If you want to make an immediate difference in your church, read these fourteen brief experiences. The readers at ThomRainer.com responded to an informal Twitter survey about their experiences as first-time guests in churches, both good and bad.
I chose seven from each of the good and bad experiences. My decision to choose those in this article was largely based on what I see and read on a regular basis. In other words, these “7 + 7” represent issues that are common in many churches. The good experiences, in particular, represent some of the best practices of healthy churches.
After each of the fourteen experiences, I cite a lesson to be learned. I hope these lessons can have specific application in your church. Most of the quotes are verbatim. Some have been slightly modified without changing the essence of the comment.
Seven Great Experiences
- “They went out of the way to make my children calm and happy.” Lesson: Many guests are looking for something in a church for their children. Go out of the way to make the children happy and safe.
- “A lady befriended us and took us to her small group.” Lesson: Assimilation and discipleship are highly effective in small groups. This church member was on target.
- “The pastor offered to take us to lunch.” Lesson: Connections with the pastor are highly effective in getting guests to return. Churches should consider including in the budget a meal fund for their pastor to take guests to lunch.
- “A church member wrote our children a letter after meeting us.” Lesson: Personal and individual attention can go a long way toward reaching guests.
- “The church was clean and had great signage.” Lesson: First impressions are very important to connect with first-time guests. Cleanliness and signage communicates: “We care.”
- “A church member invited us to lunch.” Lesson: Churches need to make certain their friendliness is more than a perfunctory greeting. This action by the church member was great.
- “We were greeted in the parking lot and walked to where we were supposed to go.” Lesson: Well-trained parking lot greeters can be a huge factor in guest retention. These greeters did it the right way.
Seven Bad Experiences
- “I didn’t know what they were talking about. It was a lot of internal language and acronyms.” Lesson: Don’t expect guests to speak your churchy language. Expect them not to return if you do.
- “No one spoke to us.” Lesson: Most churches perceive they are friendly, but they are not. Members only speak to those they know.
- “We were given ear plugs when we walked in.” Lesson: Know what you’re communicating by your actions. In this case, they were saying the guests were too old for the music, or the music was too loud for everyone.
- “My wife and I are a mixed race couple. The greeter suggested we might be at the wrong church.” Lesson: Don’t be stupid.
- “The friendliness seemed contrived and fake.” Lesson: If the members are only friendly during a time of greeting, it can actually be perceived more negatively than no friendliness at all.
- “They asked us to stand up and introduce ourselves.” Lesson: Such a request is terrifying to many people. Don’t do it.
- “The greeter gave me a children’s bulletin and told me I could color on it. I’m twenty years old.” Lesson: Some greeters have no business being greeters.
Share with me some of your experiences. Let me hear from you about your feelings about these fourteen experiences. Let us hear about the good, the bad, and the ugly.