Sunday’s foray into the world of Baptistry brings to an end the first round of church visits and it’s time for a quick recap and some initial conclusions.
So, after those eleven churches (it felt like so many more!), here’s a few early thoughts on what makes a good church. Though please note these are only my own personal reflections, and there’s plenty more besides these thoughts that make a good church!
1. The welcome.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a member of a church, a motorcycle display team, or a wife-swapping club: if you don’t treat new people with a degree of friendliness and respect (and, yes, just acknowledge their presence in the first place), then they’re not going to come back.
Quite a few people have commented to me that it is very difficult to know who’s new and who’s been there for hundreds of years and so it can be a bit embarassing knowing what to say to people you think might be new. But I’ve come to the view that you shouldn’t have to specifically target new people with your welcoming intentions.
Given that a church is meant to be a community of Christians who come together to share fellowship, you should be greeted at the door whoever you are; and you should talk to the people around you before and after the service as a matter of course, whoever they are. If you’re a Christian reading this, when was the last time you turned to the person next to you after a service and said “hi, I’m X, I recognise you but don’t know you… what did you think of the service?”
If there’s that inherent culture of mutual support and encouragement, you won’t need to pay visitors any special attention – they’ll get caught up in the welcoming atmosphere almost by accident.
My final word on welcomes is to link again to St Silas Rector Dave McCarthy’s blog about why Christians should be welcoming in their church. He puts it much better than I could. There’s at least one good reason why he’s a priest and I’m not!
My second – and thankfully shorter – piece of vitriol is about seats. Uncomfortable seats are verging on the insulting. If I am expected to sit in a strange, new place for an hour or two, the least I can expect is relative comfort. Wooden pews are anachronistic, impractical because they lose you the versatility of probably your biggest room, and they’re no doubt a fire hazard too. Top marks go to any church with the creativity and ambition to rip them out. Yes, probably an expensive step, but worth it.
Finally, and perhaps my biggest conclusion, I believe that technology when used well is the absolute bedrock of a church (after the whole Jesus stuff, naturally).
I am not sure I would go to any church that didn’t have a website, at least without personal recommendation, because I’d want to get a feel for the place first. I’m not much of a web snob so don’t feel it has to be well-designed or snazzy (though such things are getting easier and easier to do as the web develops).
It does, however, have to be a realistic and informative “shop window” for a church, telling what sort of things go on, the style of worship, and of course simple things like contact details, directions and service times. Extra-funky things like message boards, podcasts of sermons or introductory videos look great on some sites, and help a visitor get a feel for the church’s character and ethos. In this increasingly web-based age, a church’s website is probably its biggest advert and deserves much thought and work.
Inside the church, powerpoint screens really help. I’ve never been part of a church that uses one, but now would find it weird being without it. I’ve seen so many good examples of using the screens to put up intimations, sermon notes, bible readings and even announcements like “would X‘s mum please go to the creche”! Think of how much money a church could save on bibles and hymnbooks by bunging stuff on the screen! Enough to replace the pews, perhaps…
There you go. Some of my thoughts at the end of round 1. Tomorrow I’ll tell you something about what form round 2 is going to take.
Again I must emphasise that all the above is only my opinion, and others will rightly have different thoughts.
Of course it is really through prayer and the gifts of the Holy Spirit that churches really work. It’s just that’s all a bit difficult to pack into a blog.
And I’m much better at ranting about wooden pews.