Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross
It is a pretty courageous move for someone to make the decision to attend a church they are unfamiliar with full of people they do not know. From the moment they park, they are deciding whether or not this is a one-time deal or the first day of a beautiful relationship. Church growth statistics say that things like the cleanliness and attractiveness of the facilities, the preaching and worship services, and the location of the building are important, but so many of the factors revolve around how members respond to them. Thom Ranier gave a list of 10 reasons why over 1,000 people surveyed never returned a second time. The list included unfriendly church members, no place to get information, bad church website, poor signage, insider church language (not theological terms as much as initials–think CYC, EU, MPR, etc.), and members telling visitors they were in their pew (Source). How can we prepare for, then provide for a great experience for visitors, then make progress with those who “check us out”?
TEST. Evaluate.How are we doing at this? Every single church whose members are asked, “Are you friendly?,” invariably answers “yes.” Most visitors, when asked by poll-takers and surveys, say of a church that they are unfriendly. How could that be? We are more often friendly to those already “part” of the group, but not to people we don’t know. We’re uncomfortable talking to “strangers.” We’re afraid of offending someone who we find out is already a member. We’re unsure of what to say. But, we need a way to evaluate where we are and how to improve. This may be done through something akin to “secret shoppers,” perhaps brethren from far enough away not to be known to local church members who pose as visitors and report their experiences to church leaders. This can be done by QR codes and/or Google forms hosting.a brief survey evaluating their “guest experience.”
TEACH. What the leadership emphasizes, the membership internalizes. What does Scripture have to say about this vital interaction? James 2:2-4 is the most explicit New Testament passage, warning against personal favoritism with such encounters. But Matthew 4:19 says we’re to be fishers of men, and these are fish who have fallen into our own pond. 1 Timothy 2:3-6 reminds us of God’s feelings toward every “all men” and “all,” which certainly includes those who visit. We are to be “finders” (John 1:40-41), and who is easier to find than one who comes to us. These are just a few passages which should build our conviction to connect with visitors.
TRAIN. We may need help to become more effective at making the most of the visitor’s visit. That includes emphasizing the discipline of simply looking for those who may be new or what to say when inviting someone to come. It includes getting organized, properly utilizing the welcome center, greeters and/or ushers, new member orientation, and all that needs to be implemented and improved to make us intentional with newcomers, first-timers, and returnees. It is really the whole-life mentality that we must incorporate to further this precious relationship.
TIME. In the 1980s, Herb Miller published the statistics that 85% of visitors return if visited in the first 48 hours, 60% if in the first 72 hours, and 15% if visited in the first seven days (Source). Today, that may mean text, email, or call, but even in today’s tech-first world, it’s hard to beat even a brief, friendly face-to-face visit. But, following up quickly is key to success. Taking it to the next level includes building a way for more than elders and preachers (or even deacons) to be the one making contact.
TRANSFORM. What is or should be our interest in visitors? We are trying to move them from the “visitor” column to the “member” column. If they are not New Testament Christians, that means something totally different than if they are “transfers” moving from another location. To transform the relationship, we must inform them. That includes where to go, who we are, what we are doing, etc. That can be in a welcome brochure or packet, or with an attractive, informative web site, or with a key “front man” or “front woman” who connects with them when they come through the door. Ideally it is all of the above. Likewise, to transform the relationship, we must communicate with them. Where’s the bathroom? Where’s their child’s classroom? Why are we taking the Lord’s Supper, singing instead of having a concert, or doing X instead of Y? That can be done in a user-friendly rather than confrontational way that is positive and helpful. The point is, we often assume people understand more than they do. To transform the relationship, we must connect with them. They will need to form at least five connections, according to experts, in order to “stick.” Again, this must be intentional. To transform the relationship with specifically non-Christians, we must study with them. At some point, we must work up the courage, when we know they have not obeyed the gospel, to ask them if they will study the Bible with us. That takes us back to the “training” step because the more of us trained to do that (and the follow up with new Christians), the more we will grow and the better we will transform those who come among us.
Consider this list more of an appetizer than a five-course meal. There’s so much needed to leverage these crucial relationships. This is the easiest opportunity within the Great Commission. These are the “come into all the buildings” rather than “go into all the worlds.” Let’s be good stewards of our visitors. The stewardship principle includes the idea that the better we manage what we are entrusted with, the more opportunities we are given! Let’s make the most of those opportunities (Col. 4:5)!