Recently, I had the opportunity to work with 12 churches who were all launching different kinds of young adult ministries within their communities. Before they were allowed to develop these new ministries, they were required to do what some design theorists call “deep listening.” That is, they had to first sit with, observe, and listen to members of their community to make sure they had a full understanding of what the people’s needs were.
Do you know what made the top three on EVERY SINGLE LIST?
Over and again, people were simply looking for an excuse to connect with and feel known by others.
If you’re like me, you have spent hundreds of hours trying to discern the needs and fears of your congregation and surrounding community so that you can write brilliantly insightful sermon series that will change the world and speak to your people’s deepest needs and fears… or something humble like that.
With that humble goal in mind, here is a freebie: people are lonely. Like… really, stinking, lonely. So, if you’re having a bit of preacher’s block this week (or any of the next 52 weeks), here’s a quick check-in question you can ask yourself and your worship planning committee:
“Are we creating a space that makes connection easy? “
That’s it. Answering “yes” to that question will cover a multitude of other worship planning sins. Don’t get me wrong, I would still prefer that everyone preaches a mind-blowing-sermon-that-sparks-revival-all-across-the-land every single week. But on the chance that you have trouble delivering a mind-blowing-sermon-that-sparks-revival-all-across-the-land every single week, rest assured that if people connect, feel a little better known, get to share their story, maybe even hear someone say their name… they’ll be back.
Here are a couple questions and ideas to get you started:
- Are there smiling greeters waiting at the door of your church (preferably the outside)?
- Make sure your greeters are the friendliest people in your church and not just the ones who volunteered. They should be able to easily have a 5-15 second conversation with people as they make their way into the building.
- Is it easy for people to chat before and after church, or does it feel like awkwardly trying to talk in a silent library? If you’re on the library end of the spectrum, consider playing some light house music over the speakers or having your musician play softly as people begin filing in (it REALLY helps).
- Commission “undercover hospitality agents” who are charged with finding first-timers or disconnected congregants to engage in friendly conversation before and after church. A pastor often gets caught in conversation, so it’s important to have a team on the lookout.
- Give an easy coffee hour “conversation prompt” to the church during your benediction. This takes some of the pressure off of people who would like to connect but get nervous making conversation.
- Regularly practice names. I’m not kidding. This is nothing less than a spiritual gift, and you can get SIGNIFICANTLY better by having someone take a few broad pictures during church and then studying their faces that week. You can practice by yourself, with your staff, or even with the hospitality team. There is nothing sweeter than being greeted by name.
It’s true that evil is real in this world and that injustice is rampant. I would never want us to lose sight of that as we lead our worship services. But loneliness is no joke, and we have at least one opportunity a week to make lonely people feel connected and known.
It’s worth our time to do a little planning.