Capitalizing On Visitors

Capitalizing On Visitors

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

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)!

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VISITORS—HANDLE WITH CARE!

VISITORS—HANDLE WITH CARE!

Neal Pollard

I’m not sure where the phrase, “handle with care,” originated. It’s usually reserved for advice regarding that which is fragile or even volatile. It really is applicable to those who visit our assemblies because of their value and importance. They came through the doors of our church building intentionally and with a purpose. Initially, we cannot know why or how sincere their purpose. That process of discovery could not be more important. Consider some reasons why we should handle every visitor with care:

  • Each has an eternal soul (cf. Mat. 25:46). 
  • God could not love that visitor any more than He does (John 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:6).
  • God loves that visitor as much as He loves you and me (Acts 10:34-35). 
  • That visitor is likely seeking spiritual guidance (cf. Mat. 7:7).
  • Each visitor is subjected to a first impression, being left by you and me.
  • That visitor is going to make judgments about the church, the Bible and Christ based on what he or she sees (or fails to see) from you and me.
  • The smallest gesture of kindness toward such a one could lead to the salvation of a soul.
  • We cannot know what anyone else is doing to make their first visit a good one.
  • Each one is being exposed to the Bible and to New Testament worship, and follow up can lead to further interest.
  • That soul is connected to many others, who might subsequently be reached (2 Tim. 2:2). 
  • You and I are official ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20).
  • The Golden Rule should prompt our warmth, helpfulness, and sensitivity (Luke 6:31).
  • We are each part of a team, trying to connect each of them with what only Christ can offer them (1 Cor. 12:18; John 14:6).
  • There is no guarantee that there will be a next time (Prov. 27:1).
  • Statistics tell us that most visitors find the churches they visit to be unfriendly toward “outsiders” (see, for example: Thom Rainer).
  • Loving others is commanded, and visitors are included in “others” (Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14; Jas. 2:8; etc.).
  • Visitors constitute perhaps the easiest inroad to developing interest in a Bible study, as such have reached out to us by attending.
  • Our excuses (“I’m shy,” “That’s not my job,” “I’m not good at it,” “I’m busy”) ring hollow when carefully examined. 
  • We love the church and believe in its relevance and importance.
  • Each contact is a valuable way you and I can contribute service for our Servant-Savior (cf. John 13:12ff; Mat. 20:28).

The list is far from exhaustive. I am convinced that none of us neglects a visitor out of contempt or even indifference. Yet, it is good for you and I to encourage each other, to “stimulate one another to love and good deeds” especially as it pertains to assembly-related matters (Heb. 10:24-25). Wouldn’t it be exciting to be the friendliest church around, especially if our message and practice is faithful to God’s Word? What a powerful combination! Let’s help each other earn such a reputation, for reasons such as the above. 

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A GREAT FISHERMAN

A GREAT FISHERMAN

By: A blessed fish

Let me tell you about the greatest fisherman I have ever known.

He has always found success at his favorite fishing hole. A special place where the inlet was fruitful, and many fish loved to be caught. His technique is simple. A welcoming lure. A handshake, a hug and a smile. Just to let you know you’re wanted.

He will always catch-n-release and the fish always feel better for the experience. Many wide eyed and spiritually young fish will enter the inlet, hoping that someone would catch them and show them the kind of love this great fisherman offers. He never judges a fish – their size, beauty, wealth or position. He only lets them know how glad he is to see them at the inlet.

His success is solely based on persistence, perseverance and patience. Three times a week you can always count on him being right there at the inlet. Waiting for the opportunity to hook’em and hold’em. He always makes every fish feel welcome and wanted.

He knows every fish by name. If he thinks a fish has drifted off down steam, he will go in search, armed with a tackle box full of Christian love and do his best to bring them back to the inlet. Not for him, but for their sake and for God’s sake.

He hooked this fish over 11 years ago. My wife led me to the inlet. But, he hooked me and let me know that I was welcome here. He helped save this soul for eternity.

I think he is getting tired now, but few may notice.  So many years of fishing, but he is still there almost every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. I think he wants to share his favorite inlet with others who share his passion. Man, woman, or child, he wants us to join him. We don’t have to wait. We don’t have to be assigned the duty. We just need to step into the water and follow his lead. There is plenty of room at the inlet. Let’s all join this fisherman at the Bear Valley inlet and make sure every fish that enters knows they are wanted and welcome.

