by Greg Curtis: Here is a photo of Michelle and I once we made it down the long road to the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane. We are standing in front of what is the oldest Olive Tree in the garden, around a thousand years old.
I recently got back from a bucket list trip to Israel. This is the kind of trip you hope you will get to go on someday and pray it doesn’t let you down.
It did not.
People asked me what I was looking forward to seeing the most. I told them I didn’t want to even go there mentally because I suspected that what I was looking forward to might be eclipsed by things I didn’t even know we were going to see.
That is exactly what happened.
One of those surprise locations was discovered when we got off the bus in Jerusalem. We were on a bluff with a fantastic view of the old city. With a guide ahead of us, he got us access to an old stone road, framed in high walls with a steep decline down toward the valley in front of the city. It had security cameras, occasional wood doors that seemed to offer some kind of access to the kind of stone homes you would visualize a scene from the Bible to take place in. Parts were asphalted, some parts not.
Long, uneven, winding and descending, this was the road that Jesus came into Jerusalem on, riding a donkey the Sunday before his execution.
As I descended, I was awed that I was actually walking the road I had seen on flannel graphs in Sunday School growing up so many Palm Sundays. I had no idea this was what we were going to do on this particular day. But as I watched people from all over the world walk this road with me, a couple principles about connecting with people came to mind.
Two principles to keep in mind for connecting people at your church:
I took this photo on the same road that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on. Picture palms and praise happening on this road, but also note how it had no other options but down through the Kidron Valley and up to the Eastern Gate into the Old City. Our connection path for guests to enter into our church community should be as singular and clear as this.
Make your connection path clear and singular.
I was struck by the high walls and the narrow road that formed this old road into Jerusalem. As it exists now, there’s really no escaping it. Once you go through its locked entrance gate, you will walk this road until it reaches its destination, period. Walking downhill like this, it is also difficult to turn back and go uphill against the crowd.
This made me think of a warning I find myself sharing with Sherpa Leaders who want to create engagement pathways for their guests. The warning is this: Don’t offer guests multiple choice. If you do, they will always choose D) None of the above. Like this road into Jerusalem, offer one connection path they can say yes or no to.
We live in an age where we are inundated by information and options. As a result, we are often in a state of decision fatigue. The “Have it your way” Burger King approach to customer service has been replaced by the “In & Out experience”. In California where I live, In & Out Burger pretty much offers just one thing to order. The only choice is whether to make it a double.
People are paying now for information to be distilled into decisions for them due to decision fatigue. Some have their groceries delivered and chosen for them by others via an app. Some now do this with clothing and wine. Others just stay with the tried and true, foregoing a cheaper price at the Costco-type warehouses around them, opting instead for a smaller less overwhelming market where the choices may be more expensive, but fewer and known.
Please hear this: The same is true for your guests this weekend at church. Trust me: they don’t want to hear about your women’s retreat, men’s work day, every kind of small group, and multiple ways to serve and get involved. They just want to connect and in order to do so, they want one option that looks like it will deliver on that. One option that they can say yes or no to. That’s one option. One.
As a leader, this should inform you in multiple scenarios in your entire church, especially when it comes to growing a follower of Jesus: Have only one ask at the end of any event, program, or environment you create. The good news about this is that you get to decide what you want them to say yes or no to. 100 people saying yes to one thing beats 5 groups of 10 saying yes to 5 things. Yes the number of responders are cut in half because people don’t come to church to evaluate choices you lay before them. They are looking for hope, comfort, grace and God…not a menu.
Offering multiple options creates sidewise energy. Having one clear path you point all guests to that they can choose to walk or not allows you and them to put all your energies into that option and the results become exponential.
For example: At my church, we have no info material at our info counter. None. Why? Because the answer to every question (except “Where’s the bathroom?” and “Is there a doctor in the house?”) is “Next Steps” which is our connection pathway. We’ve designed it to answer every question a guest has.
Similarly, at each of the 4 weekly steps of Next Steps, there is only one ask:
Week One: Follow Jesus
Week Two: Join a small group
Week Three: Serve on a ministry team
Week Four: Try a Compassion Project
Leveraging this simplicity, this year (2020) in Next Steps campus wide we have…
Week One: 31% making a decision to follow Jesus
Week Two: 59% sign up for a small group
Week Three: 73% Choose a ministry team to serve on
Week Four: 65% Express interest in a Compassion Project
Some years we have bested that. If we promoted everything at our church with several asks, I believe those responses would be less than half of what they are. So hear me on this. We cannot afford to dilute a guest’s focus, energy and effort. We must decide what is important and build walls on either side of the pathway so that it leads to just one important step, the best step for them as new or growing Christ followers.
