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.
The questions have changed. People who visit your church have something else on their mind as they make their maiden voyage into your Sunday service. Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at the new questions and offer some insight into how we can answer them most effectively.
Question one: Can I find friends here?
Honestly, this question ranks so far ahead of Question two that it’s almost impossible to overstate its importance. People need friends. As our culture becomes more fragmented, relationships have become more critical to our emotional well-being.
And it’s not hard to see how desperate people are for quality relationships. They risk exposing their lives online, will attend just about any concert and risk any environment, just to find the connections their life desperately needs.
So some decide to give church a try. After all, in theory, they should be able to find a better batch of potential friends in the church than just about anywhere, right?
So if they come in looking for friends, what will they find? Will they find a church where friendly means we are friendly to each other, but you have to attend five or six weeks before we start really talking to you? If that’s the case, I can guarantee that they won’t be back.
Here’s a few suggestions:
1. Start calling new friends your “guests” instead of “visitors.” I realize it may seem like mere semantics, but a guest is someone I have taken responsibility for. I will show them around, get to know them, and make every effort to be certain that they are comfortable and finding their visit to be pleasant. A visitor is someone who has entered of their own initiative. Now I know each one starts as a visitor, but I want them to be our guest from the moment they walk on the parking lot.
2. Speaking of the parking lot, there’s the first place for us to be friendly. Placing some friendly faces in the parking lot who offer a wave and a smile (and maybe some parking help) lets someone know that your church is a friendly place. Since friends is what they’re looking for, things look hopeful when I’m greeted by a lot of smiles.
3. Put your friendliest people at the front door. It’s more important to greet people well than it is to give them a bulletin so don’t ask someone to do both. You can hand me a bulletin as I enter the auditorium, but at the front door, greet me with a kind smile and a genuine interest in who I am. That’s how friendships start.
I’ve been to too many church doors where “bulletin-passer-outer” lady shoves it to me and doesn’t even say “hi.” Apparently she’s not a multi-tasker. Let me know this is a welcoming place by the wonderful way someone greets me at the front door.
4. Put some greeters in the auditorium too! If you don’t, your guests won’t know where to sit and they’ll end up sitting by…well, you know. The best place for guests to sit is near someone who will be friendly. Don’t put them down front where they might get trampled by expressive worshippers and don’t let them sit in the back where there’s a whole other church culture. Seat them on the front edge of the middle and near people who will greet them and get to know them when there’s an opportunity.
5. We’re not a friendly church unless we’re talking to our guests! We can’t predetermine who a guest will connect with. We can’t guess which ember of our church might become the life-long friend they need, but we can show them that there are a number of possibilities in our crowd. The more people who are friendly to guests, the more they will see that we are a place where they can find friends.
And that’s what they’re looking for, more than anything else…