(Please read previous post first.)
One of my greatest passions as a pastor has been to overcome the "barricade of backs" so common in churches. The causes are many and not unique to the church. Once we're "in" it's just hard to care about and work to include others. And I'm not just talking about excluding people who don't yet have a relationship with Christ, although that is most tragic. I'm talking about anybody who is new and doesn't yet belong. Anyone who comes to a new church and finds closed circles of people.
These are not necessarily unfriendly people. They may smile and shake hands, but it doesn't take long to discover that all the circles of friends (friends who often love and care for each other) are closed. Most churches are so filled with closed circles that the newcomer gives up before finding an open one.
My dream has always been and continues to be of a church of open circles of people intent on Christ's mission, his kingdom work. A band of brothers open to new recruits, willing to multiply their platoons or working hard to form new platoons for the sake of the mission.
So what can each of us do to be this kind of church?
- Every week, after the service, greet someone you don't know before gravitating toward someone you know. Ask, "How long have you attended Five Oaks?" And then go from there.
- Attend Men's and Women's Ministry events and make an effort to meet someone new and then invite them to your small group.
- Serve in the First Impressions Ministry.
- If you're in a circle talking to friends and you see someone close by who's not in any circle, open the circle and invite them in. This is a physical activity. I literally mean to step back and open the circle. Be a circle opener every chance you get.
- Next time you go to any event where you don't know anybody, make a point to remember how it feels and take that feeling with to church services every week.
- Make it a habit by including people at work, in the neighborhood, at your kids' sporting events, everywhere.
Are you shy? An introvert? All the more reason to include others. You know how hard it can be to crack the code of a small group of friends! Once you've included someone, you can let the extroverts in the circle take it from there.
But we need to face it, we don't exclude because we're introverted. We exclude because we're curled in on ourselves. Opening our circles is a discipline that helps us overcome our selfishness and self-centeredness. Let's break the barricade of backs!