Friday, March 20, 2009

How to Drive Visitors Away From Your Church

Want to run visitors away from your church? Here's a quick easy lesson on how It's the little stuff that'll get you from Steve Nicholson at Vineyard USA:

Today a friend told me about visiting a church in another city. The first time he went it was for a Sunday evening service he found on their web site. But when he got there the place was closed - no signs, no lights, no notice, and no people except for three other newcomers who did the same thing - look on the web and come to the stated service time. So eventually he tried again on Sunday morning. But the service was much longer than he expected - he had arranged a ride from someone else and had to leave after 90 minutes and the sermon still hadn't started! The worship lasted for an hour, during which people were free form dancing in front, lying down on the floor in front, etc. Then they had everyone who was new, including "anyone new in the last six months" stand and introduce themselves to everyone. This took awhile. And then they had a coffee break - this is where his time ran out.

Talk about a lesson in how to drive newcomers away! This is what is meant by "seeker-hostile.' In fact, it's pretty hostile to all outsiders, even Christians. This is the kind of thing that keeps church plants from succeeding and other churches from growing to the point of being able to plant churches. But we can learn some lessons from my friend's bad experience:

1. Make sure your website is up to date and accurate! If it's on the website - do it! If you have to cancel at the last minute at least get a live person there to offer regrets and perhaps go out for coffee with any newcomers who do show up. These days nearly everyone checks out a church online before visiting for the first time. They'll check out the beliefs, the pictures (what kind of people are there), the times, and often even listen to a podcast sermon or two ahead of time. More and more, this is THE FRONT DOOR of the church, so it needs to be good.

2. Tell people up front (preferably on the website) how long they can expect any given meeting to last. In other words, give ending times and well as starting times. This helps people plan (e.g. the ride situation) and also prepares them mentally.

3. If you let the exhibitionists have free reign up front willy nilly then a lot of regular people will find the worship off-putting. They won't come back, or at least they'll think twice before bringing their parents or other non-regular church goers with them.

4. Don't make your visitors stand up and introduce themselves to the group. Did you know that public speaking is the number one rated fear of Americans? For any but the most extreme and secure extroverts this is the definition of miserable. Plus, it's something only a church that is small and intends to stay that way would ever do. Imagine how long this would take if Willow Creek or Saddleback tried it!There are other much, much friendlier ways to help newcomers feel welcome and have the opportunity to meet people when they are ready.

Besides, in a small church you don't need to do anything to be able to recognize who is a newcomer!