Thursday, May 10, 2007

What is fellowship?

This is my first blog. I have been trying to encourage myself to do this for along time. I am especially excited about what can be done from the perspective of a blog, and I pray God helps me stick with this thing. Pray for us.

Last year I went to a Church Consultants Seminar that was awesome, it definitely opened my eyes to need for churches to be not only purposeful in all it's actions, but also thoughtful. Often times people are so busy in their "personal" and professional lives that they don't have time or energy to devote to the church, that is physical, emotional, or creative energy. I believe that is one of reasons why so many churches fall victim to unquestioningly following tradition and "doing it like we have always done it." God deserves better, His work deserves our best effort. You and your life are His best effort, we need to reciprocate the interest in His work that he evidences in the grace and mercy he extends to us in our lives.

So, from time to time I get a great newsletter from ChurchCentral, a church consultancy firm. And here is an article on fellowship that caught my attention:

Remove barriers to fellowship: Ways of welcoming that work

by Ken Walker 30 Apr 2007

Acts 2:42 describes the early church as being devoted to the apostles' teaching, to eating together, to prayer and to fellowship. The Message translates fellowship as "doing life together." While that means different things to different churches, a trio of church consultants Church Central spoke with sees many congregations faltering in fellowship.

What is fellowship?

Many churches equate fellowship with Sunday morning greetings over a cup of coffee. This is a limited view of what it means extending a welcoming hand to everyone, says Ken Johnson of The Ken Johnson Group.

"Fellowship is not just saying ‘hello’ and ‘good bye,’" says Johnson, who is based in suburban Denver, Colo. "It’s caring about (guests) and finding out who they are and what’s going on with them. It’s not just members but everyone."

Friendly with friends

Almost every church Johnson consults with tells him, "We are the friendliest church in town." The former evangelical pastor says what most church members fail to recognize is that being friendly with each other doesn’t meet the standard of Christ-like hospitality.

Some shortcomings he has observed: failing to greet newcomers dressed in a different style of clothing; not making sure visitors get a bulletin; and one church where—other than a brief, congregation-wide greeting during the service—nobody talked to him.

"This may sound silly, but all the way from the parking lot to the sanctuary you’re promoting fellowship," says Johnson, recalling the church where he received multiple greetings. As a result, he felt comfortable going to the fellowship hall afterward for a social event.

More than shaking hands

While initial contact with visitors is important, Debbie Rendell of St. Petersburg, Fla., says churches must go deeper.

The president of Integrating Focus says a congregation that wants to promote fellowship needs a leader who demonstrates an outgoing nature so that God’s love will touch everyone who enters.

She says such a stance should include a time and place where guests can meet the pastor afterwards, as well as multiple greeters throughout the building and a sensitivity towards newcomers.

"What if everything you did was focused on guests?" Rendell asks. "You have parking places for them, have someone to greet them, give them a bulletin and a map of the church…Invite them to sign up for a tour of the building, or assign a person to be with them for their entire visit. You want guests to realize you’re there if they need you."

If personal guides aren’t a realistic option, the Florida consultant says a welcome team can hand visitors a card with a cell phone number to call in case they need directions or other information.

Signs of unfriendliness

Rendell says some indications that a church isn’t that friendly include:

* No directional signs inside or outside the building.

This spring, when she visited a church with multiple services, her group had to ask four times to find the one they wanted to attend.

* No welcoming committee, greeters or visitor packets.

* Nothing for guests beyond a 30-second "meet and greet" time during the service.

* No one invites guests to dinner or their home. Or, at least an invitation to return next week.

* No recognition of guests.

Rendell says this doesn’t mean calling out individuals or asking them to stand, but a global welcome to any newcomers and a "thank you for coming."

* Small groups are closed, meaning no guests can connect with one, and the pastor isn’t willing to start one for visitors.

"You see so many things that are missing in how a church functions and how it looks from the outside," Rendell says.

Small groups essential

A veteran business consultant who added churches to his specialty two years ago says small groups are also essential to developing closer fellowship in a church.

"You have to do what Jesus did," says Alex Carroll, president of Carroll & Carroll Associates in Reston, Va. "He picked 12 and let those 12 minister to others."

While saying small groups have their limits, Caroll suggests they be based around some kind of common bond. He thinks the same ethic should be applied to different ministries within the church, with people who have similar gifts using them to help others.

Exercising these gifts naturally creates relationships between those involved in the ministry, as well as with those they assist, Caroll says.

Guard against cliques

While churches must take steps to promote stronger fellowship, Johnson warns they must also guard against small groups turning into cliques. "Before you realize it, it can happen," says Johnson, who as a pastor would sometimes move choir members or take other steps to prevent friendly relationships from turning into control groups.

However, the Colorado consultant warns to avoid getting too wrapped up in internal events, no matter what the issue. Churches who keep their eyes focused on themselves forget to extend a welcoming hand to others, Johnson says.

"Find ways to contact and connect with them," Johnson says. "There are words and ways to bring people into fellowship. Friendliness means you talk to anybody who walks through the door."

Well this has been real for me. My ultimate mission is to be able include a subscription podcast to this or another site.