You can read books or attend seminars. Some churches pride themselves on the fact that their pastors are seminary trained. But what continually amazes me is how it’s the simple things that attract guests to and maintain guests in your churches. This past Sunday at my church I was able to talk with two first-time guests. Both of them said they had a great experience and both of them said the same thing in their remarks. They didn’t mention a flyer or an ad campaign, music or even the preaching. They both remarked how welcoming our church was, like a family. That’s it, the simple thing most first-time guests are looking for: a welcoming family. The fact they were both astonished to experience a welcoming family speaks to how little it happens in today’s churches.
Think of it this way: if you were a guest that came over to my house for dinner, you would expect me to greet you at the door warmly, you’d expect to be talked to (not ignored) throughout the evening, you’d expect my house to be reasonably clean and tidy, you’d expect us to talk about things that were relevant to all parties and you’d expect there to be something to do for the kids. At the end of the evening, the remarks you’d make that would indicate you’d want to come back would be remarks like “that was fun” and “we really enjoyed this.”
But what if none of that happened? What if you weren’t greeted at the door, the house was disorganized and a mess, there was nothing to do for the kids so you were on edge because they were miserable, the food was undercooked and all I wanted to talk about were subjects that fascinated me but bored you to death? How motivated would you be to come back again? Yeah, me neither.
How we operate churches is surprisingly similar to the illustration of that dinner at my house. What kind of Host Team do you have at your church on Sundays? Not just the crotchety old deacons that stand at the entrances handing out bulletins like bouncers. Who do you have in the parking lots? Who do you have holding open doors? Is your church clean, tidy and modern or is it disorganized and messy, with knick knacks and throw backs to decades past that make people feel like they’re walking into their grandmother’s formal sitting room? Do the kids of your guests absolutely love their experience? Is your children’s ministry front and center or just an afterthought? One of the guests that I spoke to last Sunday said the first thing her kids said when they got in the car after church was, “Can we come back Wednesday?” That’s a win for us.
How about your music and your preaching? Does your music connect with modern day culture at all or do you have to be born and raised in the church to appreciate it? (And yes, I’m talking about traditional vs contemporary music). How about the preaching? Does it touch on topics that apply to the listeners in the room or is it obscure and un-applicable Bible knowledge that only seminarians get excited about?
All of those factors go into a welcoming environment at your church. If you’re not sure whether your weekend church environment is truly welcoming or not, here’s a simple litmus test: are your church members inviting their friends to church? If they’re not, they’re speaking volumes to how welcoming your church truly is to guests. And yes, both of the guests I met Sunday came because they were invited by current church members. And both sets of guests loved it and indicated they will be back. It’s really not that hard to grow a church if you can create a welcoming environment in your church.