From the Parking Lot to the Pew

Derrick McNeil - Small Groups Pastor | CyLife Church - Cypress, TX

It is Sunday morning! All over the city families are sleeping in before preparing for the 11:00am service. Breakfast smells great, attitudes are pleasant and church clothes are laid out. They shoot for a 10:45 arrival hoping to secure their regular spots in the back row. Once they finally roll into the parking lot, they’re met with a “welcome to service” from the parking team and a wave and smile from the door greeters. After a stop by the coffee bar, they settle down in a comfy chair, enjoy the worship performance and then an encouraging word from the pastor, leaving just before the response song is over. On the way out they shuffle past a sign on the wall that reads “join a group!”. They rush back to the car and off to a restaurant before the church down the street gets out. Wow what a wonderful family Sunday morning!

Some may genuinely ask, “What’s wrong with that? We went to church”. True, but I could argue there is a lot is missing from this scenario when it comes to getting people connected to small groups on a Sunday morning.

If a church is committed to being a disciple making church, then relational discipleship should be on display and lived out by the staff and volunteers of all ministries. From the parking lot to the pew, people should be invited to experience the love of God from His people: THE church.

It would be ideal if every ministry was led by a mature disciple maker. These people would understand the value of relationship with God and others, be intentional in his or her leadership, create relational environments, and set processes in place that their volunteers feel known, loved, and appreciated. When this culture is developed and celebrated it will be reproduced as they serve across all ministry areas.

Instead of simply, “welcome to service”, what would it look like if the parking team took extra steps to ensure guests, regular attendees, and partners felt welcome?

“Hi! My name is Michael, what’s your name? Have you visited with us before?

“My name is Alexus and this is my sister, Alyssa. Yes, we have! Excited to be back!”

“Great! Welcome back, we are glad you are here!”

Or maybe…

“No, this our first time.”

“Awesome! We are so glad you chose to spend time with us today! Let me walk you up front and introduce you to one of our greeters!”

That extra bit of conversation helps people feel known. It shows that this church is more concerned about you than just your presence. Now, entering the church not only garners a “wave and a smile”, but a formal introduction.

“Hey Angela, these are my new friends Alexus and Alyssa, they are visiting for the first time, would you mind showing them around?”

The greeters show guests where the restrooms are, point out the coffee bar and if they’d had children, they would have walked them to the Kid’s ministry area where they could be introduced and helped with checking in their children. Our two guests have now been formally introduced to at least two people who have taken personal interest in them.

The experience remains consistent when the ushers thoughtfully and warmly walk them into the auditorium to help find a place in the room where they feel most comfortable. Inside the auditorium when the worship team is led by a worship leader who is a disciple maker, he or she will lead them to connect to God through song. The pastor teaches biblical principles on how to love God and people well. The pastor or a service host will close service with a personal invite to stop at the connections center where friendly volunteers will take time to answer any questions our new friends may have. They will invite them to stop by the small groups area to meet small group leaders and members who will provide information and share personal stories of the impact relational discipleship has had on their life.

It is incredibly important that Sunday service does not become a “convenience store” stop before going on the journey of the rest of one’s day. It should be a place where people come and want to stay a while because a culture of being known, cared for, and loved is being lived out. Pastor Brandon Guindon said it well in his book Disciple Making Culture, “Creating a culture that sees each person who walks through the door as someone who should be noticed, loved, and welcomed, regardless of outward appearance, requires intentionality.”

On Sunday, from the parking lot to the pew, relational environments created and maintained by intentional spiritually mature ministry leaders will help develop bonds where people are more inclined to venture into small groups. There, they will understand how to make and send disciples who love, live and lead like Jesus.

Derrick McNeil – Small Groups Pastor

CyLife Church
Cypress, TX