Thanks to Rick Ezell at Lifeway.com for the majority of this article. I have taken the liberty to edit and make some changes as well as add thoughts and ideas of my own. My hope is that after reading these “Five Simple Facts” that church leaders will take to heart that it takes more than good sermons and music to turn a first time guest into a second time guest. Andy
Fact #1 – Your visitors make up their minds regarding your church in the first ten minutes
Before a first-time guest has sung an inspiring song, watched a compelling drama or well-produced video vignette or heard your well-crafted sermon they have made up their mind whether or not to return. But, you probably spend more time and energy on the plan and execution of the worship service than preparing for the greeting and welcoming of your first-time guests.
Action – Use the following questions as a quick checklist:
Fact #2 – Most church members are not friendly
Churches claim to be friendly and may even advertise that fact. But my experience in visiting churches as a first-time guest demonstrates that most church members are friendly to the people they already know, not to guests.
Watch to see if your members greet guests with the same intensity and concern before and after the worship service as they do during a formal time of greeting. The six most important minutes of a church service, in your visitors eyes are the three minutes before the service and the three minutes after the service.
Action – Encourage your church family to:
Fact #3 – Church guests are highly consumer-oriented
If your church building is difficult for newcomers to navigate, if your people are unfriendly or focus mostly to their friends then another church down the street may have what they’re looking for. The pastor and church members need to look at their church through the eyes of a first-time guest.
Action: Consider employing objective, yet trained, anonymous guests to give an honest appraisal. Many restaurants, retail stores, and hotels utilize the service of one or more outside services or individuals for helpful analysis of welcoming and responding to the consumer. Churches would be well served to utilize a similar service.
Note: Multiplication Ministries/Pastor to Pastors Ministry staff are trained and well equipped to provide an evaluation of a church’s ministry which includes attending your church service as a “secret worshipper” which can provide valuable perspective for pastors and church boards about the ministry.
Fact #4 – The church is in the hospitality business
Though our ultimate purpose is spiritual, one of our first steps in the Kingdom business is attention to hospitality (Hebrews 13:2). Imagine the service that would be given to you in a first-class hotel or a five-star restaurant. Should the church offer anything less to those who have made the great effort to be our guests?
Action – Encourage members to extend hospitality to guests by offering to…
Fact #5 – You only have one chance to make a good first impression
Your first-time guests have some simple desires and basic needs. They decide very quickly if you can meet those criteria. The decision to return for a second visit is often made before guests reach your front door.
Action – Use the following questions as an evaluation tool:
Are you creating the entire experience, beginning with your parking lot?
Are you working to remove barriers that make it difficult for guests to feel at home?
Do newcomers have all the information they need without having to ask?
Are greeters and ushers on the job, attending to details and needs?
In his attempt to continue to identify the silly things that we do as churches, Brian Kaufman at http://www.shrinkthechurch.com decided to focus his attention on a few practices of churches that are more concerned with the activity inside its own walls than the community it rests within. You may not agree with some of the thoughts below and we welcome dialogue. The point here is to observe, report, discuss, learn, repeat.
1) An Inwardly-Focused Church Makes Converts Not Disciples
Matt Chandler made this point during his Ultimate Authority series. A world full of converts is like a little kid sitting in his daddy’s truck holding the wheel and making engine noises as the he sits idle in the driveway. An inwardly-focused church is concerned more with the numbers of those saved by the existence of that very church (i.e. look how fantastic we are). What if the church announced the number of new disciples alongside the number of salvations? Would there still be a feeling of celebration in the room? Don’t get me wrong, I recognize that there is a need for celebration when people are welcomed into the Kingdom – my point is that Jesus commands us to mobilize, evangelize and teach.
2) An Inwardly-Focused Church Lives and Dies by Sunday
Are the majority of the church’s decisions heavily skewed towards Sunday? If so the church might be more concerned with the production of the service than the promotion of the Gospel, and perhaps furthermore its own vision statement. I don’t really find examples of any church within the Bible making reference to Sunday as “Go time.” Perhaps I’m wrong on this point, but, a church that has allowed the Sunday services to consume the majority of financial & human resources is one that is structurally equivalent to a Nissan Pathfinder – top heavy. And at some point we will begin to sacrifice the risk of mission for the logistics of production.