The great fisherman’s name is Clint and this fish will always love him.

Mathew 4:19-20

And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.

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 NEAL’S NOTE: This was submitted to me by someone who wants to remain anonymous. Truer, more fitting words could not be spoken about one of the most special people any of us have ever known. We’re very blessed to have Clint Stephens as a member at Bear Valley, one of the men who was at the time a shepherd when I was hired. Enjoy!

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Clint “fishing” on a mission trip in Cambodia a few years ago. 
Are We A Friendly Congregation?

Are We A Friendly Congregation?

Neal Pollard

While we must be concerned with doing what we do in worship according to Christ’s expressed will, we must also be sure to reflect His love to strangers, newcomers, outsiders, and otherwise unfamiliar faces. It offends my sensitivities anytime I hear anyone complain that a church I love so much seems cold and unfriendly to them. However, when I see so many focused on one another or on no one or hear accounts of our visitors complaining that we are neither warm nor welcoming, that love motivates me to say something.  Please consider the following principles:

  • We must stop expecting that others will represent us in friendliness. Maybe we look at those seven or eight members of the congregation that “go after” our visitors and conclude that they are covering the bases for the rest of us. In a congregation our size, that is woefully inadequate. They cannot reach everybody, but even if they can their friendliness does not let us off the hook. Dear reader, the chances are great that I am challenging you!
  • We must not use our introverted nature as an excuse. It would be hard to get an accurate estimate, but it is probably fair to say that more of our members are introverted than extroverted. Yet, the introverts may mistakenly conclude that extroverts are merely doing what comes easy and natural to them. As a representative of the extrovert clan, may I suggest that reaching out and connecting with strangers and visitors requires effort. Everyone must make an effort!
  • We must avoid the thinking that the visitor bears responsibility to be friendly. Some visitors may be extroverted and resilient to connect with us, but we’re the hosts and they’re the guests. Think about how hard it is to come into an unfamiliar place where you know no one and reach out to them. This is our “home turf,” and we must always take the initiative!
  • We must practice the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12). Again, put yourself in their shoes. Treat them how you’d want to be treated if in their place.
  • We must see ourselves as direct representatives of Jesus. 2 Corinthians 5:20 calls us just that. Treat visitors exactly like Jesus would. Seek them out and do everything within your power to let them know how glad you are they are here.
  • We must understand the eternal implications of being friendly to visitors. Wouldn’t it be awful if we contributed to seekers, new Christians, and the like being discouraged, even to the point of walking away from Christ and His truth? We cannot minimize the eternal impact, for good or ill, we make by how we do in this matter.
  • We must break out of our ruts and routines. What creatures of comfort we are! What I am talking about requires us getting uncomfortable and changing our current habits. Avoiding eye contact, walking past unfamiliar faces, withdrawing into ourselves, talking only to those who talk to us or those we feel comfortable with may be the niche we’ve carved for ourselves over a long period of time. Confront those well-established patterns and insist on breaking them.

I want our congregation to be known for preaching and teaching the truth, but I want far more for us. Another thing I want is for us to be the church that doesn’t just embrace and accept “our own,” but who is always making room for one more. I’d far rather risk creeping someone out by bombarding them with extreme warmth than to turn a cold shoulder to one who was trying to connect with God. Wouldn’t you?

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On The Other Side Of Security

On The Other Side Of Security

Neal Pollard

Gary Hampton tells the story of his first missionary trip, which he made in the 1980s—shortly after the “Jonestown Tragedy” and during a time of great national instability.  He recalls soldiers lining both sides of the runway, armed to the teeth, and having his bags checked thoroughly by those whose friendliness was not exactly established.  He says that there was nothing like being able to greet the local brethren on the other side of security, singing gospel songs with them en route to the town where they campaigned together.  I have felt similar relief in coming into places that were strange, unfamiliar, and potentially menacing in different parts of the world.

Do you wonder what it was like for the apostle Paul, who had just survived a horrific shipwreck only to be bitten by a deadly snake on the island where he was stranded.  Now, he had been on an Alexandrian ship once again bound for Rome, stopping at various cities along the way.  At one of them, Puteoli, Paul, Luke, and the rest of his fellow travelers “found brethren, and were invited to stay with them seven days. And so we went toward Rome. And from there, when the brethren heard about us, they came from as far as Appii Forum and Three Inns. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage” (Acts 28:14-15).  Notice how the local Christians, however far from Paul’s hometown, made Paul feel—thankful and encouraged.

