I recently participated in a meeting of pastors who gather on a monthly basis. My friend, Matt Willmington led a discussion on assimilation strategies in church ministries. He defined assimilation as the “process whereby we transform our programs, services and/or events into connection points to foster human interactions that become the genesis of authentic community”. (Blair & Canton, The Assimilation Engine, 2013)
Each of us longs for belonging to a community of authenticity . . . a place where we live in growing and grieving, in hope and hopelessness, in victory and vulnerability. Researcher Brene Brown defines vulnerability as the “birthplace of love, belonging, joy and courage.”
In his Gospel account John describes a “connection point” between Jesus and an unnamed woman drawing water from Jacob’s Well in Sychar, Samaria. Crossing social, religious, gender and economic lines, Jesus responds with love and a sense of belonging . . . the woman responds with joy and courage. The result of this interaction is written by John, “Then the woman left her water jar, went off into the town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Surely, he can’t be the Messiah, can he?’ So, they left the town and began coming to him.” (John 4:28-30 NET)
Jesus invests in the life of this woman at the well . . . and she begins inviting others to see Him.
Matt asked the question, “Do we have an inviting culture?” Do we have the attitude and response of the Samaritan woman, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.” Or, come with me to hear about Jesus . . . come to my church . . . come to the place where my life has been changed . . . come to the place where I experience love, belonging, joy and courage.
Inviting is one of those unique words that shares a duel meaning. As a verb, it means “to request the presence or participation of in a kindly, courteous way.” Inviting someone . . . will you come with me. Inviting also can used as an adjective to mean “attractive or alluring”.
The question, “Do we have an inviting culture?” (are we asking people to attend with us), prompted me to consider a different direction: “Is our culture inviting?” (attractive), “Is our community inviting?”, “Are our connections inviting?”
Is Our Culture Inviting? – This is our facilities. When someone first considers coming to our churches, are their first steps inviting . . . are we attracting them . . . are we drawing them in? From our website to our social media platforms to the parking lot to the front door, is there the “welcoming wow” factor. Are the facilities clean? Are signs helpful, informative and easy to read? Are our programs, services and events effective connection points? I know church staff who do a “walk-through” of their facilities to improve the somatic experience. This is great. Yet, we often limit our review by seeing it through our own eyes. It may be helpful to have a “focus group” from outside the walls of our churches to see how true visitors evaluate our culture.
Is Our Community Inviting? – This is our friendliness. As Jesus spoke with the woman who was drawing water, he established a “human interaction” with truth and without shame. His compassion instilled her with courage to leave her water jar, go back to her town and tell others about Jesus. Too often, we interact predominately with those already in the church. We are called to “light” to those in darkness, yet we often shine our lights to those who are already illuminated. Greeters . . . nursery workers . . . information centers . . . connectors . . . and all those who are the “first line” of showing the God’s love are contributing to the genesis of authentic community.
Are Our Connections Inviting? – This is our follow-up. In our recent meeting, each pastor in attendance identified that effectively following up with visitors was lacking. Willmington shared that “shutting the back door” is the most effective way to keep people. In education, “retaining” a student is more cost effective than “recruiting” a student. Sustaining cost less than salvaging. There has been considerable writing on “seven touches” to gain a sale. Interestingly, there are four steps to keep a happy customer:
Over the years, my wife and I have tried to raise our family to value the experience over expenditures. American Express states, “78% of customers have bailed on an intended transaction because of a poor experience.”
Transforming our programs, services and events into connection points that foster human interaction . . . experiences . . . that become the beginning to authentic community. This becomes our inviting culture, community and connection.
In 1982, Randy Stonehill wrote the Southern Gospel song, “Shut De Do”. The lyrics read:
“Shut de do, keep out de devil.
Shut de do, keep de devil in the night.
Shut de do, keep out de devil.
Light de candle, everything is alright.
Light de candle, everything is alright.”
Shut the back door. Keep in those who are searching. Keep out the devil. And, light the candle . . . everything is alright.