good questions

Man looks at the outward appearance

What a wonderful book the Bible is! Its depth is unsearchable. You can read it a thousand times and still it yields more and more insight. His mercies ARE new every morning. (Lamentations 3.23)

One rich source of insight in scripture is to ask the question, "Is there a secondary truth here? After we figure out what the main truth is, we often do well to ask what else is there. Sometimes, lurking in the shadows is a truth we never saw because of the blinding light of the main truth.

One classic example of this is this verse:

If you are praising God with your spirit, how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand say "Amen" to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying? 1 Cor. 14:16 [NIV]

There is the main truth in this passage, which, in context has to do with speaking in tongues. But, there is a secondary truth. It is in the shadows, can you see it? This is what I see: when you do church, you ought to think about how this feels to outsiders. When you have guests in your house, you act a little differently than you when it is just family.

Willowcreek has made this idea famous, but they did not invent the idea. It has been in the Book all along. We may not go as far as Willowcreek does in applying this principle, but we cannot ignore it, it is in the Book. A secondary truth, but clearly there.

Here is one I found recently:

But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." 1 Samuel 16:7 [NIV]

The main truth is obvious. If you want to be like God, if you want to please God, if you want to make choices like God, look at the heart.

There are a million applications of this idea, but here is one. Imagine your church is considering two musicians to lead worship. One has an incredible voice, can play the piano like Dino and guitar like Chris Tomlin. But, you don't sense much of a heart for God. You don't sense that he loves God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength. Another is adequate musically, but not a virtuoso or a rock star (depending on your generation).  But he just oozes love for God.

Who do you choose?

If you want to be like God choose the guy with heart. That is the main truth. But, let's look at this passage and ask a different question? (I love asking good questions.) What does this verse teach us about how to reach men? What do men look at? Titus 2.10 speaks of making the teaching about God attractive. What does 1 Samuel 16.7 teach us about making the teaching about God attractive?

It teaches us that man looks at the outward appearance. If we want to reach men for God, we should give some attention to the outward attention as well. How does this apply to church? Here are a few ideas that come to mind.

Advertising

Countless research projects have demonstrated that most people come to church because of word-of-mouth. Few come because of advertising. I have never heard the follow-up question asked: how much advertising do we do? In my experience, most churches do almost no advertising. Now if you do almost no advertising, it doesn't take a Rhodes Scholar to figure out why very few people come because of advertising. No advertising = nobody coming because of advertising.

We are looking at the spiritual stuff: whether or not people pray and stuff, but man is looking at the outside. Man is looking at the billboards, cable TV ads and direct mail pieces. Do they look really cool? (Do they even exist?)

Here is what I recommend. Find some people who are into this kind of thing. Give them a budget to work with. Then, (and this is the real key), have them give an account of how many people came as a result of the advertising. If you wanted to get really serious, have them give an account of how much the people who came gave. It is possible to do advertising for free--that is, it is paid for with money that the church would not have had if they had not done the advertising. McDonalds does it all the time.

Jesus spoke of the value of being shrewd. I think this is what he meant.

Web-page

In this day and time, the next step is often the web page. Man is looking at the outside. What does this look like to him? Does it show up on a Google search? Does it have that unmistakable quality of coolness? Is it fresh and updated? Is it easy to find what you are looking for? Does it include pictures, audio, video, a podcasts?

Curb appeal

What does your church building look like as you drive by? Willowcreek recently did a study that revealed that 15% of their visitors visit simply because of the curb appeal of the building and grounds. Here is an amazing thing: they keep up those grounds with volunteers. Volunteers mow the lawn. That is a different topic. The point is, the building and grounds themselves should make the gospel attractive. Man is looking on the outside.

Greeters

If you ever get a chance to visit Saddleback, count how many times somebody shakes your hand before you sit down. My guess is it is at least six. They have greeters in the parking lot. Greeters at the curb. Greeters outside the building. Greeters just inside. Greeters as you walk into the auditorium. It is incredible. How many times would you shake my hand if I came to your church? Man looks on the outside.

Paint

I talked to a pastor of a fast growing church once and asked him what he did in the early days to create momentum. "Paint" was his one-word reply. I was looking for something more spiritual, but he understood that man looks on the outside. I was looking for a more spiritual answer.

Rest rooms

I heard someone say recently, "When I visit a church, the first thing I do is check out the rest rooms. If the rest rooms are clean and well decorated, I feel good about the place. If not, I am outta there." (By the way, can you guess the gender of this person?)

Preschool

Take a deep breath. Does it smell like a dirty diaper? If so, I bet you are not reaching many young couples. Man looks at the outside.

Little stacks of old literature

This is one of my pet peeves. How many times have I been in a Sunday School classroom and there are little ratty stacks of old literature lying around. "We can't get rid of that, it contains the Word of God!" Yeah? Well, shelve it, organize it, give it away, read it. . . do something with it, but these little stacks of literature have got to go. Man looks at the outside.

Music

The churches that are reaching young people--and there are lots of them--are using the music of young people to do it. If you want to reach young people, use the music of young people. I don't know how many churches I have been in that bemoan the fact that the young people don't come to their church. "The young people! The young people! I just don't understand why the young people are not interested in church?" It is not that they are not interested in church. They just don't like the music. "Well, they shouldn't care so much about such things." They shouldn't. They should be more like God who looks at the heart. But they are like man that looks at the outside.

Brush your teeth

I knew one pastor well enough to know that he kept a toothbrush and toothpaste in his lap drawer of his desk. He used it often. I have known others well enough to know that they didn't and they should have.

Conclusion

Oh, and by the way, as you consider this, don't get totally lost in it. Remember the main point. God looks at the heart.