3) An Inwardly-Focused Church Offers Multiple Styles of Worship
This one is difficult, so bear with me for a moment. Is our God traditional or contemporary, emergent or conservative, Catholic or Lutheran? In my opinion multiple worship styles communicate one thing very clearly, “We are not sure what kind of church we are but we want to appeal to a broad audience.” My issue here is not with specific styles of worship, it is with specific styles of worship under one roof.
In my opinion multiple worship services/styles are confusing and further promote an Enlightenment-era philosophy in which our personal comfort and preference supersedes the reality of the Great Commission and cross of Christ. If you’ve got the resources and vision to do multiple styles of worship perhaps the strategy needs to be rethought? For example, perhaps a new style of worship could be saturated in a church plant located closer to the demographic which responds to that certain style?
There are a lot of very large and rapidly-growing churches that produce multiple worship services and would probably argue well against this point. Admittedly, and to the frustration of my wife, I tend to over-simplify some things as black or white. Can we still be friends?
*As a side note, I do struggle with the obsession over denomination as it relates to our identity in Christ and our fixation on subjective righteousness, but that is for another article.
4) An Inwardly-Focused Church Hides It’s Checkbook
A church afraid to talk about money is denying people the chance to be challenged out of slavery and engage in worshipful generosity. Likewise a church which conceals its own checkbook is denying the people confidence in the authority under which they have willingly agreed to be subjected. An inwardly-focused church convicts its people with “Show me your checkbook and I’ll show you your heart…” but shy’s away from being subject to the same philosophy.
Do you know what your pastor makes? Do you know the percentage breakdown of where your dollar goes? Does your church provide regular updates to the financial mission of the church and/or annual financial reports? Is giving communicated as a joyful acts of worship or a necessary means to keep the lights on?
5) An Inwardly-Focused Church Holds On Tight
Have you ever seen a little kid with all his stuffed animals playing on the floor? He seems peaceful and content … until another little kid comes and tries to play too. What usually happens? The kid will put his arms around all the stuffed animals and say, “mine!” That’s kind of how I picture a competitive church. The popular idea of “closing the back door” deals with the challenge of keeping people in the church – their church – regardless of that person’s desire to sacrificially engage or parasitically consume. This parallels my first point about making converts not disciples. What if a local church’s vision was to kick the back-door wide open as people go out into the world? To promote a culture which causes tension in those that constantly take from the church is to risk a roster of attendance for the sake of a congregation on mission.
Suddenly, we’re not concerned with what the 5 other churches are doing with their fall series. We don’t have conversations that involve a phrase like “stealing our people.” We don’t hold onto our people as though we are offended if they choose not to stay. We create a healthy environment of people committed to the local church’s vision. It is a culture saturated with people who willingly lead the charge and stand in the gap.
I recently attended a church conference where the room was packed with pastors from all over the Phoenix area. I later had conversations with some others that also attended and one thing we all recognized was the unspoken tension among local churches. It was kind of like a bunch of gangs all wearing their colors but coming together for one purpose. Our faith and mission bind us, but our pride creates boundaries that if crossed could result in territorial warfare. It was both ironic and disturbing. Any West Side Story fans out there?
This list is nowhere near exhaustive but my hope is that it begins a larger discussion within church leadership as we move forward with the Gospel, let the cross be our focus and the Great Commission to be our ultimate decision filter. I am not isolated from the ideas above but instead include myself whole-heartedly as a prideful sinner in need of divine perspective and grace as often as a heartbeat.
How have you counseled one who has no wisdom?
And how have you declared sound advice to many? Job 26:3 (NKJV)
Much of what I do as I work with churches is “to give advice” about a number of matters as it pertains to churches and ministries. I learned early on in my own ministry to listen to advice given and I think doing that, 30 years of experience as a pastor and keeping well read on issues of the church has been vital.
Being a Pastor to Pastors the thought of “œpastors giving advice to other pastors” seemed important to me, so I collected a number of comments that would be considered general advice from one pastor to another.
Then it dawned on me. Perhaps advice from church people to pastors as well as advice from pastors to church people would be good reading for each of us.
So, here’s what I collected. Do you have anything to add in any of the following 3 areas?
Advice from Pastors to Other Pastors
Advice from Pastors to Church People
Advice from Church People to Pastors
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The Great Commission.
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