The questions people are asking when they walk through your doors have changed over the past decade. Questions like, “How’s the music?” or “Is the preaching good?” or even “What do they have for my kids?” have slid down the list for many. Yes, a quality presentation and excellent children’s ministries still matter, but those are typically the thoughts of churched people who have come to check you out. The real target audience–the unchurched in our communities–don’t listen to Christian music and aren’t shopping for the best preaching in town. They’re looking for something else.
In our previous blog, we tackled the first question–Can I find friends here? So let’s take a look at questions number two…
Is this a safe place?
As people today become less trustworthy, insecurities are heightened and hinder people’s ability to engage God’s purposes for their lives. Sadly, they simply don’t trust like they once did.
Of course, such uncertainty is understandable. Enough scandals have populated the air waves–even some involving spiritual leaders–that people don’t assume any place is safe. So people are entering our churches today with a different level of caution than they did just a decade or two ago.
1. Trust is not a given. It hasn’t been that long ago that church was a place one could go to feel safe. People had a certain expectation of ministers and church people, and they were seldom disappointed. But while only a few have had their trust personally violated, those occasions have drawn enough attention that nearly everyone entering your church is a bit skittish as they “check you out.”
2. People want to know you first. The days of people casually dropping their babies off in the nursery are behind us. Now, the thought of leaving their child in the custody of someone they’ve never met just isn’t as automatic as before. Yes, she looks like a nice lady, and yes, this is a church, but many will choose to keep their baby with them in the church service and be highly offended if it’s assumed that they won’t. Since trust is no longer automatic, it must be earned–and that can take a little time.
3. People fear being exposed. Safety doesn’t just speak of physical cautions. Feeling safe includes not making a fool of myself or having someone else do that for me. The greatest fear many guests have when they enter your church is standing out or embarrassing themselves in some way. Churches that make a public display of their guests cross a line for many. Their efforts to be welcoming actually have the opposite effect. Remember this principle–the larger your church, the more likely people expected to be anonymous, at least until THEY decide not to be. Demanding personal information isn’t a good first step either. Get to know people and let them warm to you at their own pace.
4. What people don’t understand makes them uncomfortable. Another component of safety includes what they experience. When people are asked to engage activity that’s unfamiliar, most feel awkward–and that seldom leads to a good experience. If your church has some worship practices that seem beyond what the guest expects, you need to explain what’s happening and why or that discomfort escalates. If people pray out loud, raise their hands, speak in tongues, or display any other behavior beyond quiet listening, somebody better explain the what and the why. It only takes a few minutes, and it can be the difference between a “safe” experience and one that sends people away with no desire to return.
5. Quality children’s ministries matter. Now, fun activities and great lessons are great, but in the area of safety, “quality” means that we look like we know what we’re doing. The safety of classrooms, the caliber of our workers, and the organization of our processes send a message about quality. If things look chaotic in a children’s classroom, parents won’t feel safe leaving their children in there. If things really are chaotic, children won’t feel safe either–and if they don’t want to come back, mom and dad will probably vote with them.
Look around your church and ask, “Does this place convey a safe feeling?” It’s a high priority question when people visit you today. Consider the steps you can take to demonstrate a hearty “YES” when people are wondering if your church is safe.