There’s always a reason behind a guest choosing not to return to your church.
We need to look critically at how we come across to people if we have any desire to gather people into the Kingdom of God. The necessity of hospitality is apparent in Scripture, but beyond that, we’re supposed to be churches “on mission” to make and mature Disciples of Jesus. An unfriendly church is ineffective at the Great Commission.
Most pastors and church leaders do not get many opportunities to visit other churches, so sometimes it’s hard to view what you’re doing from the eyes of a stranger. The problem I see in many churches is that they are very friendly…to the friends they already have! I rarely work with a church that self-assessed itself as unfriendly. That’s because every Sunday is a reunion for them. Before and after the service is all smiles and laughter. It lulls the congregation into a false assumption that they are a friendly church. People think, “Why wouldn’t anyone want to be a part of this?” They would! But you may be making it harder on them than you think.
Let’s look at seven ways that the DNA of an inwardly-focused, unfriendly church gets expressed.
No Guest Information on the Website
Your website is the front door of your church in the 21st century. We’ve written before about the necessity of an effective website; you can read about that here. An unfriendly church either does not have a website at all (shame on you!), or it is not guest-friendly. If you design your website with church attenders in mind first, your attitude in person probably is too.
No Guest Parking
Having guest parking is showing kindness to newcomers. Many times, they’re coming in late, flustered or tentative. Having up-front parking for guests shows that you care and that you’re expecting them. It’s also an excellent way for greeters to recognize that someone is a guest so that they can connect with them. Some churches reserve the best spots for the pastors and spouses. What does that say about who is valued the most?
Coming to a new church is intimidating because you don’t know what to expect. The first person you interact with is vital. Some very unfriendly people have handed me bulletins. On the contrary, I’ve also walked up to churches for the very first time and felt like I just made friends before even entering the worship center. Door greeters should not be spending lots of time with anyone, but once in the doors, guests should be welcomed and engaged.
If no one talks to a guest, it’s not a good sign. Speaking to guests isn’t just crucial before the service. After the service is a great time to talk with and recognize guests. Systems are vital, but it’s essential to have a culture of friendliness. If even the people sitting directly next to a guest ignore them and immediately start in conversation amongst themselves, this is a sign of an unfriendly church.
Guests Are Not Acknowledged During The Service
Several churches I have been to mention guests from the front of the church. Just a simple greeting and welcome. Telling them that they are appreciated and that someone from the church would love to connect with them. Not in an unfriendly church. It may seem like a small gesture, but you would be surprised at the impact it can make–and the impact it can make if you skip it.
An unfriendly church is usually very cliquey. Groups of friends gathered. Don’t get me wrong; groups of friends gathering isn’t necessarily evil. We need to be careful about how we are presenting ourselves to those visiting. It can be incredibly uncomfortable to join a group of people talking. This is an area that needs to go beyond a smile and a handshake. If a guest cannot break into a group and build relationships, they’ll eventually go somewhere else. It’s a sad thing to be alone in a room full of people.
No Follow-Up with Visitors
If no one follows up with guests, this reveals all. When we fail to follow-up, we show that we do not expect guests to come or come back. A lack of follow-up isn’t surprising if you are a church where few people talked to guests while they were there. It is so important to follow up with guests and welcome them back. The church will never grow if we don’t let our guests know that we value them, and that we want them to come again.
Churches do not neglect these things because they have financial problems or volunteer problems, though those may be issues too. Churches neglect these things because they have heart problems. Pray first for a welcoming and hospitable spirit and then get to work on the practical things to live it out.
We’d love to help you get your “guest house” in order, so if you’d like to discuss having a TMG guide come do a first impressions evaluation, contact us today.
A.J. Mathieu is the President of the Malphurs Group. He is passionate about helping churches thrive and travels internationally to teach and train pastors to lead healthy disciple-making churches. A.J. lives in the Ft. Worth, Texas area, enjoys the outdoors, and loves spending time with his wife and two sons. Click here to email A.J.