In Part 1, we were able to see that there are some lingering effects from the pandemic that affect our communities and people. While all of us are seeing God move and we’re putting so many of those things in our rearview mirrors, we still need to take some of them into account. But, while they might cast a little shade on our approach to Easter this year, they are little more than a sign that point us to new and welcome sunny weather!
So, I asked the pastors how do we earn the right to have Easter attenders, many first time, become part of our community/church? For those who are perhaps uncomfortable, how do we build a bridge to them? I loved their responses.
Petie Kinder, of Peak City Church in Colorado Springs, led in with a process that I believe we all could utilize. Let’s look at what he and his team are doing, not just this Easter, but every service this year.
- Plan and provide an incredible guest experience from street to seat, asking appropriate, non-threatening questions on their way in and providing helpful directions.
- Incorporate welcoming language from the stage that also acknowledges how tough it is to come to church for the first time, then celebrate their decision to attend.
- Utilize an “assume-they’re-in-the-room” approach with everything said from the stage. Avoid directing the service specifically to people of faith.
- Provide them a clear next step that gives an easy action to learn more about the church.
- Inviting them with a compelling reason for them to come back the following week.
- Making the main thing our BIG thing: preach the gospel of love and grace!
Great planning, intentionality, and preparation with this process create a bridge to those who attend. Then, it demonstrates that they are surrounded by people who love them and are not there to judge them or fix them. Yet, there is something I want to draw our attention to. There is a byproduct to this process. While the focus is on new attenders, this process also gives confidence to those who have completely bought in to Peak City. Petie said last week that people had been affected by the pandemic in that they were apt to shy away from inviting people. He and his team needed to re-create an invite culture. This process gives confidence by demonstrating each week what bought-in members can expect for the friends, family, and community that they invite. Weekly consistency helps overcome that all-too-often feeling of not knowing what to expect from week to week. Confident people invite others.
Creating Safe Places
Reflecting on the past two years and the challenges they brought, Keri Ladouceur, Community Pastor at Community Christian Church in Chicagoland, says:
For us, we recognize the barriers and obstacles the witness of the church in the West has created. We’re cognizant of the erosion of trust in “authority” the last several years have produced. Anything from politics to media to church abuse scandals lowers our stock with those in the watching world.
We desire to be welcoming and create a safe environment for folks wherever they are on their journey. This means being attentive to our environments, the stories we tell, and the next-step invitations we provide. We’re intentionally vocal about our imperfections and that there are no perfect people allowed. We also acknowledge the bravery of people who tell their stories of transformation in our communities.
What a great team focus! All of us have cities full of people who didn’t grow up in church, they don’t know who Jesus is, and they have not heard the gospel, yet they’re in need of rescue. Rescue from addiction. Rescue from grief. Rescue in the area of mental health. They’re wanting fellow journeyers that can walk with them in life. They don’t know Jesus, but they heard from their friend that there is a safe place, where they found a community of people who don’t judge them, but love them, and are just like them. They’ll come for that and in that, we all can point them to Jesus and his Word. Everyone’s story, no matter how it reads, needs to be safe and welcome. That is why I love Keri and her team’s focus this year.
Reflecting on Our Specific Role
While Easter has aspects of the “team” approach, what I learned from Keri and her leadership was that she internalizes God’s call on her life too. All of us as leaders need to contemplate and reflect on what our role is in this bigger process, this beautiful calling. Listen to Keri and see her turn this inward and reflect on the part she plays:
I think for me, the Spirit of God has also reshaped how I view my role as a pastor. Rather than have the right answers or provide a compelling defense of the gospel, I see my role as creating safety and holding space for people. What people need is an encounter with the living God, and safe relational spaces to process, because that’s where real transformation happens. I try to be honest about my own wrestling and questions, because in doing so, it can normalize it. I do the same with grief as well.
When people understand church is a family where all those things are welcome, it changes the invitation for them. When we elevate the full gospel invitation to make Jesus the King of one’s life and we call people to partner with him in establishing his Kingdom on earth (rather than crossing a line of faith and simply counting salvations), we have the privilege of engaging people in life to the full, not a checklist. We are intentional about elevating stories of the heart and full life transformation over behavior modification. This, then, changes our understanding of the role of the church. We’ve found that when we’re able to model that kind of authenticity and vulnerability, it tends to be pretty bridge-building within our community.
In a day where everyone is seeking and often bragging about measurable results that can be easily calculated, it is so refreshing to see Keri, as a gifted leader, understand the infinite value in life transformation and growth. Life transformation is hard to measure and put into a pie chart or infographic, but the resulting impact will far outweigh any number-counting. Her leadership focus makes safe places where walls can come down and real rescue can happen.
Modeled by the Early Church
What is more, is that this approach to leadership was modeled well by the early church. Peter was an apostle, yet he needed a vision on Simon the tanner’s rooftop to begin to overcome his lack of offering the gospel to gentiles. The same issue that we see him struggle with again, when Paul must rebuke him to his face. Peter is human, he has failures, he isn’t perfect, and the early church doesn’t shy away from telling that story. Paul adds his name at the top of all sinners. Sure, everyone is a sinner, Paul says, but then he states, “I am the chief.” This avoidance of legalism and false piety helped the church draw people to Christ even in the face of persecution and death.
These are just a few perspectives heading into Easter this year, we couldn’t touch on them all. But, I know you’re seeing a trend in all of them. Our love for the people in our cities and communities must bring us to do all we can to lead everyone we meet to the greatest lover of people the world has ever known… Jesus.
Pete Heiniger wore various ministry hats in his first ten years of ministry before serving as an executive at Faithlife/Logos Bible Software and Outreach. Then he returned to ministry as the executive pastor for Discovery Church in Colorado Springs. Now he serves Leadership Network in the area of content curation.