Christmas is a busy time for churches. Everyone is competing for attendance. However, after December, comes January. January is a time for reflection and often a time for regret. Attendance drops dramatically.
So how can you as a pastor change the dynamics in your church in such a powerful way that people will want to come back after the holidays?
The answer might surprise you.
In my 18 years of interviewing pastors and lay people, not once did anyone indicate that a simple ‘thank you’ grew the church. Instead, the experts indicated growth was due to programs, personnel, or worship style.
Yet the purpose of the incarnation, the purpose of Jesus coming to earth, was to be with us relationally, to save us from our sins, to bear our burdens, to love us unconditionally yet desire for us to change for the better. Does this encounter with Jesus Christ happen more often in large vibrant churches or in small relational churches?
People can be anonymous in a large mega church. Yes, there is a deliberate effort to make sure people are personally greeted and welcomed. And, there is a tendency in a small church to be isolated and unwelcoming. Yet, over time a small church is perfectly designed for developing deep, long lasting relationships.
Even though it’s more likely you will have a personal conversation from a pastor of a small church, are they appreciative? Not necessarily. In fact, one of the reasons church planters are successful initially is due to their appreciation of anyone and everyone who contributes.
At the other end of the spectrum is the church that has a tradition of thanking people. Every year teachers can expect to be thanked on Teacher Appreciation Sunday or a Teacher Appreciation Banquet, but rarely is there a Janitor Appreciation Sunday or a Treasurer Appreciation Sunday. In fact, there are a lot of dedicated, loyal people who are never thanked in our churches; at least not officially, and yet they should be sincerely thanked.
Sadly, when something as simple as a ‘thank you’ becomes institutionalize rather than a spontaneous gesture from the heart, the act becomes meaningless. Is this what Jesus meant in his parable of the one leper in ten who came back to thank Jesus for healing him? Luke 17:1-19
Do we just not get it? Do we not realize how valuable a sincere and simple ‘thank you’ can be?
Why is appreciation important?
Appreciation means we have put our ego aside to honor another. This is why one of the Ten Commandments asks us to honor (i.e. be thankful, appreciative) of our father and mother. Appreciation is something we should learn early in life.
Appreciation means we hold another person worthy enough to give their contribution some thought. We elevate others higher than ourselves which is an excellent practice for a pastor, leader and lay person to follow.
Appreciation means we recognize we are not the Lone Ranger. Even he had Tonto. From the beginning, God revealed that no man can do life alone. Adam needed a helper. God went to great lengths to get Adam to realize that being alone with the animals was not a good thing. Even still, when the chips were down, Adam did not rescue his wife from the misguided advice of the serpent but stood by and watched.
Appreciation means we agree to be a community, a community that honors each other. The church Christ created included everyone: Jew or Gentile, etc. Americans have been taught to treasure the independent spirit. We forget people came to America in groups and survived as groups! To be banished from the group was and is punishment.
Appreciation is a way to practice submission not only to God by being thankful to God but also to each other. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:21 NIV
The early converts appreciated and supported the church: “You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people. I urge you, brothers and sisters, to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it.” I Corinthians 16:15-16 NIV
Jesus practiced submitting to the Father (John 17).. Paul appreciated those who worked diligently in his churches (Roman 16). We should practice what we preach.
Pastors, leaders, laity of all size churches: Start practicing the art of a simple ‘thank you’ and see how quickly you not only bless others but are blessed yourself!