This week, I spent a lot of time getting ready for our biggest book launch of the year so far at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church. As I worked alongside the many volunteers and ministry leaders of the church, I had a little peek inside the inner workings of the modern mega church and discovered something interesting. Even large churches can develop a family atmosphere if they are intentional about it. Several weeks ago, I attended the Saturday evening service with two of my co-workers who had never been to Enon before, but had visited quite a number of other churches in our area. They both commented that it was the friendliest church that they had been to and that they felt very welcomed by the people. Whether it was the impromptu holding of hands across the aisles or the really genuine invitation from the people in front of us to come back the next week, something special had taken place that night.
Many large churches struggle as they get bigger to keep the church attractive to new comers without losing the sense of family that comes from the familiarity of the people already in the church. At Enon, the sense of family starts at the top with Pastor Waller himself and seems to be woven into the very fiber of the church itself. During the book signing on Saturday, everyone was trying hard to keep the line moving so that no one had to wait too long. Every now and then, when the line stopped for a minute, I would look over at book signing table and sure enough, Pastor Waller had stopped to chat with, hug or have a picture taken with one of the children of the congregation. At one point, a little girl simply ran across the room and jumped onto his lap and he seemed delighted, not annoyed. It reminded me of the approach that Jesus took with kids, even rebuking his disciples at a key moment in His ministry.
As I watched the volunteers help to keep things in order, I struck up a conversation with one of the people in the bookstore that I recognized as a long time customer and friend of CLC. She is also a very successful principal of a charter school in Philadelphia with hundreds of kids under her care. Many years ago, I had prayed with her and listened to her dream about the school that is now a reality. As we chatted, she revealed that even in a church as large as Enon, she felt at home and had found a place that ministered to her and that she could minister in. It was such a blessing to watch how she expressed her love for others in the church through her firm but gentle directions to help keep the lines moving.
This morning was a time for the dedication of a number of new babies in the church. You could see the sense of commitment and purpose in the eyes of the parents as they listened to the Pastor Waller give them his words of wisdom. Unlike other dedication ceremonies that I have witnessed, this was not a sterile recitation of words out of a guide book, but heartfelt principles that Pastor Waller has learned from many years as a parent himself. I could readily imagine these kids growing up to participate in the community football league that Enon sponsors or leading worship as the youth do on a regular basis (including the Saturday night that I attended several weeks ago).
As in every family, not everything is perfect and not everyone gets along all the time. There were certainly moments of tension as I worked with many different parts of the church working to coordinate aspects of this weekend. In the end, however, each group respected the other and worked together to pull off one of the most successful book launch weekends that I have ever participated in. Having spent so much time with this group, I now feel like I have enlarged my own family of faith and have great hope that even mega churches can be a place where people can feel at home. There is certainly plenty of Hope for the Journey at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church.