I was privileged to have two of my doctoral classes taught by Elmer Towns. One day in class Dr. Towns was talking about the walls that every church has built that keep away outsiders. He then walked around the room and asked every student, "How tall are the walls around your church?" He stood there in front of the student until he or she gave an answer. Some indicated their walls would be a 3 or a 5 or a few said their church had walls that would probably rate an 8 or 9. From that class we learned that we needed to identify the walls, tear them down, and begin to build bridges into the community.
Our churches all claim to be friendly and inviting, but the fact is that every church has walls that have been created over the years to keep out certain people and identify who is in and who is out. A friend of mine told me years ago about the time she finally got her ex-husband to attend a church service with her. Following the service a person in the congregation suggested to him that the next time he came to church he should come wearing a suit and tie. He never returned. Another person asked me about closed communion because she and her husband were told they could not take communion in the new church they had recently began attending until they had been baptized by the pastor of that church and became members there. A pastor recently asked my advice on a baptism question his church was facing. A family had become quite active in his church and wanted to become members, but they came from another denomination that had different baptism practices. The husband's baptism had been a very special experience in his life, and he did not want to be re-baptized, but the church was adamant that unless he was immersed he could not become a member of their church. I am familiar with another church that had a youth minister that developed a heart for the Goth young people in their community. He began bringing a number of them to the church for youth activities until the young people in the church quit attending because they didn't want to be around those other young people. I could list hundreds of other examples of walls churches have created, and so could you. The question is: What are you going to do about the walls that exist in your church?
Churches today are struggling to reach new people, and most of them are targeting young people. They may have changed their worship format to a more contemporary style, installed video systems in the church, removed the pulpit, replaced the pews with chairs, and permitted the pastor to stop wearing a suit and tie when he preaches. In short, they have done everything they can think to do to appear more appealing to younger people, but they have forgotten one very important thing. They have no relationships with the people they claim they want to reach. They've never earned the right to invite them to church much less to talk to them about eternal matters.
In a workshop I was leading I once challenged the pastors to develop ministries that would address real world needs the people had that they were trying to reach. A pastor raised his hand and asked, "How do we find out what those needs are?" I was stunned for a moment but finally responded, "You might try asking them. You may want to leave the comfort of your church, go into the community you want to reach, and talk to the people there." I responded much more calmly than I felt on the inside! He just nodded at me.
Smaller churches are all about relationships. Everything in the small church is based on the relationships that exist between the members. Why would we think that relationships do not matter when we are wanting to reach new people? If your church is serious about wanting to reach people for Jesus Christ, you begin by developing relationships with those people. You love them like they are, where they are. These are people for whom Jesus Christ gave His life. You don't judge them because they sin differently than you do. You earn the right to share your faith with them through the relationship you develop with them. But, this all begins with your church identifying the walls that it has built to keep people out, tearing them down, and building bridges into the community. Only then will you begin to reach the people you claim you want to reach.