In a previous blog I have written of what attracts people to a church. In researching that blog I came across a web-article by American preacher David W. Miller of The Church at Rocky Peak entitled ‘ Little things that make the church attractive’. In it he put proposed nine ‘small changes; which could make a ‘big difference. It inspired me to write another blog, this time relating to such matters as related to room temperature, lighting, sound, seating, style, sermon length, sermon tone, atmosphere and treatment of visitors.
Room Temperature: ‘Better a little too cool than a little too warm’ states David Miller. He support his argument by telling the story – surely apocryphal of how Charles Haddon Spurgeon walked around his building one snowy night in disguise throwing rocks through the windows in his church to allow fresh, cool air inside – ‘Even he could not keep people awake in a warm and stuffy auditorium’. I accept the basic argument that room temperature is important. However, the truth is that most British churches are too cold rather than too warm. I remember preaching in an Anglican church where it was so cold that everybody was wearing overcoats and scarves. Admittedly last year there were some summer Sundays when I longed for air-conditioning, but that is relatively rare. In our country churches need to be warm to be welcoming.
Lighting: ‘Better a little too bright than a little too dim. A bright room sets a bright atmosphere’. How true an observation that is. I have been in far too many dark and dingy churches. I thank God for my present church where on a sunny day natural light floods into our building through the windows in the roof above; and on darker days we have spot lights to reinforce the normal lighting. Light uplifts the spirit and inspires the soul.
Sound: ‘Better a little too loud than a little too soft’. Here too I agree. As a preacher I am in the business of communication – I want the congregation to hear, without having to strain. True, there is nothing more painful than loud sound bursting the ear – but that is more typical of a modern disco than a church.
Seating: ‘Better a little too full than a little too empty. Fit the seating for the size of the crowd’. For churches with pews, this is a difficult challenge. But for the increasing number of churches with chairs, this is an important point. A church which is less than half-full can feel empty and dispiriting. A church which is more than half-full feels good. True, a church that is full can be off-putting to visitors – for visitors hate nothing more than having to search for a seat, Indeed, church growth pundits tell us that a church that is more than 85% full is too full and is unlikely to grow.
Style: ‘Better a little too contemporary than a little too traditional’. There is no church issue more divisive than worship. However, the reality is that most people visiting our churches are not classical music buffs. Church traditionalists may want hymns and organ music, but this style speaks of a past era. If churches are to attract young families, let alone young people, we have to adopt a contemporary worship style.
Sermon Length: ‘Better a little too short than a little too long. Have them leave wishing there were more’. That too is true. FF Bruce, a distinguished New Testament scholar, used to say that if you have something to say, 20 minutes is quite enough; if you have nothing to say, then you may well need 40 minutes. Even in sermon-hardened Baptist churches, 25 minutes is more than enough
Sermon tone – or what David Miller calls ‘goal’. ‘Better a little too healing than a little too cutting. Most auditoriums contain more broken hearts than hard hearts’. The temptation of many evangelical preachers is to ‘flay’ their congregations, and exhort them to repent and do better. But what good does that do? We need to encourage people – and assure them that God knows, understands, and cares.
Atmosphere: ‘Better a little too informal than a little too formal. Informal means warm and relaxed, not sloppy and poorly planned’. To my mind it is important to get the right balance between formality and informality. Yes, we are dealing with serious issues – the Gospel is about life and death; but there is a place for humour and laughter. For as church we are family – and in a family there is no place for being ‘stiff and starchy’. Although as a pastor I always wear a formal suit, I am more than happy with the fact that the general dress code is casual contemporary.
Treatment of Guests: ‘Better a little too uninvolved than too threatened….Expect the guests to “spectate” and the members to participate’. Certainly this should be true of the offering. We often state that the offering is ‘primarily for our own people – visitors, please feel free to allow the bag to pass you by.’