Preaching Articles

Last week’s blog post, Why Some Great Churches Never Impact Their Community, got a lot of feedback on Facebook, Twitter and email.
Several readers were concerned that I had been harder on the church than I needed to be. Their primary concerns were:

1. I made a snap judgment after just one visit
2. I was assuming they weren't reaching their community just because the church building was hard to find
3. Many churches use their building primary for worship, fellowship and training believers, with outreach happening off campus
4. Many small churches don’t have the finances to improve the building as much as they’d like

Put Yourself In A Newcomer’s Shoes

I want to address those issues in today’s post because they’re valid. I’ve had similar concerns while reading church leadership blog posts, myself.

But, instead of addressing them one-by-one, let’s tackle all four (and maybe others) by retelling my visit with one simple change. Instead of the visitor being me, imagine that the prospective guest was a new convert trying to find the church building for the first time.

Imagine that the prospective guest was a new convert trying to find the church for the first time.

Maybe earlier in the week, someone in that church had witnessed to them. So this new convert wakes up on Sunday morning determined to go to church because they’re serious about their recent decision to follow Jesus. Either on their own or with their spouse and/or kids, they get in the car and head out.

Nervous, but excited.

The person who shared the gospel with them said they went to Hessman Road Church, on the north end of town. So they drive to Hessman Road but, like me, they drive past the church entrance twice before finally seeing a portion of the church sign hidden by overgrown trees.

They pull in, head down the driveway until, like me, they turn right at the church, instead of left. Because of that right turn, they find themselves in what they’re not sure is a parking lot. But they see a large door, so they park, get out and test the door, only to find it locked.

Determined to see this through, they walk all the way around the building until they finally find the main parking lot, where other cars are parked, and head towards a large door where people are milling about.

No one greets them at the door. Instead, they have to say “excuse me” a couple times as they push their way past people who pay them no attention because they’re chatting with friends.

That’s the experience I had as a visitor.

How many first-timers would turn away at each step of that process? Would even half of them make it inside the church? Maybe one or two out of ten?

And if they didn’t make it through that gauntlet of confusion, how many of them would find another church, or just drive home?

That’s why I said that church would never impact their community unless they changed some things. Even if each end of the process (outreaching evangelism and inside worship) were great, the lack of attention to the visitor experience undercuts everything else.

Get Rid Of Anything That Hinders

People aren’t won to Jesus by a church building. But they can be kept from knowing more about Jesus by one that isn’t prepared to receive them.
The scenario I’ve described isn’t far-fetched. It happens every Sunday in thousands of churches.

People who want to go to church, who want to worship, who want to learn about Jesus never show up because the church insiders don’t think through what it’s like for a first-timer to find their way in.

Now, let’s walk through this scenario with just a few, simple changes.

Imagine that this new family drives down Hessman Road and sees an older, but well-kept sign for Hessman Road Church, because the tree branches are regularly trimmed back.

At the end of the driveway is a simple, hand-painted, left-pointing arrow that reads “Parking” or “Welcome”. Following that sign, they arrive at what they know is the front door, because “Church Entrance” is clearly painted above it.

As they approach the door, someone opens it for them, smiles, hands them the morning bulletin and asks if they can help in any way.

Now how many people would not just make it to the church, but enter with a positive attitude about what they were about to experience? Maybe not all. But anyone who didn’t make it wouldn’t have the church to blame.

Why First Impressions Matter

This is why we need to make our church buildings accessible and approachable. And it’s why I was so hard on the church I mentioned in my last blog post. They had a great church service, but there were too many barriers between them and the community they were trying to impact.

Access is about making sure that the people who want to find the church building can find the church building.

Access is not about elevating the building to special status, spending tons of money or even using the Sunday church service as an evangelistic tool. It’s about making sure that the people who want to find the church building can find the church building.

Impacting our community for Jesus takes more than having a great worship service and solid, biblical teaching.

People who want to worship Jesus with us need to be able to find us.

Karl Vaters is the author of The Grasshopper Myth: Big Churches, Small Churches and the Small Thinking That Divides Us. He’s been in pastoral ministry for over 30 years and has been the lead pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California for over 20 years. He’s also the founder of, a blog that encourages, connects and equips innovative Small Church pastors.

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Eddie Olsen

commented on Jun 29, 2017

I think it is healthy for every church to have someone take a look at it as an "outsider". Last year our church leadership was meeting at a restaurant one night with the National Leader of a denomination we were about to join, and he told us that he had not been able to find our church!!! We are in a small country town, and EVERYONE in town knows where we are, but we had not looked at ourselves through an "outsiders viewpoint". We have a facebook page, but even on that there was no address or map. It was a very godd lesson to learn in looking in from the outside from time time. As churches, we can always do better.

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