Since June, Steph and I have been going wide open. We are doing everything that we can to move into the next chapter of life that we both feel God is moving us toward. We are selling our home and moving closer to my mom to be able to help her out while at the same time still being able to be about the same distance from her parents. At the same time we are doing this, we are also taking the next step to growing our family through embryo adoption. While we are working towards both of these goals, we still have to maintain our lives, our jobs, our relationships with our friends and families and we have a house to keep spotless before we leave every morning.

To say we have a lot of irons in the fire  would be a huge understatement.

In meeting with our realtor a few months ago when we began this process, the one thing that she said that stood out in my mind was put your best foot forward. You only get one chance to make a first impression. Make your entry way memorable and appealing. That one point has been my focus on the house since just about the day that she said it. Steph has focused on reducing the amount of stuff we had in the house, cleaning, and having a yard sale to reduce our unneeded stuff, but curb appeal has been mine.

Since that day, I have almost totally refinished the front of our house. I have cleaned and painted the porch. I have cleaned and painted the mailbox. I have trimmed the shrubs. We have put out flowers. All of this to make our house stand out, to make someone want to be here, to make someone want, to want to come back.

I think the point our realtor made not only applies to the house that we live in, but to God’s house as well. You see, since we left youth ministry in May, Steph and I have been “unsettled” at church. After my dad passed away, we joined back at a church we were members of previously because we don’t know how long we will be in the area and we needed to be at a church where people knew us, they cared about us and we could be loved on during this period of our lives. We have also had the opportunity to be at other churches with friends and family.

All of the churches, including the one that we are members of need to take a lesson from our realtor.

“You only get one chance to make a first impression. Put your best foot forward!”

All of the churches that we have been to have one thing in common. They all miss the mark. Sure there is no perfect church. Sure you can’t please all of the people all of the time but what is the goal? What are you trying to accomplish? Are you trying to fill seats or fill heaven? Are you trying to make a budget or make a difference?

So many authors, pastors, counselors and consultants are all writing about the decline of the church today. I want to be positive. I want to be different. I want to see a change in the churches that we are at regardless of their size or worship style. That being said, here is where I think the churches that we have been to can “make a better first impression.”

1 – Whatever you do, from the time the doors are unlocked until the time the last person leaves, “Do it well!” I cannot stress this enough. Do it well. If you are a church called to be traditional, do it well. If you want to be the most contemporary church and blow the roof off of the place with your worship music, do it well. Check out your building and grounds. Are they inviting and taken care of? Examine your service. Video it if you can and pick it apart. Ask yourself this question, if I was not a leader in this church, would I come here? Do I feel welcome walking in the doors or isolated because I am new here? Do I know where I need to be? Where can I ask for help? Where do I take my children to for their services? Who are these people in front of me and around me? How can I fit in here?

2 – “Be inviting” – This past Sunday, we went to one of the largest churches in Alabama. The pastor made a point to let us know that they have 25 campuses across the state and they are in 7 prisons systems in the state also.  They are reaching people across the state but how many people left the building yesterday not knowing or connecting with another person sitting around them? A comment was made by one of the members we were visiting with said its a very friendly church but you won’t know the people in front of or behind you and they may not even speak to you. Sadly, this is a HUGE problem common among mega churches that we have been to. “Oh but we have small groups that’s where you get to know people” How many people will go to a small group where they know no one and no one from the church that they just attended even spoke to them? I’m guessing the number is very small. If you are not going to be open and inviting IN  the church, how am I supposed to feel welcome in your home?

3 – “Technology is a blessing and a curse” –  I love technology. I love the lights and the music, screens and graphics but sometimes too much is too much. We went to the church of one of the most popular speakers and popular worship leaders in the country today and left knowing we would never return. Sure almost every popular church has a worship band, screens, graphics and great music and those are great tools that God has given churches today but He also gave you a volume button. Use it. Control it. Don’t set the volume level so high that you can feel it in the back. Consider that new Christian sitting in the middle in the only seat left because it was in front of a speaker. Video is great for those in the back but that 2 story camera crane that keeps swinging wide over the crowd, yeah that’s a HUGE distraction that takes your mind off of why you are there. Video clips are a great way to add to the message and to help others tell their story. This weekend we saw a video of a girl and how God connected her to others. It was amazing, but she might not have been able to tell her story in front of thousands of people.

4 – “Keep your message on the message” – Pastors bring a message every week. These men of God pray about and study for what God has laid on their heart to bring to those under their care. Often these messages have stories of how their lives have been impacted and tie into the message. I have done this almost every time. Its one thing to tell a story and throw in a message, but its another to bring a message and tell how your life has been affected. How this simple point applies to your own life. Too many times, the story has been the focus, not the message. The attention span of an adult is maybe 30 minutes. This is even less for a youth. Don’t spend that short amount of time telling stories and tales but instead tell the story with a point and focus that point toward a life change.

5 – “Connect and Check Up” – Everyone wants to belong. In high school I was in the marching band, drama club, beta club, art club, etc. Later, I was in a truck club that went to truck shows together. In church, I have been in youth groups, college and career groups, leadership groups, tech groups, etc. We all want to belong. We all want to be part of a group that is not idle but moving and doing something. We all want to be connected. Help those unconnected people become part of your church, your group, your life. We all want to be missed. Make an effort to know who is connected to you and know when they are not there. Most of all, check on those you are connected to, not just when they are out. Ask them what is going on in their lives. Share your life with them. Make them feel special and when you need it the most, they will make you feel the same.

6 – “Focus” – With so many pulls on our lives today, I have lost focus. Every minute of every day in the past few weeks has been on the embryo transfer, getting the house ready to sale, worrying about mom, work, and spending time with Steph. My walk with Christ has taken a hit. My passion for youth has taken a big hit. My life with Steph has taken a hit. Fortunately, I have an amazing wife who keeps me in check. I have realized that the house will be ready when its ready. Its more important for me, to spend time with her. Each night now we have taken up walking together to get in better shape. I don’t walk with her for that reason as much as I enjoy that period of the day where we both get away from cell phones, tv, internet, working on the house, etc. For that point in time, we have time together. We walk and talk and I miss it when we can’t. We focus on each other for that period of time. God wants that too! Don’t let the business of church, take away from the reason we are a church. Don’t let the vision statement of the church get in the way the statement that Christ made in John 3:16. We serve a jealous God. Anything that we put in front of Him will not last. I heard it put best just a few weeks ago from a friend of mine who is a great man of God. He resigned from his positions at church because “church work was taking the place of the work of the church” He was so busy doing things at church that he was not ministering to those around him.

Dear God,

Thank You for my life. Thank You for those in my life who have made an impact either in church or out of church. Thank You in advance for what You are going to do in our lives when You are ready to use us again. Help us to find the place where You need us in the church, where You want us and where we will call home. Prepare that church for us and open the door that only You can open to us. Help us to do the ministry that You have called us to and help us to…..

Do it well!