Last week I was talking to a pastor in Texas who was interested in learning more about how to grow his church in the 21st Century. We spoke at length about his connection strategies, how his church was connecting with the neighborhood and his relationship with the surrounding community leaders. At one point the conversation turned to his facilities and how the church had added some additional space in the 80s on to the original structure which was built at the turn of the century. While the majority of the church was the part of the addition, everyone in the community knew them by their original steeple.
In true pastor fashion, he used this conversation to make a theological point in the form of a joke. He said, “Don, do you know why churches ring their bells? So fish will jump into the boat.” It was a good chuckle comparing the Sunday morning church bells to the Church’s role as fishers of men but it made me think.
I am old enough to recall a time where on my way to and from church on Sunday morning I would pass a number of different churches and all of them would be ringing their bells. Then I thought about how I cannot remember the last time I heard church bells ringing on Sunday morning. The church bells have gone silent.
Church bells were a way of telling the community that it was time to come to church. The precept was that most people are going to church on Sunday morning and all we had to do was ring the bell. It was the expectation that if you heard the bells ringing, you would start making your way to church. In my article “Theology for Growth,” I talk about how in the Church, over the course of time, “going and making” has become “hoping and waiting.” Many churches just expect people to show up on Sunday morning and many more have not rung their bells in years. In the 21st century, we need a new precept when it comes to attending church.
Take a look at the largest, fastest growing churches in America. How many of those buildings have bells? Not many, yet many are full almost every Sunday morning. My experience has shown that these churches aren’t just expecting people to show up. They are proactively creating new ways to connect with the neighborhood and community around them. They are offering English Language classes for the refugees in their neighborhood. They are hosting parent’s night out for the children from the community. They are holding after school homework help and basketball programs for their students. I want to be clear here, the content of the connection event is inconsequential. What does matter is that the neighborhood and the community are creating connections with the Church and it is only after the church has connected with people that discipleship can begin. This is how the Church “goes” in the 21st century.
If you are trying to grow but the bells are not working, I want to let you know I recently published a guide to help you through that process. Connect: Grow Your Church in 28 Days –Guaranteed is a step-by-step plan built on decades of experience in managing churches all over the nation, that will give you simple steps that work in every church that has tried it. I would encourage you to read this guide and transition from a church that rings bells and hopes, to a church that fully lives out The Great Commission and “goes” and “makes.