One year, as a birthday present, I decided to take my dad to a Chicago Bulls play-off game. Like most dads, he’s a very enthusiastic, vocal fan, so I thought he’d love to share that energy with 20,000+ fans in the United Center. We got to our seats and started watching the game. The atmosphere was electric. In the final moments of the game, the United Center was reverberating with the screams of the fans and their energy. To my surprise, for the duration of the game, my dad was securely planted in his seat. Even at the most nail-biting moments, he sat with a church pose: hands neatly folded in his lap, watching the game intently—from his seat—but he didn’t make a sound. I was on my feet with the rest of the fans. It was a close game that the Bulls won in the last few seconds. To this day, I still don’t understand what it was about that situation that made my dad so reserved, because I know that when he watches sports at home, he yells and cheers and shouts enthusiastically at the TV.
Have you ever wondered what makes God applaud?
What gets Him out of His seat and makes Him yell, “Yes!
Yes! Yes!”? When does He get ecstatic and enthusiastic
about what’s happening here on earth? I think that question
is a great starting point for the idea of making your church
Have you ever tried to solve a
problem, only to realize that you
hadn’t identified the problem correctly?
In our churches, I think we’re
often after solutions, but we’re asking
the wrong questions.
One day, I was reading Matthew
6:1-3 in The Message Bible version.
It says, “Be especially careful when
you are trying to be good so that you
don’t make a performance out of it.
It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t
The verse is so blunt and even a bit confronting, but this
shock of realism puts a lot of our actions into perspective.
How often do we misdirect our actions? How often do we
act for others instead of for God? Sometimes, we even do
this with good intentions.
The topic of this article—how to make your church irresistible—is
the same topic I addressed at a recent leadership
workshop. As I prepared for the workshop, I followed
a few hunches and then began to research. My hunt led me
to a couple of very popular books. Each one approached the
idea of church hospitality and creating a friendly church from
a different angle. When I read The Five Star Church, it approached
the topic from a hospitality-industry perspective,
encouraging churches to make everything about the experience
equivalent to a five-star hotel so that guests would
sense the specialness and the uniqueness of the experience.
I then moved on to Making a Good Church Great. Similarly,
this book looked at principles of excellence. It talked about
how to infuse the church experience with excellence in each
and every area, including guests’ experiences. While my
research showed the authors approaching the topic in strategic
ways, the solutions seemed to lack soul. And having
been a guest at various churches throughout my life, I felt
that they all failed to address the heart of the matter: how
a guest really experiences churches where they don’t feel
While making your church friendly is important, friendliness
without connectedness is hollow. And excellence without
compassion is like a clanging cymbal.
Most often, when we ask a question along the lines of
“How can I make my church irresistible?” we’re asking the
wrong question. Or, better stated, we’re asking the right
question about the wrong person.
When we ask the question “How do I make my church
irresistible?” we’re probably asking the question with our
guests in mind. We’re wondering how we can make our
church irresistible for our visitors so they will return. Do we
need to provide the best children’s program in town? Do
we need to make sure we have the best music program?
Should we make sure the service doesn’t run over a certain
time or that we have people strategically placed at all of the right interaction points? I’m not underestimating the
impact of any of these things, but I wonder if, when we ask
this question, we should be asking it of God. So instead of
asking “How can we make our church irresistible for our
guests?” perhaps the right question for the right person is
“How can we make our church irresistible to God?” When
we ask ourselves this question, we set ourselves up to learn
what makes God applaud.
TRAITS OF AN IRRESISTIBLE CHURCH
Wayne Cordeiro expresses this idea in his book The Irresistible
Church. In it, he mentions 12 traits of an irresistible
church. I’m going to mention two of the 12 and explore a
couple of ways you can lead your church toward becoming
irresistible to God.
When asking and answering the question “What makes
God applaud?” there are several surefire answers we can
get through a careful review of the guidance God has given
us in the Bible.
God’s presence. One of the first things that makes
God applaud—and one of the first traits of an irresistible
church—is a church where the members insist that God’s
presence must go with them. This attitude reminds me of
Moses’ experience in Exodus 33, when he’s journeying with
the children of Israel. God tells Moses to continue on the
journey, but Moses returns to God and says, “If your Presence
does not go with us, do not bring us up from here.”
What if we as a church body—in our ministries, our
communications, and our meetings—determined that we
wouldn’t go forward with any programming, meeting, or decision
if God’s presence didn’t go with us? What would the
outcome be for our churches? If this was our guiding principle,
God would surely applaud that. And if God applauds it,
it creates an atmosphere that’s irresistible to Him. An atmosphere
that’s irresistible to God is surely irresistible to people
because God’s Spirit will actively be a part of it.
As it relates to church hospitality and the message it communicates, a church filled with God’s presence—especially when it is filled with people who sense His presence and His mission for us—will be a church that embodies the idea of friendliness coupled with connectedness and compassion.
A church filled with love. The next thing that makes God
applaud—another trait of an irresistible church—is a church
filled with love.
Hospitality is the intentionality of love. We see this quality
in Romans 15:7, and God encourages it when it was said,
“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in
order to bring praise to God.”
When we think of church hospitality, it’s not often that
we group it in with our church communications. Traditionally,
we’ve reserved communications to include bulletins,
signage, newsletters, websites, social media, and text messaging—if
you’re really on trend.
In John 13:35, Jesus tells His disciples, “By this everyone
will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
That seems to be the best PR strategy that we can
have as a church.
