I had a thought the other day. About a program which would make a church really attractive to me. I can’t really imagine it happening but I would be REALLY curious to see what happened if a church took a leap of faith and tried it not only once, but on an annual basis.
I’d love to see a church which, once a year, shut its doors with the intention that each member attend a different church that Sunday.
Please hear me out on this. It wouldn’t be without some thought and preparation. It would most certainly be with some homework and follow up. But I think it would be not only interesting but beneficial to individual members as well to the overall health of a church. Why? Because we get too comfortable.
We forget what it is like to be the new person in the pew who doesn’t know anyone or where basic things like the bathrooms are.
We forget what it is like to awkwardly wonder when we can sit down and stop trying to force people to interrupt their mid-service conversations to shake our hand and say a polite hello.
We forget what it is like to not be sure if we should stand, sit, or even kneel.
We forget what it is like to sing a song in a slightly different way than everyone else.
We forget what it is like to not be 100% sure if we should or should not be taking communion as well as not knowing the particular little quirks of how each church distributes the elements just a little bit differently than the one down the street.
We forget all of these things and more.
And then we assume that our church is the only one who is doing it right. Which, in case you haven’t guessed it, is so far from the truth of the matter. And because of that, it is a dangerous assumption to allow yourself to have.
So here is what I propose:
Step 1 – Choose a Sunday when you as a church are not going to meet. Publicize the date like CRAZY.
Step 2 – Provide a list of all other local, Christian churches. Both those who are similar in worship style to you and those who are very different….not to mention everything in between. Be sure the list includes service times, addresses, and any relevant directions or quirks a visitor should know about (such as children’s opportunities during the service or Sunday school options).
Step 3 – Ask everyone to pick one of the churches off the list. They should pick as a family (if applicable) but not with their friends. After all, part of the point is that you go out and meet new people, not just huddle with the same people you always huddle with on Sunday morning.
Step 4 – Challenge everyone to ponder a few questions before they go. Some suggestions:
- What assumptions about the style of worship do you have going into this church? Are they positive or negetive? Why?
- What sort of reputation does the church have in the neighborhood?
- What sort of reputation does the denomination they belong to have?
- Do you believe they have anything to teach you about who God is and how you can grow in your relationship with Him, worship Him more fully? Why or why not?
- Do you know anyone who regularly attends this church?
- Why did you pick this church and not other churches on the list?
Step 5 – Actually close the doors and have a Sunday where everyone, including the pastor, is expected to go to a different church.
Step 6 – Ask everyone to get together and compare notes. Ask people to share their notes and observations with leadership. Follow up directly with random people from within EACH segment of your church’s population (married, single, families with young kids, families with teens, empty nesters, men, women, single parents, kids, teens, young adults, music team, hospitality team, small group leaders). Ask as many people as possible to share some of their answers to the above questions. And then ask them to respond to some of the following additional questions:
- What caused you to feel welcome?
- What caused you to feel like an outsider?
- Did you run into any unexpected that you knew there?
- What is one thing you experienced that we are as a church could learn from them?
- What is one thing you missed about being here on Sunday?
- If we had to close the doors to our church for good today, would you consider attending that church on a regular basis? Why or why not?
- What was the thing that surprised you most? (either positively or negatively)
- For better or for worse, what assumptions about the church you visited seemed to be proven true?
I think if a church dared to do a challenge like this, they would, over the course of a few years, see some interesting results. For one, once a year, everyone would be reminded of how awkward it can be to be the new person or new family. I would hope they would then be a little more motivated to reach out in meaningful ways to the new people they see the other 51 weeks of the year not only to shake their hand on Sunday but to ensure they are able to truly and deeply connect with the regulars at the church.
I think there would be both a deeper appreciation for what is done well at their church and a breathing in of new life as new ideas come into the conversations of how to do ministry, community, and worship. More real discussions about beliefs and practices would be sparked as we realize there is more than one way to do communion or baptism or that particular worship song you love.
We would be forced to acknowledge that there is a great diversity in the body of Christ…and that’s OK. God can handle it.
PS – I would consider it an honor to come and talk with any pastor or church who was really interesting in doing something like this. And then perhaps I’ll find the church I’ve been looking for as well!