Greg Atkinson has an interesting ministry. He’s a secret shopper for churches. Your church can hire him, and either he or one of his trained associates will show up on a random Sunday morning as a visitor and provide you with feedback and a report card on how you can up your game with visitors.
When asked about where churches need the most help, Greg cites four things. He says most churches need to do a better job with their parking lot attendants (“Nothing drives me crazier than seeing parking lot attendants standing next to each other. There should never be two people, or more, standing next to each other and talking.”)greeters (“Have you ever experienced overzealous greeters? Greeters that freak you out because they’re too happy, too nosy or too obnoxious?”)ushers (“Forget handing out bulletins. Ushers should be seating people and be helping those with special needs.”)people who aren’t “hands free” (“Imagine a single mom struggling to corral her toddlers and holding an infant’s carrier in one hand, walking in from the parking lot, and the guy or gal at the door is too distracted by their phone to open the door for her. Or the helper is trying to open the door and not spill coffee on her and her children.”)The bottom line of what Atkinson is looking for is an others focused mindset on the part of church members, with a Sunday morning eye focused on serving newcomers and guests. I think there’s wisdom in his counsel.
A church can do a great job welcoming people, have a spotless nursery with warm and friendly nursery workers, serve premium coffee, have comfortable chairs in the worship center and present a worship service that is engaging and interesting and wind up with an A+ on Atkinson’s score card. But the bigger question is what kind of grade would God give the church?
When the Apostle Paul wrote letters to churches he had planted, he almost always began with words of commendation. His report cards offered no feedback on greeters, ushers or the coffee service. His focus was on the spiritual life of the congregation.
“Your faith is proclaimed in all the world” he wrote to the church in Rome.
You are “faithful in Christ Jesus” he said to the Ephesians.
He commended the Colossians for “the love you have for all the saints.”
He told the church in Thessalonica how encouraged he was by “your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ… you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere.”
There was only one church that received no commendation from the Apostle Paul when he wrote to them. It was the church in Galatia. And the reason he had nothing positive to say about them was that they had drifted from the gospel. “I am astonished,” he wrote, “that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.” It didn’t matter to Paul how many people were coming, how well run their worship gatherings might have been or how welcoming they were to strangers. The church in Galatia might have had a wonderful outreach to the hungry or the homeless around them. They might have been commendably caring for each other’s needs. For Paul, none of that mattered if their lives were not anchored in the message of grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone.
There are plenty of reasons churches drift. They focus on the wrong priorities. They get caught up in the spirit of the age. They lose faith in the authority and sufficiency of scripture. They forget the gospel.
I remember being struck once as I was reading the second letter Paul wrote to his pastoral protégé Timothy. It’s the last of Paul’s letters that we still have today. Writing from prison, Paul exhorts Timothy to “remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel.”
Given that Timothy at the time was serving as the pastor at the church in Ephesus, I thought to myself Does Paul really think Timothy is going to forget the basics? The main thing? But as quick as I had that thought, another one came. How often do I forget the main thing? And I thought about all the churches in our world that have lost sight of what matters most. I thought about great universities, like Harvard, Yale, Princeton and so many more, that were formed and built on a gospel foundation, but that no longer see the message of the gospel as relevant or believable.
When Jesus delivered His admonitions to the seven churches in the book of Revelation, He warned them not to forget their first love, lest He come and remove their lampstand from their midst. While I hope our church will excel still more when it comes to greeting, ushering and welcoming visitors, my greatest prayer for Redeemer is that we will never drift from the centrality of the gospel. I pray that Redeemer will always be a place where the gospel is known, lived and proclaimed, from now until Jesus comes.
Guys, I’m talking to you.
You know the breakfast we have coming up next Saturday? This one:
Okay, you’re planning to come, right? You should plan to come. It’s always a highlight for us as men. But you haven’t signed up yet, right?
Did you know you were supposed to? Yep. We need to know how many eggs and how much sausage to buy.
So click this link right now and let us know you’re planning to be there.
And while you’re at it, make sure to mark your calendar for Tuesday night, December 6. That’s our next First Tuesday men’s get together. Dinner at 6:15. And we’ll have former NFL Quarterback Jeff Kemp with us as our special speaker, talking about why it’s so critical for me to huddle up with other men.
I shared in church Sunday about two outreach projects we have happening at Redeemer this fall.
First, I filled you in on our plans this Christmas to again bless the students at Arbor Christian Academy in the Dominican Republic with Christmas gifts for the students there. We want to provide each child with their own Bible, as well as something fun.
If you didn’t take an ornament with a child’s name on it last Sunday (we still have about 30 ornaments left), be sure to pick up one or two or more this Sunday. And don’t forget to pick up a Christmas card for the child, so you can write a special note to go along with your present.
If you did pick up an ornament, don’t forget to bring a check for $40 for each child you are sponsoring. Or click here to make your payment online.
And second, I hope you’ve starting thinking about and praying for a group of neighbors, friends, family members or co-workers with whom you can share the gospel this Christmas. Pick up copies of the book The Four Emotions of Christmas for each of your friends, and make plans to give the book as a gift in December, along with a plate of cookies and an invitation to our Christmas Eve service.
What was foremost on Jesus’ heart in the hours before His arrest and crucifixion? Along with His desire that God would be glorified by what was about to happen, Jesus was concerned about the 11 men who were about to watch Him die. The Sunday, we’ll begin to examine how and what He prayed for His disciples on that night.
See you in church.
Soli Deo Gloria!
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