Our church communications must be freed from the bulletin
and unloosed from the shackles of belonging to one
person or a committee of a few people who are gifted with
words and cameras and audio equipment. Don’t misunderstand
what I’m saying. I have worked in church communications
for the past five years, and I have a deep understanding
of the importance of this area of our church. However, as
leaders and as church members, we should understand that
each of us is a walking bulletin. Every church member’s actions
can be as helpful or as harmful as a tweet. The way
we talk to one another in meetings, in Sabbath School, and
at potlucks can be as effective as a church newsletter. Our
church’s hospitality (or the lack thereof) is a major part of
our church communications strategy, and these two ministries
are intertwined. Our communications is who we say we
are. Our hospitality is the opportunity for people to experience
who we are.
This is what God applauds. He applauds the intentionality
of our love. He applauds us not just for being friendly
but for connecting with people that He’s brought to visit our
churches. He applauds our compassion. He applauds our
love because it’s a reflection of His character.
HOW TO MAKE YOUR CHURCH IRRESISTIBLE
While asking the right question can help us understand
the problem, finding a solution is even more powerful. As a
church leader, how can you lead your church toward becoming
a church that’s irresistible to God?
Create empathy. In Luke 6:31, we have clear guidance
on how we can develop empathy; “So in everything, do to
others what you would have them do to you . . .” One of the most powerful ways we can create a
church that’s irresistible to God, especially
in the area of hospitality (which is
a part of a church’s communications),
is to empathize with the people who we
expect to visit our churches.
Many members were born and
raised in our churches and have met
and married there. Their lives are routine.
They may not remember what it’s
like to walk into a room and not recognize
a single face. It is possible they have never experienced
hearing unfamiliar theology or hearing greetings like “Happy
Sabbath!” How can you or your church members know or
remember what that feels like if you don’t actively practice
Many visitors stand at the door of a church, look around,
and feel like they’ve come to a gathering to which they
weren’t invited. Everyone is chatting, smiling, and greeting
one another, but the guests feel alone—on the outside looking
in. Sometimes they don’t return for this reason. Often,
we become so entrenched in our church’s life, culture, and
relationships that we forget what it’s like not to belong. As
a leader, you can actively encourage ministries to practice
empathy in their planning as they create programming and
in the implementation of their ministry ideas and events. As
a leader, if you’re really looking to overachieve, why not visit
another church (when you have a chance) to put yourself in
the shoes of your visitors?
Create connectedness. A church that longs for connectedness
among its ministries and for its members and
visitors is a church that God applauds. Connectedness promotes
unity, and Jesus prayed that we as a church body
would be one, just as He and the Father are one. Actively
promoting connectedness and finding ways to promote it
among ministries will be a big boost for the church’s hospitality
and will make your church irresistible to God.
I once visited a church in Chicago and was struck by its
emphasis on creating a sense of connectedness. The experience
has stayed with me for years. On my first and second
visits, I was amazed by the way multiple people approached
me to welcome me to the church. The pastor called me a
few days after my visit, and several people added me on
Facebook. It felt like a totally organic experience—a church
with really friendly people who were interested in connecting.
Much later, I met with the pastor and remarked on the
friendliness of the church, and he told me that creating this
environment required lots of intentionality and planning.
Creating connectedness helps all of your church’s ministries
get on the same page about the church’s mission.
Ultimately, our mission is to spread a message of love and
redemption to a dying world. Within a church body, you
may be pursuing something more specific, like creating a
church that’s a part of its local community or reaching out to young families in the area. In talking with your communications
team, you may realize that they’re trying to reach out
to the community with a particular campaign or get visitors
to gain awareness of the church through increased signage.
The communications team may be running a social media
campaign aimed at attracting people from the community.
Separately, the hospitality team may be working to create a
welcoming environment. Your small-group ministry may be
looking to expand some of the church’s offerings, and Sabbath
School may be working to survive in this modern age.
Are these ministries talking? Are they looking for synergy?
Does each ministry realize the important role it plays in creating
a hospitable environment that God would applaud?
When you create connectedness, all the ministries begin
to work in concert. The communications team’s message—
that you’re a community church—should flow through to
the hospitality team and inform them as they do their greeting,
providing a sense of purpose to the smile, handshake,
and bulletin being handed out. Perceptive hospitality team
members can alert friendly and compassionate members
about visitors they’ve seen entering the church so the visitor
can be greeted again by a church member. Children’s
Sabbath School leaders should anticipate visitors because
the service has been advertised to the community and have
a plan in place to welcome visitors to attend the adult Sabbath School. Opportunities to attend small groups should be
made available in Sabbath School for those who connect
with the idea of a group Bible study. Having this sense of
connectedness offers multiple opportunities for your visitors
to receive the message the communications ministry—and
all the other ministries—is trying to share. Most importantly,
it allows multiple interaction points, which give visitors opportunities
to connect and provides a shared sense of purpose
for your church.
So, if you’re wondering what makes God applaud, if
you’re curious to know what gets Him out of His seat and
makes Him ecstatic, consider how your church treats its
visitors. Consider the atmosphere of connectedness that has
been created in your church. When we get this right, we create
a church that’s irresistible to God and to visitors.
This article first appeared in the June 26, 2016, edition of Best
Practice. It has been lightly edited for Elder’s Digest.
Rachel Lemons Aitken is a Chicago native who serves as the Communications
Coordinator for the Greater Sydney Conference in Sydney,
Australia, where she now lives with her Aussie husband Peter.
Rachel is passionate about reframing the conversation around