Jesus came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. Jesus said: “Roll away the stone.”
As odd as it sounds, recent statistics consistently show that many people who don’t go to church or describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated, nevertheless still profess a belief in God and a good percentage even pray regularly.
Among other things, what this suggests is a big part of the reason why people don’t come to church are not theological or philosophical reasons, but practical, everyday ones. Anecdotally, our experience at Nativity with the unchurched confirms this is basically true. So what’s the problem?
The reality is, when it comes to doing church, we put up barriers when we should be taking them down. We make it difficult for outsiders to get in because that is more authentic, or Catholic, or whatever misconception we formed. The truth is there are some simple ways to make our churches much more accessible to the unchurched.
Ministry and service is an indispensible part of discipleship and elemental to effective evangelization. But in many churches the ministry structure and schedule is so convoluted and controlled by insiders that newcomers don’t even have a fighting chance. When outsiders realize there’s no room for them, they’re out the door. And who can blame them? At Nativity, our goal is “Every member a minister.” Our core strategy: We make space for them to serve, and then we ask them. No graduate degree required.
This Weekend at Nativity is our big annual ministry push, where we ask those members of our congregation not currently serving to start, and those who are already serving to step up their commitment. But the message is clear: We want you to serve in ministry, and we will make it simple for you.
Nine out of ten times when you hear the phrase “I’m not being fed,” you can bet they’re talking about hearing a relevant message at Mass.
While everyone has different gifts, every message can have a clear bottom line that actually speaks to people’s felt needs and lived experience. An effective bottom line is achieved by answering two basic questions: “What do we want them to know?” and “What do we want them to do?” The end product is a message our audience is prepared to take home and apply. And if the message matters, you can bet you won’t have to convince them to come back next week.
Accessible Kid’s Programs
I single this one out because time and again, we have come to understand that a key to reaching adults is by creating an excellent children’s ministry. In fact, our ministry push this weekend will have a big focus on our kids and students programs this coming year, which involves a little more commitment but also makes a bigger impact.
The inherited wisdom assumes that it’s simply a good parent’s obligation to bring their kids to church whether they like it or not. But we miss an opportunity by overlooking the evangelizing power that kids have on their parents when they leave with a smile on their face. There’s nothing particularly “theological” about a happy smiling kid, but in the Gospels, it’s always the “religious” adults who seem to put up that barriers that cause Jesus to say, “Let the children come to me and do not prevent them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).
The next three or four weekends will be among the biggest of the whole year for most churches. Why not follow the Lord’s instruction and remove some of the obstacles in the way of the unchurched. If you do, you will be able to experience the Lord’s wonderful works.