My wife, daughter and sister in law were driving cross country, from Virginia to Oregon. On Sabbath, they had to stop in the state of _______ and decided to attend church there. They pulled in with their U-Haul truck, also towing a car. Nothing says “I’m from somewhere that is NOT here” like a U-Haul! They were lukewarmly greeted at the door, skated down the aisle, endured worship by themselves in the pew, and left without being invited to lunch. This was a medium size church, next to an academy, a church that seemed healthy. I wonder, if that is an isolated incident.
No one believes they have an anti-visitor church. Very few people describe their congregation as cold. I can’t imagine that church members purposefully want to send an anti-social message to newcomers. Yet, it happens all the time. Here are 3 things you can do, to become a visitor friendly church.
1. Connect with people at times OTHER THAN the regularly scheduled opportunities. There are three times people usually get greeted:
*When they come in.
*At the “welcome” portion of the service.
*As they leave.
It’s the rest of the time that sends a message whether you are a friendly church or not. In the three times I mentioned, you are REQUIRED to. When you make an effort to connect outside those, the chances of them returning increase. It’s a sin for a visitor to sit by themselves.
2. Be sensitive in the “welcome” portion of the service. Who likes to stand up, and remain standing, while 200 eyeballs are on them? The answer is…NOBODY! In a survey with visitors, this practice is what they despised the most. To complicate matters even further, (at least in Hispanic churches) they call visitors the “flowers” of the congregation that day. That sends two wrong messages: The members are the thorns. Maybe accurate, but no need to rub it in and Pancho, the hard living macho man, does not like being called a delicate flower!
This practice is done more for us than for them. Stop it.
3. Don’t smother, or overwhelm. Both extremes are equally annoying. Visitors don’t speak “Adventese”. They don’t know what Camp-meeting, ABC, AY, elders, or Conference, mean. Please speak: short, English, with a smile. I have made my case before that announcements were probably created by Jesuits that have infiltrated our church. They must have. This is not 1812. People can read. Give them a bulletin and maybe, an announcement or two, BEFORE the service is over.
Hoping that these suggestions can improve our visitor retention. What are other ways you purposefully connect with newcomers?