Back Door: I can't remember a time when I did not hear church leaders talk about revolving doors in church. Talk about the front door, the back door and sometimes the side doors. Most commonly, I have heard talk about closing the back door. This is a huge concern, of course, but I believe a trend has developed over the last few years that really creates a more difficult issue to tackle. When the front door actually becomes your biggest back door.
New Problem: Years ago, the back door conversation was a big deal because it seemed people would get involved in a church but then slip out through a back door. They just stopped coming and no one would know why. The confusion was partly because they seemed to be coming for a while and seemed to want to be there, then, gone. Now things are different.
Front Door: The front door for most churches is Sunday morning services. Others have weekly services on Saturday or another day of the week. No matter what the day is, there is usually the main weekly service where the doors are wide open to visitors and guests. This is understood to be the front door.
Side Doors: The classes, events, small groups and programs usually provide side door entry into a church but rarely are considered as important. Most churches can't find the back door, but they know tons of people slip out of it. The new challenge is not the side or the back, it is the front.
Wide Open: The main service has been made so wide open to visitors, guests and those who have no real commitment to Christ or Church, that we have lost the ability, in most modern churches, to tell the difference between those who are coming in or going out of that front door.
Revolving Door: People are free to wander into church today, with no real connection, challenge, or calculation. We count attendance, but we don't calculate how regular. We don't take attendance and if we do, we rarely do anything with the date we collect. The issue becomes this, we become so prepared to accept all people, with little regulation, that we lose more people than we realize through the same door they come in. The front door becomes the back door and so it goes, just revolving and revolving.
Where to Invest: One way we know this happens is because churches are growing and shrinking in Sunday attendance, but not growing in disciple making. They have less people in programs and small groups, but more people on Sunday. Call a prayer meeting and ten people show up. Offer a Bible Study or Small Group and get the same ten to twenty percent who do everything. All this while, most of our money, staff and energy go to Sunday. We amp up the sound, production value and relevance of the speaker. The worship leader gets a cool hair cut and the pastor preaches from an iPad. The people come for the show, never get emotionally engaged, spiritually challenged or relationally connected, so they slip out the same door they came in, without ever even visiting some of the other ministries offered by the church.
Is this failure? Well, would Nike call it failure if the same shoe manufacturing plant that makes a top selling show also produced a large number of bad shoes that ended up in the trash. If that process created and allowed an unknown, yet large, number of bad shoes, would it be called failure. It would be fixed and measured later for quality control.
Solution: If the front door has also become the back door, make some changes fast.
- Focus on the person, not the people. God cares about people, but he calls us to focus on the person. The lost, the widow, the orphan, the broken, the addicted, the confused. They have names and faces and need our personal ministry. Get enough persons together who are receiving ministry from you and you will have a people there for more than the Sunday show.
- Recreate a disciple making strategy that includes Sunday in the process, not a strategy that follows up from the Sunday Services. Build a disciple making plan that does not require Sunday. If you can pull that off, you will have the best Sunday church experience in town.
- Think adoption, not assimilation. Adoption speaks of family and creates very different ways to engage, whereas assimilation creates a process for conformity and does not require true engagement. Assimilation is what the Borg's did (Star Trek). We want to grow a family and people need to be shown fathers, mothers, sons and daughters, not moved like cattle through a process of conformity and check marks. Make the process "human on human", then track it through a system if you would like.
- Measure disciples and leaders, invest where you measure, see it grow. What you measure will end up growing. You will most likely work hard to get more butts in seats on Sunday if that is what you count most often. Begin to count new leaders, effectiveness of old leaders, disciples and disciple makers. This will allow you to invest into areas where multiplication can happen.
- Create ministry not services. Make side door entry points where felt needs are accurately identified and responded to. Empower leaders to do ministry and never give them the idea that Sunday is the weekly Superbowl. Salvation of a soul is the Superbowl of our game of faith, sometimes that happens on Sunday and sometimes it's on Tuesday. Celebrate Sunday with plenty of fun and gratitude about weekly ministry and keep the focus on where the rubber meets the road.