Widening the front door

I read recently of a church named, "The Spirit Garage: The Church With the Really Big Front Door."

Clever.

I want to talk this week about widening the front door, part of a strategy for doubling the "capital C" Church. The front door is a metaphor for the first contact people have with your church.

Church growth is not rocket science. We need to do three things:

  1. We must attract visitors.
  2. We must get them to stick around.
  3. We must make disciples of them.

I believe it was Elmer Towns who taught me that it was around 1970 that the primary front door shifted from Sunday School to the worship service. It appears it is shifting again--in a new direction--more on that later. Prior to 1970 most people's first contact with the church was in Sunday School. As we looked at 1970 in the rear view mirror, people increasingly came to worship first, and later Sunday School or small groups. This led the way for huge worship-service driven mega churches. Many of these would have only 20% of their worship attendance in groups. The front door was really big and wide open.

I am told that this trend is shifting and many mega churches are addressing this in spades. Word on the street is that some actually have more in groups than they do in worship. (By the way, if you could confirm or deny this with hard numbers, please email me at josh@joshhunt.com ) Indeed, things they are a changin.

I had an affirmation the other day of my new plan for a Double Your Church Conference ) I spent the better part of a morning with a group of pastors in Monticello, AR. It was wonderful. It was a great affirmation to me that the way we train pastors has been too much about clicking PowerPoint and not enough about conversation. This morning we had a conversation. What I discovered shocked me.

One pastor shared that although he only had about 50 coming to worship and Sunday School on Sunday morning, they had 200 or so coming on Wednesday night. Now there is a head scratcher. Churches I grew up in had 200 on Sunday morning, 100 on Sunday night and 50 (if that) on Wednesday night. This church was doing the opposite. The problem, as he saw it, was how to translate that Wednesday night front door into Sunday School attendance. I pushed back.

The questions you ask have a lot to do with the answers you receive. If you ask good questions, we have a chance of getting good answers. If we ask the wrong question, we never come up with the right answer. If we ask, "How can we get these people to show up on Sunday morning?" we will never come up with the right answer. A better question is, "How can we make disciples of these people?"

This Wednesday night crowd was not a Brooklyn Tabernacle style prayer meeting. It was composed of five components. First, they had a large TeamKid group. (Teamkid is the Southern Baptist version of Awanna.) Since TeamKid is a very worker-intensive program, there were also a lot of parents who stayed to help with TeamKid (component #2). The third component was a hot youth service with a loud band. Rick Warren and Bill Hybels both say the most likely time for unchurched Harry to attend church is Sunday morning. I think that is true if unchurched Harry is 45. Not so much if he is 15. If you are 15, church on Sunday morning does not speak of something exciting, with-it and something he wants to be a part of. It speaks of stuffy old-fashionedness. The most likely time for teenagers to attend church for the first time is Wednesday night.

I had another youth minister reflect recently, "It used to be that Sunday morning was evangelism and Wednesday night was discipleship." Now it is the other way around. Times they are a changin.

Component #4 was the preschool. Component #5 was the adult program. Here is where the real opportunity lies for this church, in my opinion. If I were there, I would aggressively start small groups for adults on Wednesday nights. I would cover topics ranging from need-meeting, "How to Win Over Worry" and "How to Raise Super Kids" to more doctrinal and spiritual topics like Experiencing God and Enjoying God. The most likely time to get parents of TeamKidders to attend church is not on Sunday morning, it is, in this case on Wednesday night. They are already dropping their kids off. Why not just tell them, "We have something for you as well." Wednesday night is where the fish are biting. 

This observation was affirmed recently reading the book The Power of Small Groups. Harley Atkinson observes, "While the primary entry points into the church have been, at different times, the Sunday evening service, Sunday School, or the morning worship service, people today seem to be drawn to entering the church through mid-week activities." (Atkinson, pages 19 - 20) Leith Anderson quotes Lyle Schaller in saying people born after 1950 are more likely to enter a new church through something other than the Sunday morning worship service.

I challenged this pastor to work out a strategy based on this new observation. Bill Hybels' seven step strategy for turning irreligious people into fully devoted followers (pagans to missionaries) provides a model. The first few steps are. . .

  1. A member of Willowcreek befriends unchurched Harry
  2. A member of Willowcreek shares a verbal witness
  3. A member of Willowcreek brings his friend to a weekend seeker event. Note: this is not a worship service; it is a weekly seeker event.
  4. After unchurched Harry responds to Christ he is encouraged to come on New Community on Wednesday or Thursday night for deeper teaching and worship

. . . small groups, learn stewardship, learn evangelism and start the process over. We, too, need to work out a strategy.

The TIGER Strategy works like this.

  1. Through a wide variety of means, people enter the front door. This could be Sunday morning worship. It could be Wednesday night activities. It could be a home group. In some way, we make contact with outsiders. Most churches have plenty of visitors. My research indicates about 87% of the people who visit our churches don't join. Our problem is not that we can't get people to come to church. The problem is, they have been to church and don't want to come back. One of the best ways of getting them to come back is to do step #2.
  2. We invite them to a party. I will do this next Monday night in my home. I am having a Monday Night Football party. I have received a number of prospects from my church and will be calling them and inviting them to join me for Monday Night Football.  Will everyone come that I invite? No. But some will, and some of them will go to step #3.
  3. People pick up on the fact that this group has other Bible Study opportunities. In my case, this is a Tuesday night group that I have recently given to a friend in my group, a Thursday night group that I will start in 2 weeks, or, one of two Sunday morning groups at church. Through ongoing exposure to Bible Study, worship and fellowship, people grow in discipleship. We make disciples.

Let me invite you to work out a strategy for your church paying attention to the front door (what I call the magnet factor), the assimilation process (what I call the Velcro Factor) and the discipleship process (through Disciplemaking Teachers). The Double Your Class strategy works best in a context with a really big front door.

By the way, I would love to work with you on developing this strategy. This is exactly what we will be doing in Memphis and Ocala, Florida in November and December. This is not a sit and click PowerPoint kind of experience. We will hammer out the details of an individualized strategy for attracting visitors, getting them to stick around, and making disciples of them. Space is limited.