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In order for your church to grow, you need to be ready to grow. One way to do this is to make sure that you are visitor friendly. I recently heard that the people in a congregation will usually only invite their friends if they think their friends will be able to follow what is going on in the service.
So ask yourself, if a visitor walked into your church, would they be able to follow along? Would they understand what is happening? Try to look at your church and the services through the lens of a visitor. You must over communicate everything.
I would suggest doing it now, so you are ready for those visitors. Some people in the congregation might not understand the over communication. They might say, “Why do you have to tell us what we are doing every week? We already know what is going on.” They may know what is going on, but maybe a visitor will not.
Also, you need to have some way to connect with visitors, but also give them a way out if they are not comfortable being singled out. A good way to do this is tell them where the pastor or staff member will be to greet visitors. That gives them the choice to either go and introduce themselves or sneak out if they are uncomfortable. The goal should be to make their transition into your church comfortable and painless.
I think you’ll find that you’ll get more visitors when you are prepared for them. When you are prepared for growth to happen, that is when it is more likely to happen.
I was sitting in class today and I had a thought: what if churches had a focus group. If we are really trying to be effective evangelists, wouldn’t it be an interesting idea to bring in a “focus group” to see what we are doing wrong and how we are not effectively reaching visitors.
It is an interesting idea. What if only two or three people knew this group was coming in and they came in as visitors, genuinely evaluating us as visitors do. It is almost like the tv show where people hire professionals to break into their house and see if it can be broken into. The interesting thing about the show is that after these people effectively break in, they help the people fix it and make it stronger.
What if professional visitors came in, evaluated us, saw our weak spots, our strengths, where we fall short, and then helped us fix it in order to become stronger?
In order for this to happen, a church would need to be open to criticism, change, and discussion. Companies do a lot of evaluations in order to be effective. I think the church can embrace some of these concepts in order to be effective and in order to grow. Albert Einstein said, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” The church cannot keep doing the same things and expect different results. If something does not work, evaluate and change it. If you are going to have goals and strategies, then you need to be okay with evaluating those things and changing them if they are not working and meeting your goals.
In order to grow and change we need to recognize the problems. One idea to do this would be “Undercover Visitors,” almost like a “Secret Shopper.” Who better to come in and evaluate us than the people we are trying to reach?
I recently read this scenario out a book called, “Fusion”. It’s all about getting visitors and keeping them. This is the best case scenario for a visitor coming to the church.
“Jon and his family drive into the parking lot of the church and are immediately impressed by what they see. The building though not large or even new, is obviously well cared for, right down to the lawn. Everyone is entering through the main front door, where a nice-looking couple about Jon and Liz’s age is speaking warmly to each person and handing him or her some kind of program. (You might call it a bulletin, but since Jon and Liz are unchurched, they are more likely to think of it as a program.) Once through the front door themselves, where they are welcomed with a smile and a “Glad you are here,” Liz immediately spots two signs telling her exactly what she needs to know: One points the way to the restroom that her four-year-old urgently needs, and the other points toward the child-care area. After stop number one, Jon, Liz and the kids check the child-care sign again and start in the direction it’s pointing. A volunteer spots them and offers to lead them directly to the right place for each of their children. When the kids have been dropped off, Jon notices the smell of coffee and donuts wafting towards him. He turns to discover a table piled with Krispy Kreme boxes, fruit and coffee. He and Liz exchange pleasantly surprised glances, and then each grab a donut and a cup of coffee and start timidly toward one of the aisles. Immediately, another volunteer pops up and directs them to two open seats. “
Wouldn’t it be amazing if every visitor could have an experience like this? I would even be impressed if 1 out of 50 visitors had this kind of perfect experience. Do we have this goal in mind? I cannot help but think of the growth in churches if every interaction with visitors went like this.
Have you ever had a perfect visiting experience like this?
Have you ever helped a visitor have an experience like this?
While I was reading this I answered those two questions myself, and I began to wonder if my experiences as a guest truly shape how I interact with guests. Do my experiences affect how I treat a new visitor at my church? On Sunday mornings do I remember what it was like to be a visitor?
I am afraid that I do not. I am afraid that on Sunday mornings I get busy and in a church groove which prevents me from noticing visitors and thinking about how they feel.
This scenario should be the goal, but it will not happen without intentional actions of the congregation to make sure that it does.
My mom got a Facebook yesterday (kindof a big deal for her) and I was on the phone talking to her trying to tell her where to find her messages. My fiance was sitting next to me saying, “She’s not going to understand that. You’re using too much jargon.” How many times does the church fall into that same trap?
We need to remember that visitors to our church will not know all the vocabulary that we are used to using like: salvation, sanctification, Eucharist. It can be very hard for visitors to come in to a service and have no idea what the pastor is talking about. The book “Church Marketing 101” by Richard Reising talks about this. “When they [the visitors] hear words they don’t recognize, one of two things usually happens. If they are taught what these words mean, they will feel included in the conversation. If the words are not explained, visitors will be confused by the usage and made to feel excluded and unimportant.” We need to make our words hit home to non-believers. We need to make an effort to invite them into our inner circle.
I heard about a few churches that have been doing a year-long walk through a book of the bible, and I would be interested to see how their attendance numbers were affected by this. If I went into a church that had been walking through a book I would feel lost and like I had lost all the background.
If I had a friend that invited me to a big medical dinner, I would already feel like an outsider before getting there. And once I got there they would be talking about surgeries and illnesses and probably using big words that I didn’t understand. If these terms weren’t clarified or explained to me, I would have no idea what was going on, and I would be reluctant to ever go back, but if people used words that I could understand and made an effort to include me in the conversation I would feel welcomed and accepted into their conversation.
There is a reason why people write word on the street version Bibles. Christianity and its vocabulary can be cryptic, and it needs to be put into words that people can understand. The use of media can help a lot with this by giving people words and vocabulary to relate back to something they know.
This is a conscious effort that needs to be made to include visitors in our conversations. It is a huge step to making them feel welcomed.