Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Strategic Church Attendance

Colin Marshall has written a helpful article for The Briefing. There is far more ministry that can happen "in the pew" than we often think.

Once we make the attitude shift from being passive pew sitters and receivers to active workers and givers, there is no end to the difference we can make to others and to the running of the meeting. All of the suggestions below are of the informal type—things we can do at our own initiative. They are the types of involvement that every congregation member can have. The key to people work is to observe what happens around you and respond to people's needs. Think through your church meetings chronologically. What can we do before, during and after the meeting?

One of our great contributions is our preparation. The minister should not be the only one preparing for church. We prepare by praying for the preacher, the musicians, the service leader, the Bible readers and the newcomers. We prepare by studying the Bible passages so that we maximize this learning opportunity by being sensitised to the issues and questions in the passages being taught. Such preparation also has other benefits. We are better equipped to enter into discussion with others if we have looked at the passage beforehand. It is also a great encouragement to the preacher to know that the congregation is eager to understand the Bible and willing to put in some effort. Preaching is hard work, both for the preacher and the listeners. An intelligent question, comment or observation upon the sermon is an enormous motivating factor for the preacher who, week by week, has to try and engage the congregation's minds and hearts in the word of God. Those who sit in the pew can make a great contribution to those teaching from the pulpit.

Meeting visitors and newcomers
We enjoy meeting our friends at church, but we need to develop a nose for new people. We need to sit with them and help them feel comfortable in this strange place by introducing ourselves and explaining what is going on. We should greet the non-Christian friends of other members and introduce our friends to others. It's all about genuine hospitality. The way we welcome and look after people when they visit our homes should be a model for the household of God. And genuine, relaxed hospitality will slowly evaporate some of the prejudices held by outsiders.

Arriving early
All of this requires that we arrive not on time or late, but early. That may be the greatest miracle of all.

Active listening
People in the pews have an enormous impact on those who are teaching and leading. Communication is always a two way process. Energetic listening through taking notes, making eye contact with the preacher, sitting at the front, laughing at jokes (even old ones), will spur on the preacher. It is very hard to preach enthusiastically to a sleepy, distracted, fidgety group. Our active listening will also infect others with enthusiasm for learning, just as our fidgeting will discourage them. Unbelievers will also pick up that these ideas are worth listening to if they see rows of regulars eagerly soaking up the Bible.

Similarly, those in the pew can be a great help to the singing and leading of music. It is everyone's responsibility to share in the corporate singing of the congregation. The music may be well chosen and played but if it is poorly sung it is disheartening. Our enthusiasm and gusto in singing the great anthems of the faith is of great help to those around us and those leading the music, even if we can barely hold a tune. Just pretend you're under the shower.

Each member in the pew also has an important part to play in the smooth running of the meeting. The devil will use anything to distract people from hearing the word of God. We musn't rely on ushers to fix things. If the window needs to be opened, get up and do it. If the microphones are not right, signal to the speaker so the problem can be fixed before they continue on without being heard.

Keep attending to newcomers' needs. If they can't find their way around the Bible or the service outline, or they don't have a Bible, or they need to find the creche, help them yourself. It is your meeting, not the minister's. It's all about being observant and outward-looking.

Discuss God's word
We have just heard the word of God and we spend all of morning tea talking about last night's video. It isn't right and we know it, but many of us are just uncomfortable starting up ‘spiritual’ conversations. If you get the ball rolling, others will pick it up. During your preparation and the sermon, think up some comments or issues to raise with others. Asking “What did you think of the sermon?” will usually put your neighbour into a coma, but making a specific comment like “I didn't know Abel was a prophet. What makes someone a prophet?”, may generate a fruitful conversation. Even if the conversations don't always get off the ground, your enthusiasm for learning the Bible will be contagious and non-Christians will see that church is not dull and boring but fascinating and life shattering.

Pray with others
Use the supper time to meet others and find out their concerns and pray quietly with them. This will look a bit weird to newcomers with pairs of bowed heads all around the building, but they will know that we love each other and trust God's providence.

Newcomers tend to leave fairly quickly so we have to move fast by identifying the visitor in our pew and offering them conversation immediately the service ends. It's all very purposeful: make sure they are welcomed properly by you and your friends, maybe introduce them to the minister and help them see how they can fit in to the congregation. You may have to postpone catching your friends until after the newcomers have been cared for.

Stay late
Once you catch this vision of church, you are always the last to leave because the opportunities to minister don't end until the last person leaves. Gone are the days of fitting church in between breakfast and brunch. Ministry of the pew takes time. In the forthcoming issues of Factotum, we'll continue to explore practical ways in which we can be better Christian servants. Sorry to have ruined your ‘day of rest’. Church requires a lot of effort, if we are to build the body of Christ. Don't worry: you have Monday to Saturday to rest so that you'll be fit for next week's work at church.

Training outline
This outline can be used to discuss Ministry of the Pew in a small group to work out how to implement these ideas in your church.

1.Why think about where to sit in church?
2.How would your church members express their reasons for attending church?
3.How do these reasons affect what they do in church?
4.Who in your church is actively engaged in the ministry of the pew? How can youencourage and support them?
5.What is the attitude of your members toward bringing others to church?
6.What practises in your church meeting last Sunday would have alienated non-Christians?
7.Next Sunday carefully observe who in church is ‘left out’ in some way.
8.What are your plans for your ministry from the pew?

Read the entire article HERE.

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