There is something special and unique about the church, by God’s divine design.  Even brothers and sisters you meet in other countries, who speak different languages, and whose background and culture are different from your own, can have that effect on you.  Worshipping with God’s people in different parts of the country so often has the same effect. I’ve heard stories (so have you) from families and individuals who remarked about how unfriendly the local church they visited was.  I’ve had a few experiences where I didn’t feel the warmth I thought was proper, but that’s not nearly the norm.  However, I don’t wait for the brethren to come to me.  I’m anxious to see them!  They are my family, even if we’ve never met.

As you count your blessings today, won’t you thank God for the transcendent blessing that is the spiritual family!  The church was God’s eternal purpose (Eph. 3:9-11).  How wonderful that it bolsters us in the brief period of time we exist between birth and eternity!

How To Make Others Friendlier

How To Make Others Friendlier

Neal Pollard

I am exasperated at how unfriendly the people at church are. They never speak to me.  When they do speak, I feel as though I am simply being tolerated. I do not feel a part of their “crowd.” It is so unfair! Yet, I have the answers for me and any other poor soul who has encountered such unfriendliness when at the assemblies.

I AM GOING TO MAKE EVERYONE CONVERSE WITH ME.  I’ll strike up conversations with everyone at church, including those I hardly even know. To make it better, I am going to find out what interests them so I’ll have plenty to say and hear with the. I’m not going to give them the chance to not speak to me. I will eagerly listen to what they say, and they will think they’ve never met someone so sincerely interested!

I AM GOING TO WEAR A BIG SMILE. I am going to develop a personality so magnetic that no one can resist getting to know me better. My grin will be like an open invitation to visitors and members alike. I bet they’ll wonder what’s gotten into me, that I’m so happy. They’ll be eager to be a part of what makes me so cheerful!

I AM GOING TO DO UNSOLICITED ACTS OF KINDNESS. I’ll send them notes of cheer, cards of sympathy, and letters of encouragement. I’ll visit their sick family members and neighbors. They won’t know what hit them. I’ll pray for those folks down at church…by name…every night!

I AM GOING TO STAY AROUND LONGER AFTER THE LAST “AMEN.” I’ll hang around the auditorium, get to the foyer early enough to catch the early departures, talk to the elderly, the small children, and the visitors. I bet they’ll mistake me for a deacon or an usher.

I AM GOING TO STUDY EVERY PASSAGE ON KINDNESS AND FRIENDLINESS I CAN FIND. I’ll memorize, ” Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32). I will model Colossians 3:12: “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” I’ll carry a plaque with me that reads, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Prov. 17:17). I am going to memorize the beatitudes (Mat. 5:3-12), the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), and the Christian graces (2 Pet. 1:5-7).  I can’t kill them with kindness unless I’ve got my guns loaded.

Now I’m ready! Those unfriendly folks at church don’t stand a chance. I’ll melt every cold stare. I’ll dodge every harsh word. I’ll reflect every criticism with the shield of warmth. I’ll be so friendly…hmmmmm…maybe that was a part of the problem anyway. If were friendlier….

Is This A Friendly Church?

Is This A Friendly Church?

Neal Pollard

While we would be tempted to ask this of ourselves, that’s really not a very honest reflection or indication of a true answer.  But, thankfully, there are several whom we can ask.  Don’t miss the importance of their candor.  Their answers are really the only ones that matter.

  • Ask the parents of the crying baby.
  • Ask the visitor who is sitting alone.
  • Ask the new family who moved here from another city.
  • Ask the drop-in whose clothing, hygiene, and general manner of speaking and appearance seems of “lesser” quality.
  • Ask the person whose race and color differs from the majority.
  • Ask the out-of-town visitors whose vacation or work brought them to services.
  • Ask the people you see and cannot decide whether they are visitors or members.
  • Ask the Lord and His inspired writers (Js. 2:1ff; Acts 10:34-35; Prov. 14:31; 17:5; 19:17).

Even if we have the reputation of friendliness, let us never be satisfied that we are “friendly enough” and let us never rest on our laurels.  Our goal should be to surround every unfamiliar face with love and attention.  I would  far rather risk scaring someone off than failing to extend them the love of Christ!