As a pastor of a small church one question that is always on my mind (probably more than it should be) is Will they come back? I’m referring to people who visit our church. We like guests at our church and we do our best to make them feel comfortable. We want them to come back; to enter into worship with us; to become part of our family; to mature in God’s Word; to have their lives changed by the power of God.
But the reality is that many and perhaps most visitors don’t come back. For whatever reason (I’ve never found an unobtrusive way to get this information) they come one or two Sundays and we never see them again.
So I’m always looking, researching, trying to learn. One person who has a great deal of experience and knowledge on church issues is Thom Rainer who blogs at www.thomrainer.com. He has written several articles in the past year on the issue of churches and visitors.
In a blog titled Seven Things Church Members Should Say to Guests in a Worship Service he lists things we should say to someone who is visiting our church:
1. “Thank you for being here.” It’s just that basic. I have heard from numerous church guests who returned because they were simply told “thank you.”
2. “Let me help you with that.” If you see someone struggling with umbrellas, young children, diaper bags, purses, and other items, a gesture to hold something for them is a huge positive. Of course, this comment is appropriate for member to member as well.
3. “Please take my seat.” I actually heard that comment twice in a church where I was speaking in the Nashville area. The first comment came from a member to a young family of five who were trying to find a place to sit together.
4. “Here is my email address. Please let me know if I can help in any way.” Of course, this comment must be used with discretion, but it can be a hugely positive message to a guest.
5. “Can I show you where you need to go?” Even in smaller churches, guests will not know where to find the nursery, restrooms, and small group meeting areas. You can usually tell when a guest does not know where he or she is to go.
6. “Let me introduce you to ___________.” The return rate of guests is always higher if they meet other people. A church member may have the opportunity to introduce the guest to the pastor, other church staff, and other members of the church.
7. “Would you join us for lunch?” I saved this question for last for two reasons. First, the situation must obviously be appropriate before you offer the invitation. Second, I have seen this approach have the highest guest return rate of any one factor. What if your church members sought to invite different guests 6 to 12 times a year? The burden would not be great; but the impact would be huge.
Wow! When was the last time you said one (or several) of these things to a visitor in your church?
In another blog titled Ten Commandments from Happy Church Guests he listed comments from people he interviewed after they visited a new church. Here’s what made them feel positive about their experience:
1. People introduced themselves to the guests. “Several people introduced themselves to me. I did not get the impression it was either contrived or routine.”
2. Someone asked the guest to sit with her. “You know, as a single person, I can feel pretty lonely sitting by myself. I am so glad Joanie asked me to sit with her. We plan to get together for coffee.”
3. There was clear signage. “From the parking lot to the children’s area to the worship center, everything was clearly marked. It was sure easy to get around.”
4. There was a clearly-marked welcome center. “It made it real easy for me to ask questions and to get some information on the church.”
5. The kids loved the children’s area. “My kids were so happy with their experiences. We will be back for sure.”
6. The children’s area was secure and sanitary. “That is one of the first things I check when I go to a church. This church gets an A+!”
7. Guest parking was clearly visible. “From the moment we drove on the parking lot, I could find the guest parking. It was marked very well.”
8. The church did not have a stand and greet time. “My wife and I just moved to the area and are visiting churches. If we visit one with that fake stand and greet time, we don’t return.”
9. The members were not pushy. “They seemed to really care about us rather than just making us another number on the membership roll.”
10. The guest card was simple to complete. “Some of the cards in other churches ask for too much information. This one was perfect and simple.”
Again, he has some thought-provoking ideas.
Whether or not visitors return to our church is not just about how we treat them or how they feel after the service. There are many dynamics that play into such a personal decision. However, we need to do all we can to make sure that we, individually or collectively, are not the barrier that causes them to look elsewhere.
Stay in the Word