Keep the Front Door Open: 3 Keys for Your Church

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Let’s retire such words as "relevant" and "contemporary," shall we?

During a question/answer session at a recent conference, I was asked, “What are the three things most important to having an effective and open ‘front door’ to the church?”

I was a little surprised.

The question seemed to tip its hat to a very old book of mine—my first, actually—titled Opening the Front Door: Worship and Church Growth that came out way back in 1992. It detailed how weekend services had become the “front door” of the church for the unchurched, and we should open that door with great intentionality.

I know … duh … but it was news more than 20 years ago in relation to the emphasis put on things such as Sunday school.

It was actually a bit scandalous for its time.

The foreword was written by a largely unknown pastor named Rick Warren, with a blurb on the back by an upstart Chicagoan named Bill Hybels. Some Southern Baptist guy named Thom Rainer wrote for it, too.

What a rat pack we were.

I found out later the person asking the question had read the book, and was interested in how my thinking had changed about how best to “open” it 20-plus years later.

I was surprised at how quickly the answer formed in my mind. Now that I’ve had a while to reflect on that answer, I stand by it even more.

Here were the three:

1. An Atmosphere of Acceptance.

There are two words that are key here: atmosphere, and then acceptance.

First, atmosphere.

Churches have cultures. A DNA, if you will. You want one that is accepting. If you are going to reach the unchurched, they are going to come unchurched.

That means they will come as couples living together, gay couples, pregnant outside of marriage, addicted, skeptical … Is that going to raise an eyebrow? Or is it met in stride in a way that makes the person feel instantly at ease?

At Meck, it’s just another day of normal.

But then there is the acceptance itself.

James Emery White James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book is What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary (Baker). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

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  • Kirk

    Great commentary James. I have a common view of our need to engage the culture here at home and learn to speak the language of the culture. Really great article.

  • Jamie Jo Hampton

    Wow! #2 Gave me chills! What a well written article!

  • Scott Dossett

    Valuable points, but I think two observations might be in order:

    1. I don’t think we can retire words like “relevant” and “contemporary.” With a nod to Newton’s first law of motion, a church at rest tends to stay at rest unless external force is applied. If we don’t have a persistent and balanced nudge toward “relevancy,” the “missionary mindset” will be ineffective. If we’re just replacing one word with another… I’m not sure that helps anything. It might make some conservative people more comfortable, but “comfort” and “mission” don’t often go well together.

    2. Grace *always* comes with truth. Otherwise it’s not really grace, it’s just apathy. How we wield our truth makes all the difference. There are fundamental truths that are essential to the Christian faith: Christ as redeemer and messiah, the calling to love God and neighbor, the love of God in Christ, etc… There are other “truths” which are subject to discussion. Either way, if you are wielding your truth as a rod, you’re going to have a difficult time squaring that with the ministry of Jesus in the gospels.

  • Geoff Bynum

    “Somehow, some way, He spoke prophetically against sin but was still invited to keggers.” EXCELLENT. Love that. Will have to borrow that one. Sums it up nicely :-)

    • David

      My friends here in the Philippines won’t get that, lol. I’ll have to change that a bit to share.

  • Mynor Martinez

    what an awesome commentary!! just awesome.

  • DaCaViJe

    This article is extremely well written and is something that we have done very well overseas for many years, but have failed to grasp at home! Thanks for the reminder that we need to be biblical!

  • Ryan

    We Christians need to have a bit more acceptance, grace and truth with each other than just the unchurched.

  • David

    This really hits home with me. My work is in the Philippines and why shouldn’t we treat those outside our church culture as a mission. Great stuff.

  • sfdemo

    So many Churches are so into just “Grace” and they wonder why there is no Maturing in the faith happening ! Great way to tie it together !!