By Milton Wood
My father, W. Lynn Wood, served as pastor and associational missionary in Georgia Baptist churches for more than 50 years. This September I will have served as pastor and interim pastor of churches in Georgia, Texas, and Michigan for 57 years.
After retiring from First Baptist Social Circle in 2001 I served as a consultant for our convention in church planting, as an interim associational missionary, and interim pastor of five churches. In addition, I served 13 years as the Executive Director of the Stone Mountain Baptist New Work Foundation, a foundation committed to planting new churches.
I say that to note that I have lived and served through a lot of change in our denomination.
In the first church that I served, the music came from a piano, when there was someone present who could play it. We sang from a hymnal, and we baptized new believers in a nearby river. Today, I often worship and preach in churches that have a praise team, praise band, project the words of the music on a screen, and the pastor baptizes in what looks like an oversized bathtub.
I have come to appreciate and experience worship in a variety of styles. I know that the power is in the Gospel, not the style of worship. We have an unchanging message to share with an ever changing world. I applaud the pastors and churches, young and old, new and historic, who pay the price to faithfully proclaim the infallible Word of God in a way that is relevant to their context and congregation. I have no interest in engaging in what some refer to as “the worship wars.”
However, I have a deep concern for the lack of personal contacts that I see in some of our churches and pastors, especially in relation to first- time guests.
I recently encountered two young couples that demonstrate my concern. Both of the couples have been actively involved in their local church for a number of years. For different reasons they both found themselves searching for a new church home. One of the couples visited three different churches in their search. The other couple visited five churches.
In each church, the couples filled out the requested information card and returned it. They expected a personal contact from the pastor or the church. None of the eight churches visited made a contact, not a letter, not a phone call, not a visit. Needless to say, they were disappointed and discouraged.
As I reflected on their experience, I remembered the testimony of a mega church pastor, speaking at a church planting event. In a church that has thousands of worshippers attending every week, he personally contacts every first-time guest within one week after their visit. Most of them receive a phone call from him on the afternoon of their visit. That is not a commitment to a style. It is a commitment to people.
In our day of rapidly expanding technology and impersonal media, we must not forget the necessity of personal relationships.
My preacher Daddy used to say: “Son, people will overlook a lot of things in a church if they know two things; that you love them, and that they can trust you. Those two things begin with a person’s first visit to the church. The experience of these two young couples challenged me to do a better job of reaching out to the first time guests in the church where I worship; I hope it will do the same for you and your church.
Milton L. Wood is retired and lives in Social Circle.