On the road that Jesus came into Jerusalem on, there was only one option: down to the valley that leads to the old city. Our connection path for guest should be that simple. Which leads me to the 2nd principle…
Make your connection path simple, not necessarily easy. There’s a difference.
I took this shot shortly after we began descending toward the valley on the Palm Sunday route. That’s Diane with her cain holding the railing that soon disappeared as we made the descent.
Two days before we got on the plane for Israel, I looked down and one of my knees was swollen. I don’t know why. It just puffed up like a blowfish for reasons unknown to me. So armed with a knee brace I bought at CVS, I slid it on and started the paths and narrow stone stairways that are the ancients ways of getting around in Israel.
It hurt when we went down the Palm Sunday route toward Jerusalem, especially due to the decline. But my challenge was nothing compared to a very fun older lady (let’s call her Diane) who due to her age had a walker or a cane for the entire trip. She is in the photo to the right, holding onto the railing, a railing that was only present for a few yards of the long journey down. But we waited for Diane when we needed to, and her family helped her as well. It was a lot more challenging for her than for me.
What made Diane, myself and others struggling with pain continue on this road with enthusiasm despite our issues? The destination. We were headed to the Garden of Gethsemane, an olive grove where Jesus wrestled in prayer and was arrested. So much of our story begins in this grove that wasn’t really a Garden as we would think of it. It was a working farm that produced the olive oil that was fuel for all their lamps and gave light to the city.
Here’s what I want to remind you of: Where your connection path leads allows you to ask more of those walking it. When you are leading them towards an environment they want to experience or even feel a need for, they will do what you ask, even if its not easy.
When we transitioned from a quarterly 7-week connection experience to a 4 week monthly one, there was some vital content that guests found valuable in making a connection with us that could no longer fit. Rather than throw it away, we took a risk. We added 2 additional “Go Deeper” opportunities to the 3 assignments they already get to complete each week at Next Steps. These “Go Deepers” come in the form of 9 to 30 minute long videos with blanks in their books to fill in. I incentivized the completion of them with a swag gift for everyone at the table with the highest percentage of completion, evidenced by all the blanks filled in. When we launched it, I told myself that I would have been thrilled to have 20% to 30% of guest complete them each week. I was shocked to see 80% to 100% complete them (much to the depletion of our swag budget!).
We discovered that guests love investing an extra hour each week in these Go Deepers because they contain some life giving information that helps them in their journey (not a walk through our statement of faith or our church’s position on specific issues). They come back describing their value, many times through tears.
My learning to pass on to you is this: Though your connection path needs to be simple, do not shrink away from tasks or assignments that have real and obvious value to them because if the destination is desirable, they will do it.
Just ask Diane and I. We would both say yes to a challenge that leads to something meaningful. We powered through our bad knees and got to a section of the garden that not everyone gets to see. It was a part cared for by the Franciscans and we were allowed to explore it and find a our own niche in it for a prolonged period of solitary prayer like Jesus did. It was sooooo worth it.
Make sure what you ask of guests is worth it too, even if it’s not easy. They will do it.
This photo is of a small corner of a large section of the Garden of Gethsemane walled off for private prayer. This was why we ignored our swollen knees and kept walking downhill and it was so worth it.
If you were to ask the following people how a guest can connect and get involved at your church, what would they say?
The Senior Pastor
A random staff person
The average church member
If there are different answers, why is that? Is it…
a) There is no specified way to connect and get involved
b) There are multiple ways for them to connect and get involved
c) There is a specified way but it is not promoted well
What needs to happen next in order to have a singular well promoted and effective connection pathway for guests at your church?
a) Have someone meet with our staff this year to form a more effective connection path for our church (click here for my best resource for that)
b) Learn all the necessary ingredients of a successful assimilation strategy so I can evaluate where we are really at (click here for a resource I have for learning this quickly)
c) Get more education and training about what it takes to even have a successful assimilation strategy (click here for my best educational resource)
d) Learn some dos and don’t for effectively promoting your connection pathway. (click here for help with that)
To receive more resources and ideas on connecting people well at your church each month, let me know briefly who you are below: