The magnetic church

Five specific forces that make a local church strongly attractive to people.

Ricardo Norton, D.Min., is an associate professor of Christian ministry, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States.

The magnet's ability to attract and retain certain metallic objects reminds us of the task of the church to attract and hold people in Christ's body. Jesus clearly had this task in mind when He said, "I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last" (John 15:16, NIV). Attracting and retaining new members is essential to the survival of the church. Without a constant influx of newcomers, the local church will stagnate and eventually die.

The attraction properties of magnets depend on the magnetic forces they irradiate. The closer the objects are to the magnet, the stronger they are pulled to the attracting force. Objects attached to the magnet become magnetized and able to attract other objects to the body.

In spiritual matters, Jesus is the magnetic force that attracts people to His body, the church. Jesus explained this with the following words, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him," and "who comes to me, I will by no means cast out" (John 6:44, 37, NKJV). The closer people are to Jesus the stronger they will be attached to His body and the greater the magnetic power they will exert in attracting other people to Christ's church.

Jesus, like a magnet, attracted people in His days "from everywhere" (Mark 1:40-45). He founded the church to be an attracting force. He expects His church to attract people from everywhere and to be "a house of prayer for all nations" (Isa. 56:7). In order to become an effective attracting agency every church member and activity needs to be magnetized and become an attracting force. Here are five magnetic forces of growing churches.

Magnetic preaching

Preaching has been one of the most effective Christian magnets used in history to bring people to the church of Christ. The book of Acts describes a single evangelistic sermon by Peter that was instrumental in the conversion and baptism of about three thou sand people (2:14-41). Nonetheless, not all preaching is magnetic. On the contrary, there is preaching that is repulsive, preaching that is more endured than enjoyed.

Magnetic preaching requires magnetic preachers. However, to be a magnetic preach er in the same congregation fifty-two weeks a year is challenging indeed. This is especially true in long-tenure pastorates, where congregations have heard the pastor preach week after week for years. The preparation of inspiring sermons is time-consuming and in most cases, pastors have a limited number of hours to schedule for weekly sermon preparation. There is a lot more to do in ministry than just preparing sermons.

The pulpit is the nerve center of church ministries. It is the table at which the congregation is spiritually fed, inspired, and motivated. It is the classroom podium where members are instructed and challenged. As long as the sheep under their care receive healthy nutritious spiritual food, local church pastors do not need to be the main weekly spiritual food provider. Ministers can invite guest speakers to provide the right quality of spiritual food. Inviting well-chosen speakers once a month will allow the local pastor more time for other ministerial responsibilities and for the preparation of quality sermons.

Magnetic preaching is rooted in Christ and propelled by the Holy Spirit. Jesus and the Spirit form a dynamic and transforming duet. Magnetic preaching is Christocentric. Christ melts hearts and the Spirit convicts and trans forms them.

Magnetic people

Magnetic churches have magnetic people in their congregations. Friendly and loving members, who reflect the love of God in their words and deeds, constitute invaluable human magnets. One of the reasons why the unchurched are not attracted to churches is because their members are often unfriendly.

Restaurant employees are frequently more gracious and friendly toward their customers than some churches are toward visitors. People return to restaurants because they enjoy their attention and good food. God's church should not be less appealing than a place of commerce. It should provide the best spiritual food and attention to visitors.

Although ministers are not the main reason people come to church, they are usually one of the main reasons they stay in the congregation. Pastors can profoundly affect the magnetic power of the church. "Like people, like priest" (Hos. 4:9). Congregations tend to assimilate the personality, attitude, and approach of their leaders and reflect that identity as a mirror image. Rarely does out standing church growth occur without a strong magnetic leader.

Magnetic people are not necessarily sophisticated, well-refined individuals; but humble dedicated persons who love people and desire their salvation. Our society suffers from a serious shortage of love. People are love-starved.

Jesus said, "By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). Church visitors are more interested in knowing how much church members care for them, than in how much they know about the Bible. Loving dispositions and caring attitudes are powerful magnets that will draw visitors to the church.

Magnetic programs

We live in a world where goodness has been replaced by indifference, and where social pollutants are corroding society and moving people away from true joy and happiness. Anxiety, stress, and fear eclipse society today. People are attracted to programs where they can learn to cope with the problems they encounter in everyday life.

Church programs should be intentionally people oriented. They should aim to attract, educate, and help them grow. Magnetic programs address a variety of concerns in order to meet the various spiritual and emotional needs of the community. They should feed the mind, stimulate the spirit, and enhance relationships. Programs on drug addiction, stress, physical fitness, happiness, and hope are among the many programs churches can offer to attract people.

Magnetic churches contextualize programs with specific age groups and needs being targeted. Churches need to create structures of participation where all age groups of the congregation can use their God-given gifts. Children and the elderly are two groups often ignored by church programming.

To be relevant, programs need to be constantly evaluated and adapted to the changing needs of the community. The same old stereotyped programs should be improved to bring a fresh attracting relevance. Programs must be of superior quality if people are to continue to come to church.

Many good church programs and activities are poorly attended due to poor advertising. Good advertising gets people's attention. The creation of banners, email, a well-designed Web site, personal invitations, mailing flyers, and even simple, dramatized announcements a few weeks before church events will help to guarantee good attendance.

Magnetic facilities

Church buildings were not very important for early Christians. Early churches grew and disseminated the gospel meeting in houses and even outdoors. Things have changed considerably today. Christians are reaching a society that places much emphasis on looks and comfort.

The church cannot reach a twenty-first-century society with first-century methods. We are reaching a generation for whom the very word "church" has changed its meaning. For many people, this word no longer denotes a company of people but a physical structure. Before we are able to educate them about the true meaning of the word "church," they need to be attracted to a building where they feel comfortable.

Magnetic churches possess magnetic buildings; buildings with inviting pews, good lighting, clean bathrooms, and sufficient parking space. Buildings that look good outside and inside offer good heating in winter and air conditioning during summer. Society has become accustomed to beautiful malls, cinemas, and other entertainment venues, and is not attracted to comfortable dilapidated buildings. Rundown churches with unkept lawns are a sign of death.

Appropriate children's facilities are very important for an attractive church. Parents would rather take their children to a well-equipped church than to a church with uncomfortable classrooms. At the same time, children would rather go to a place that is architecturally and pedagogically designed for their age and needs and will resist attending a Sabbath School class where they don't feel at ease.

Christ the ultimate magnet

The sanctuary is where the creature meets the Creator. It is the dwelling place where God especially reveals His presence: "Let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them" (Exod. 25:8). The atmosphere and appearance of His dwelling place should be designed to honor Him. It should be a little heaven on earth.

The church attracts people to be saved in Christ. Ultimately, preaching, church members, programs, and comfortable buildings, without the magnetic power of Christ become an end in themselves and will not lead people to the magnetic saving power of Jesus. The church is Christian because of Christ. The moment the church stops being Christ-centered, it stops being Christian.

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Ricardo Norton, D.Min., is an associate professor of Christian ministry, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States.

December 2004

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