns with argument-ending ammunition, others consider it a duty of their Christianity.
Few of us would argue that the Bible is always simple and easy to understand. This life, our faith, and many questions we have about our day-to-day lives require answers far too complicated to get from a cursory study of scripture.
So why is it important to study our Bibles, and how can we do it effectively (that is, to walk away from Bible study with more knowledge and faith than when we entered it)? It is important to study the Bible because ignorance of what it says is a major underlying cause for any problem a church might face. Do we want unity? Study the Bible. Do we want peace among ourselves? Study the Bible. Do we want strong, faithful Christians? Study the Bible. Do we want godly attitudes? Study the Bible. Do we want wisdom to know when to practice righteous judgment and when to keep silent? Study the Bible! Effective Bible study – when practiced by the majority of a congregation – will effectively strengthen and grow that church. So how do we effectively study our Bibles?
First, have a purpose to your study. Winning an argument with a friend, coworker, acquaintance, or contact on social media is rarely a good reason to approach the word of God in study. It is too easy to allow our pride or ego to get in the way of honest truth-seeking. Instead, approach your study with purpose. Are you seeking to grow your faith in God? Study accordingly. Are you seeking to understand how to respond to something in your Christian walk? Study accordingly. Are you trying to cope with grief, tragedy, or frustration? Study the Psalms and the end of Job. Whenever you sit down to read, have a purpose.
Secondly, study like a scholar. There is a time and place for covering as much text as you can (like reading the Bible through in a year). However, this should not be our primary method of study. Spend time in a small section of scripture. Look for key words (words that repeat themselves in your section of study), ask questions of the text when something does not make sense, look for words like “therefore,” “but,” and phrases like, “I urge.” See how they fit into the context of your passage. Use multiple versions in your study to gain a better understanding of the “feel” of the passage. As much as you can, look to the original language for definitions or insights. If you have a smartphone, download an app called Logos Bible Software. It will give you access to tools that will help you understand the meaning of words in their original language, even if you cannot read Hebrew or Greek. Avoid commentaries if you can at all help it. They are often (though not always) platforms for the writer to voice an opinion and rarely explain the meaning of the text with accuracy.
Thirdly, study frequently. I recommend printing out the passage you are interested in studying and complete one printed section per day. This is arbitrary, of course, but will still help to create some consistency. Use colored pencils/pens/highlighters to make the text come alive and to aid in recognizing patterns.
Finally, share what you have found with your friends in the church! If you have a group of friends studying the same passage, find ways to share what you observed in the text in your daily bible reading. This not only creates accountability for reading daily, but will also grow your faith and knowledge when you understand that passage so very well!
If you take up Bible study like this, you will be amazed at how much closer you will grow to God and to your church family. If all of us approach study this seriously and with this much commitment, we will grow as a church family in unity, faith, knowledge, love, patience, grace, and wisdom.
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A New Testament Leadership Style

A New Testament Leadership Style

Neal Pollard

USA Today ran a story about New York Knicks’ owner James Dolan. He’s depicted as a heavy-handed micromanager who feels more allegiance to his shareholders than the fans of the iconic professional basketball team. He’s contrasted with successful franchises, which the Knicks certainly are not at present, whose leadership sees themselves as stewards of a public trust and who casts a vision of a team which belongs to the people more than it does to those writing the paychecks and making the profits (Zillgitt, Jeff. USA Today, 3/15/19, 6C). 

While the article is prone to the subjective and fallible viewpoint of the author and his ability to properly research the subject, there’s a valid point to be made and applied much more broadly than just the world of sports.  Leadership approach is pivotal to the way and degree to which “followship” responds and participates in the vision and direction provided. Leaders who micromanage, arbitrarily dictate, fail to facilitate opportunity to be involved, and lead from fear stifle and prevent those in their stewardship from investing and contributing to the overall success of the organization.

