(reprinted with permission from Paul Walters, Pastor, Lutheran Church of the Master, Troy, Michigan)
Today I begin with a modern day parable:
It seems there was a skinny teenaged boy who was self-conscious, like every other teenage boy, and wanted to be part of the group, thought of as cool, respected and the like. Early one summer the story goes, he got his hands on some steroids. (This is the part of the parable where I get in trouble.) He was elated. He did not care about long term health consequences, he saw all the pictures of all the buff and muscle bound guys. He knew the steroids in his hands were the key to it all. He took the steroids that summer.
So what happened? Did he show up at school huge and strong? Did he suddenly make the high school football team? Did all the girls suddenly swoon as he walked by? Nope. None of that happened. That summer he took the steroids, but he forgot to lift, so he just got fat.
This young man and his story is a lesson for everyone who is connected in some way to a church, whether you are a member or the occasional attender. Faith surely comes as a gift, but like that gym membership, if you do not make it a part of your life you can’t really expect anything to change in your life.
So here is the list: Ten ways to get the most out of your church.
1. Show up.
Some things really are that simple. Show up in worship. Be with the gathered people of God Sunday after Sunday. Not when you feel like it. Not on the Sunday morning when you feel like you need to be there. Every Sunday, or Saturday or whenever your church worships. You get the point. Be with the people of God and make it a regular part of your life.
2. Tithe your income.
By tithing I mean give 10% of your income to the church. Sound like a huge commitment? It is. Trust me, I know from experience. If you can’t just go to 10% start smaller, 5% or 6%, but set a percentage and work to increase it over time.
Why? Because giving generously frees you from the hold money can have on your life. Because we care for and support the things we give money to. Because our spending and giving habits reveal priorities.
3. Volunteer, take a class, be part of a group.
Don’t just be generous with your money, be generous with your time as well. Find something in the church that interests you, something that speaks to things you care deeply about. Maybe it is feeding the hungry. Maybe it is learning more about the Scripture. Maybe it is singing in the choir. Whatever it is give your time, be with the people of God and make a difference in the lives of other people.
4. Help lead worship.
Most congregations have lay people (people who are not pastors) help lead worship. Do this. Lead worship. After you lead worship a few times you will forever experience worship differently. You will understand the flow of the worship service. You will pay attention differently. You will be changed.
5. Bring food and eat with people.
Sharing a meal helps connect you with other people. Sharing a meal makes it easier to talk to others. If nothing else you can start with, “How about that Jell-O salad!” And see where the conversation goes from there.
6. Start something new.
Have a passion? Is there something you care about that the resources of your congregation could contribute to? Organize it. Lead it. Plan it. Talk to your pastor and other leaders. Start something new, but be willing to put your efforts into making it happen as well. People with great ideas who are only assigning tasks to other people are rarely appreciated. Take initiative and lead. Find an outlet for the things you care deeply about through your church.
7. Wear a nametag and introduce yourself to people you do not know.
First let me be clear, I realize many people, myself included, are not terribly interested in walking up to people and saying, “Hi, I’m Paul, what’s your name?” But when you show up at church you are surrounded by people who all claim to be your brothers and sisters in Christ. You get together in a group and you pray together. You sing together. The least you could do is risk introductions. At churches with multiple worship services the most common excuse for not talking to strangers is this: I do not want to be embarrassed when I find out they have been members for ten years and usually go to the other service. So own it. Lead with: You have probably gone here forever and just attend the other service, but I do not know you…
8. Read the Bible.
Start with the gospels. Start anywhere you want, but read scripture. Make that a regular part of your life, day in and day out. Let those holy words become part of your vocabulary. Read the Bible regularly and as you do reflect on your experiences in worship, listen for connections and for those moments when the still small voice of God might be speaking to you.
9. Pray for the people at the church.
Use the church directory. Picture directories are even better. Pray for the people. One by one, day by day. Lift each person up in prayer. Even pray for the people who challenge you, the people you have a hard time being with. Pray for God’s people and discover how you are changed.
10. Take your pastor out to lunch.
Okay, as a pastor maybe this one is a little self-serving, but the idea remains. Spend some time with this person. Share who you are. Share your hopes and dreams. And ask questions. Every wonder why something is in the Bible? Ask. Not quite sure about an illustration in the sermon? Ask. Ask theological questions, that is, questions about how God is alive and active in the world. Just be prepared to share a few of your insights as well.
In other words: if you want to get something out of your church, see it as a gift, but don’t forget to lift!