Shockingly, visitors decide whether or not they will return to your church WITHIN THE FIRST ELEVEN MINUTES of arriving (Mancini). That’s before the service starts, before your worship team is up, and long before you begin your message. When you consider the hours spent on practicing the worship sets, on message prep, on AV presentations, perhaps it would be worth spending focused time prepping for people who may have already dismissed your church long before the carefully planned elements are experienced.
Visitors make their decisions based on things like ease of parking, ability to find their way around the facility, ease of getting answers to questions, quality of childcare, and cleanliness of the bathroom. Friendliness–or what we would call hospitality–is always at the top of every survey. Here’s what the Bible says:
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 1 Peter 4:8-9
Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:1-2
In last month’s newsletter, I wrote about the seven essential, biblical strategies for every church. This month, let’s dig in to one sub-strategy that contributes to Community Building.
The overall goal of a Community Building strategy is two-fold. First, the strategy includes how community is expressed inside the church through love, service, and encouragement to one another. (This is where all the “one another” phrases are identified and expressed.) Secondly, the strategy helps people become part of the community of your church, from visitor to active member.
Let’s look at this process through the eyes of someone whom we’ll call “Mary.” Perhaps God is stirring something in Mary to try your church. She may be searching for God or searching for friends. After a year of isolation, she shows up at your church on a Sunday. She has overcome some discomfort and apprehension and has driven into your parking lot. Here are some possible questions she is asking herself:
Where is the entrance? Where do I park? What is it like inside? Where do I go once I enter the building? What if I have questions, is there someone to ask? Where is the bathroom? Where are the kid’s rooms and how do I go about dropping off my child? Will I be pressured to say, sing or sign something?
What are the people like? Are they like me? Will they judge my clothes, my shoes, my hairstyle? Are they friendly? Am I intruding?
Worship Service Questions:
Will I have to introduce myself to someone? Will I feel pressured to give money? Will it be like when I went to church as a child and it was so far over my head?
One of the tools some find helpful in answering these questions is to outline the “Visitors Path.” This path is the sequence that visitors takes from before they attend the church until they have become part of the church community. For some churches it looks something like this:
- Website: People can visit a church website and get some of their questions answered about parking, signing in kids, and what the service experience is like. Is this possible on your website? With people like Mary in mind?
- Greeters: Do you have greeters at the door wearing nametags so they can be recognized by visitors? Do you have greeters in the parking lot so attenders know where to go (if it’s not snowing too hard)? Do the greeters understand the biblical nature of hospitality and can they answer some of questions “Mary” has about where things are?
- Facility: Are the bathrooms clean and clearly marked? Is there an information table or booth that is clearly marked for people who have questions? Is it so cold or warm inside that it distracts from their experience?
- During the Service: Are first-time visitors welcomed without being pointed out? Are they told what they can expect from the service? Are they given opportunities to connect further with the church through filling out a card, or coming to a post-church lunch with the pastor next month to get to know him and ask their questions? If they are identified, are they given a gift bag or gift card to thank them for coming?
- After the Service: Do visitors receive a follow-up email that is personalized (if possible) that invites them to come back next week, or to an upcoming event? Do they receive a hand-written post-card or some other personalized contact? Are all the visitors from the last month invited to the pastor’s lunch coming up? Another SHOCKING statistic: Nearly 90% of guests return for a second visit when someone reaches out to them within 24 hours after their first visit.
- After a Few Visits: Are these people invited to take the next step in community with the church? Is it clear to everyone what that next step is? For example, attend a small group, sign up to help with an event coming up, come to a New Members class, etc.
Each church will need to adapt these ideas to fit their own context and church culture. There are many other pieces to put in place, such as job descriptions for each role, and training for greeters to make sure they know what to do, when to arrive, etc.
It may be that you are reading this and it seems a little overwhelming to do all of it. So, pick one or two of these and begin to pray about who might help you lead the charge.
~ Eric Oleson