If you follow the world of Adventist Evangelism you are familiar with ministries such as It Is Written, Amazing Facts, Breath of Life, & Voice of Prophecy. You’re also familiar with the great evangelists of Adventism, some of y’all have seen them so many times on 3ABN or The Hope Channel that you almost feel like they are your own personal friends, Doug Batchelor, Shawn Boonstra, Mark Finley, Alejandro Bullon, John Bradshaw, Carlton Byrd, and more. But of all the evangelists in our denomination, The Seventh-day Adventist Church, which ones are the most important, the most vital to the growth of our church?
I’m going to give you my top four. They are…
- Parking Lot
These three individuals & one inanimate object are far more important to the growth of your church and thus the growth of Adventism at least here in North America than any of the names I mentioned above. Why do I say that? Because these three evangelists have a weekly impact on the growth of your church that the other three do not have (unless of course one of them is your Pastor:)).
Pastor Nelson Searcy and other church growth surveyors report that churches have roughly 7 minutes from the time a guest pulls into your church parking lot to make them feel welcome and give them a compelling reason to come back. Now a lot of folk may be skeptical about that statement, but if you’re a church goer then that disqualifies you from being able to speculate on the mind of the un-churched. The un-churched don’t think like church folk or act like church folk or talk like church folk, but they are the folk we need to reach, which is why these four evangelists, parking lot, groundskeeper, janitor, and greeter are so important to the life and growth of a local church!
Let me tell you about the value of each one:
Church growth studies state that if a parking lot that is more than 80% it is a deterrent to guests. When I first read this in a book by Russell Burrill I was skeptical, but I’m a pastor which makes me even less qualified than the average member in the pew to analyze the thoughts of an individual searching for a church, so I took the study to the church Elders and there in our meeting one of our Elders raised his hand. He said, “Pastor 8 years ago when my wife and I first move to the area we came to this church; we pulled into the parking lot and didn’t see many openings. The place seemed too crowded so we drove to another church in town.” They weren’t even here 7 minutes and they left. Praise the Lord they gave us another chance, they have been a great asset to our church! But we could have lost them because the evangelism of our parking lot dropped the ball! How can we help with the evangelism of the parking lot? Well first off pastors we can actually pay attention to it. One thing we did prior to moving to two services in Visalia, as our church grew, we not only paid attention to how many people were sitting in the seats but we also sent a Deacon to count the empty spots in the parking lot. When we were getting to full we began to ask our members to park elsewhere. There was a parking lot next door and we got permission to use it, we also had members park out on the street at the curb. Our church having the evangelistic heart that they do complied and our parking lot was once again ready to be an evangelist to our guests.
Are your bushes trimmed, is your lawn mowed & green, do you have flowers blooming? The first thing that people see when they pull up to your church are these things and whether we pay attention to it or not, it is noticed by guests. If you don’t believe me think about the last time you pulled up to a persons house whose yard was falling apart. Did you notice? Of course you did! Especially if you were about to go inside. In fact you probably thought in your head, “If this is what the outside of their house looks like, I wonder what the inside looks like?” We’ve all thought it (if you haven’t you may be the one with the ultra shabby yard:)). Well do you think folk pulling into a church think any different? NO! And what is one of the most important rules of evangelism? Start by focusing on the positive. What do most our main stream evangelists start their meetings with? Daniel 2. Why? Because they want folk to see the credibility of the scriptures and honestly probably the credibility of us, in that we were so “smart” to show them the meaning of Daniel 2 (sorry mild sarcasm there:)). But this is a positive message for a positive start. It is no different each Sabbath morning, we want to start things off on the positive. And the positive is a green mowed lawn, trimmed bushes, and flowers blooming. Pastors are you paying attention to the evangelism provided by your groundskeeper?
Really this evangelist follows in the same line as the previous. If your church is unkempt and dirty you are communicating a message you don’t want to communicate. Bathrooms need to be clean! If they are like ours in Visalia (literally the worst church bathrooms ever) then you really have to go out of your way to make them as useable as possible! Papers should not be lying around, the walls should be clean, the tables at potluck should be clean. I was once speaking at a small church in the Southern parts of these here United States. I was the guest so I showed-up early that gave me the opportunity to stand in the foyer and look around while I waited for the Sabbath Schools to finish, what I noticed made me wonder how many guests came back. There was a coat rack that probably had half the coats hanging on the rack and the other half were lying in a heap on the floor. Sitting on top of the coat rack were stacks of what appeared to be old Adventist Review magazines along with other various papers. Everything just looked disheveled. We don’t get points if the outside is beautiful but the inside it is a filthy mess, either Spiritually or as a literal church structure. Your janitor evangelist is important!
This evangelist may be the most overlooked because most people consider their church friendly. But just because we as members think our church is friendly doesn’t mean that is what your guests experience. And unfortunately what has been discovered is that members almost always rate themselves higher on the “friendly” meter than guests do. All the other 6 1/2 minutes of a guests first encounter with your church are important but the first 30 seconds that a guest steps inside your church are the most vital and will leave an impression of your church that can be very hard to shake! I’ve found within Adventism that most greeting ministries are the same. Hand-out a bulletin and be done with it. In some churches that is even an overreach of expectation. One of my associates went to preach at another church in our area, when he walked into the church foyer there was no greeter. There was a table though with a stack of bulletins. My associate greeted the table and took a bulletin To be a greeter is not to be a bulletin dispenser. A greeter is an evangelist! Every pastor should do training sessions with their greeters. Have a plan for how to greet and where to greet. Yes, where matters. Guests should not have to come to the greeters, I can not count how many times I have had to tap a greeter on a shoulder in a church I was visiting and ask for a bulletin. One pastor friend told me how at a church he was serving at the greeters refused to come out from behind the hospitality table, they said if the people wanted something it was clear where they needed to go. Sounds so hospitable! I find the greeting ministry of our church to be one of the ministries I spend the most time thinking about and praying over!
So there are your four “most important” evangelists in Adventism! From personal experience and observation I believe if a pastor will take a little more time focusing on even just these four areas, he or she will see the retention of their guests increase.