For the past few weeks I have been looking at the need to face reality in our churches. Until a church is willing to face the brutal facts of its reality, it will never move from where it is to where God wants it to be. This truth was brought home to me by Dr. Henry Cloud in his book Integrity, a book that I highly recommend for all leaders.
I want to share with you two quotes from that book.
“One of my favorite sayings is, no matter how difficult it is to hear: Reality is always your friend. The reason is almost a truism: everything else is a fantasy. So for us to get real results in the real world, we must be in touch with what is, not what we wish things were or think things should be or are led by others to believe they are. The only thing that is going to be real in the end is what is.” p. 106
In writing about a successful leader responsible for establishing a market for tooth paste in China, Cloud wrote:
“He had the humility to go in and not assume that he had it all figured out and instead to seek to find what reality was. People who have an orientation to the truth seek it out. They look for it and do everything they can to find it so that they know where to stand, what steps to take, etc. They basically see reality as their best ally, so finding it becomes of utmost importance. p. 113
For the past few weeks I have been looking at reality in the Canadian church. This week I want to look at something that is especially applicable to small churches.
Does friendliness extend beyond the family?
I am constantly talking with small-church leaders about their churches. The thing that I hear probably more than anything else is that these churches are friendly. The church may not be growing numerically as they wish it to be. They may not have as clear a vision for the future as they are told that they should have. They may not be able to run all the programs that they would like to run.
But they assure me that they are friendly!
Whatever their weaknesses might be, they believe that their strength is their friendliness.
There is some truth in that but, as Cloud points out, in the above quote, there is always a need to go below the surface and ask the difficult questions that will help identify reality.
Is their friendliness a Sunday morning only thing or are they equally friendly throughout the week?
Is their friendliness something that applies to the church family or does it extend to visitors who come into the church?
Is their friendliness a part of who they truly are or something to lure new people into coming back?
Is their friendliness something that automatically is extended to everyone who comes to their church or only to people who fit into their comfort zone?
These questions and others like them are important because the danger in a small church is that friendliness often doesn’t extend beyond the church family. The people who regularly attend the church are certainly friendly among themselves. They enjoy coming to church on a Sunday morning because they know that they are going to be among people who love and care for them.
Some times though they can be so intent on connecting with each other and hearing the latest news that they fail to connect with visitors.
Most Sundays I am either a guest speaker somewhere or I am attending my own home church but on some Sundays I like to visit a small church in which I don’t really know anyone and no one knows who I am. Often I leave that church impressed by the number of people who went out of their way to talk with me.
I have, however, had times when I have had to initiated every conversation that I had with anyone that morning. No one went out of their way to welcome me and to find out why I was there.
In a small church that is inexcusable. When a stranger wonders into a church with less than one hundred people attending, she tends to stand out. Everyone knows that that she is a visitor.
What is interesting is that in all of those churches the people would probably say that they were a friendly church and in most cases they would be partly right. They are friendly to each other. I have stood back in those churches and watched conversations taking place all over the auditorium. They can’t wait to talk to each other but they don’t go out of their way to talk to visitors.
For a visitor to a church friendliness is a huge part of that first impression that they form. It isn’t enough just to be friendly to the members of the church family. You have to be friendly towards the non-family members as well.
Taking a look at reality
If a church is really looking to identify reality, one step in the right direction may be to have someone who is unknown by the people in the church visit your church. Ask them to evaluate such things as your facilities, your friendliness level, your service, etc. and then to turn in a report.
This can be a difficult exercise to go through because you will probably learn things that are not easy to learn but if you are serious about discovering reality it can be a good step in the right direction.
Reality is always your friend.
It can be a tough friend at times but it is an essential friend to have if you are going to make wise decisions about the future of your church.