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FIRST-PERSON: Ask yourself how you’d want to be treated as a visitor

LAKE FOREST, Calif. (BP)–If you’re trying to reach the lost on Sunday morning, you should be preaching for action. Every sermon point should have a verb in it, something to do. Why? Because God says, “Be doers of the word, not hearers only.”

In too many churches, preaching is often just for information. The whole goal is to simply impart the content of the Bible. There’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s more appropriate for a midweek service. When you’re preaching to the lost, you need to encourage them toward action — show them how God will transform their lives. God didn’t say, “I’ve come that you might have information.” He said, “I’ve come that you might have life.”

Think how you would be a good host to a visitor in your own home; let me challenge you to think about some of the traditions we’ve wrapped into our worship services with little thought to our visitors.

Why not use a Bible translation lost people can understand? I don’t see any need to make the gospel confusing by using 400-year-old English. In fact, I use multiple translations, and I print the verses that are related to my sermon into the bulletin.

I do this for several reasons: 1) Lost people rarely bring Bibles to church. 2) Even if they did, they wouldn’t be able to find the verse fast enough. 3) You don’t waste sermon time looking for verses. I once timed a well-known preacher, and he spent about 12 minutes of the service just flipping from one verse to another. 4) Putting it in a handout lets unbelievers take the Scripture home with them. 5) Since everyone is looking at the same translation, you can ask the congregation to read the verse out loud, and that helps with their retention of God’s Word.

Why not be sensitive to visitors’ concerns?

When I talk to lost people, their number one gripe with the church is, “All they’re after is my money.” So why not say, “If you’re a visitor, don’t give.” That shocks visitors. They think the church is out for their money, and then there you are telling them not to give.

Be sensitive about embarrassing visitors. You may think you’re making people feel comfortable by asking them to stand up and say their names. But psychologists say that the NUMBER ONE fear people have is the fear of speaking in front of other people. So, if someone brings a friend to church, and the friend is already uptight about being there, the last thing he wants is to be singled out. You’re forcing him to face his greatest fear. And then we wonder why people don’t want to come back to our churches!

Nowadays, people consider it an asset to get lost in the crowd. At least at the start, that’s what they want to do. So, give visitors the privilege of sitting in the back where nobody knows who they are. Let them sit back and watch for five or six weeks, testing the waters. Many people — who would never come back to a church if they were singled out — will come back week after week when they’re not put on the spot. You should deliberately allow for anonymity.

Are lost souls worth a dress code?

Relax your dress code. Traditionally, we’ve dressed up in churches, but I think if you want to reach the lost, you need to promote an atmosphere of acceptance. A friend was telling me the other day that a few years ago when she was a seeker she showed up at a traditional church wearing pants. She’d never been to church before. She didn’t know the dress code and after the service a woman confronted her, saying, “No young lady should ever wear pants to church. It’s inappropriate.”

Naturally, my friend didn’t go back to that church, or to ANY church for several years. (Can you even imagine Jesus sending someone away because that person was dressed too casually?).

An atmosphere of acceptance tells visitors they can come as they are. When I’m preaching, I can always tell who the visitors are — they sit closest to the doors! And about five minutes into the service, they breathe a big sigh of relief, and you can see the pain and tension drain out of their faces. They start thinking, “I’m going to enjoy this! I’m not going to be threatened. He’s not going to yell at me, make me stand up and say my name. He’s not going to come lay hands on me and make me speak in tongues. I may actually enjoy this!” That’s an atmosphere of acceptance.

If we want to reach lost people in the 21st century, we need to very deliberately pour new wine into new wineskins (Luke 5:38).
Warren is pastor of Saddleback Community Church, Lake Forest, Calif., and author of the “Purpose Driven Church.” Various Saddleback resources are available at www.pastors.com.

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  • Rick Warren