Think about how this applies in the context of church leadership. When the Bible describes an elder’s role, one of the terms it uses for him is an “overseer” (Acts 20:28). This word means “one who has the responsibility of safeguarding or seeing to it that something is done in the correct way” (Arndt, Gk.-Eng. Lex. Of the NT, Et al,  2000: 379).  Neither the definition nor New Testament passages outlines, specifically, how that is to be done by means of method and judgment. It has to get done and it must be done correctly. Sometimes, elders hang on to “deacon duties” because it’s easier to do something than seeing to it that others do it correctly. Sometimes, it can be easier just to say “no” to some program idea or ministry than to endure the headaches of the trial and error in getting it off the ground.

Yet, there is wisdom in shepherding as stewards who help members invest and share in the success of fulfilling the purpose of the church as laid out in the New Testament. Such leadership encourages members to find ways to serve, to propose new ideas and methods to fulfill the New Testament mandates to evangelize, edify, and be benevolent. It facilitates their success–it announces, promotes, and advocates. It provides a watchful oversight that puts biblical rails around whatever the specific work is. Paul’s counsel helps elders know how to oversee: be on guard and shepherd. That means pay attention and take care rather than be aloof and detached. It also means to watch out for people and provide for and help them what it takes for them to spiritually survive. 

This leadership style is what makes such works as Bible camps, Lads to Leaders, Monday Night for the Master, lectureships, Bible classes, in-home Bible studies, fellowship groups, workshops, and the like thrive and grow. The more of us that feel invested in the work and success of the church, the more effort will be put toward growing and improving how it all gets done. Let’s show our appreciation (1 Th. 5:12), loving esteem (1 Th. 5:13), and cooperative submission (Heb. 13:17) to our overseers as they continue to try and lead us in this way. 

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So thankful for the great, godly elders. of the Bear Valley church of Christ

“I Praise, I Participate, I Proclaim”

“I Praise, I Participate, I Proclaim”

Neal Pollard

Yesterday afternoon, the Bear Valley eldership stood before us one by one to talk about their priorities both for themselves and for us. They distilled them into five simple words that describe five profound concepts: (1) Worship, (2) Communication, (3) Fellowship, (4) Accountability, and (5) Leadership. They told us that as the religious world is growing more homogenous in their worship style (a la community church model; rock concert-ish), distinctive New Testament worship has a chance to stand out even more. Yet, we need to always be improving our efforts in leadership and participation. They emphasized that communicating news, ideas, and needs is a process that will always need work and priority. No church ever arrives in this regard. They spoke of the importance of building a closer church family, knowing each other through age-related opportunities and entire congregation opportunities. This happens when we’re all together, in the classroom, and away from the building. They stressed the importance of holding one another accountable, for faithfulness, commitment, and support. Otherwise, there is no way to move from ideas to action. They told us that all of us exert leadership in some area. There is formalized leadership positions, as outlined in the New Testament (elders, deacons, preachers, teachers). But, inasmuch as we all have a sphere of influence (cf. Mat. 5:14-16), God expects us to lead. Throughout their entire presentation, they were specific about strategies aimed at helping us be successful. I appreciated the great challenge this was for us to work and grow. There were so many quotable sayings from their collective lesson, but the one that struck me most was made near the end. As we have adopted three planks of emphasis as a church, based on Acts 2:42-47 (praise—worship, participation—fellowship, and proclamation—evangelism), we were challenged to think: “I praise,” “I participate,” and “I proclaim.” It can be so easy for us to approve the church’s need to grow and improve in these areas or to expect the elders to do these things. But, no matter who we are, we can and must ask, “What can I do?” The key to being a great church is the willingness of every member to make personal application. It’s not, “What are they doing?,” “what are you doing?,” or even “what are we doing?” No! It must always primarily be, “What am I doing?” I’m thankful that our elders spoke with confidence and clarity about the fact that there is plenty of opportunity to be involved in making Bear Valley a strong, relevant church, a city set on a hill shining a light in spiritual darkness. Thank God for strong leadership, which encourages me to say, “Here am I, send me!” (cf. Isa. 6:8).

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