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10 Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Guests

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By Thom S. Rainer

If you attend a church regularly, you’ve probably noticed the phenomenon. A guest shows up for a worship service, but he or she never returns. It is, unfortunately, a common issue in many churches.

I did a Twitter poll to ask these first-time guests why they chose not to return to a particular church. While some of the responses were anticipated, I admit being a bit surprised with some of them.

Though my poll is not scientific, it is nevertheless fascinating. Here are the top 10 responses in order of frequency:

  1. Having a stand up and greet one another time in the worship service. This response was my greatest surprise for two reasons. First, I was surprised how truly uncomfortable guests are during this time. Second, I was really surprised that it was the most frequent response.
  2. Unfriendly church members. This response was anticipated. But the surprise was the number of respondents who included non-genuine friendliness in their answers. In other words, the guests perceived that some of the church members were faking it.
  3. Unsafe and unclean children’s area. This response generated the greatest emotional reactions. If your church does not give a high priority to children, don’t expect young families to attend.
  4. No place to get information. If your church does not have a clear and obvious place to get information, you probably have lowered the chances of a return visit by half. There should also be someone to greet and assist guests at that information center as well.
  5. Bad church website. Most of the church guests went to the church website before they attended a worship service. Even if they attended the service after visiting a bad website, they attended with a prejudicial perspective. The two indispensable items guests want on a website are address and times of service. It’s just that basic.
  6. Poor signage. If you have been attending a church for a few weeks, you forget all about the signage. You don’t need it any more. But guests do. And they are frustrated when it’s not there.
  7. Insider church language. Most of the respondents were not referring to theological language as much as language that only the members know. My favorite example was: “The WMU will meet in the CLC in the room where the GAs usually meet.”
  8. Boring or bad service. My surprise was not the presence of this item. The surprise was that it was not ranked higher.
  9. Members telling guests that they were in their seat or pew. Yes, this obviously still takes place in some churches.
  10. Dirty facilities. Some of the comments: “Didn’t look like it had been cleaned in a week.” “No trash cans anywhere.” Restrooms were worse than a bad truck stop.” “Pews had more stains than a Tide commercial.”

 

10 More Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Guests

From my perspective, these second-tier responses are somewhat of a surprise. They might be, nevertheless, helpful to you and your church. Each of the 10 items has a representative comment:

  1. The congregation was old. “When I looked at the age of those attending, I knew there wouldn’t be anything there for my children.”
  2. There was clutter everywhere. “The church building looked like a Goodwill store for Bibles, books, umbrellas, and clothes. I did not want to return.”
  3. People were gathered in cliques talking to each other. “I could tell before the service that I didn’t belong to their club.”
  4. People got the aisle seats first. “I had to climb over eight people to get a seat. They seemed disgusted I was there.”
  5. There was inadequate signage for people with small children. “From the parking lot to the front door to the preschool area, I had no idea where to go. It was frustrating.”
  6. There was no worship guide or bulletin. “I saved the bulletins from the churches I visited. If a church did not have one, I forgot all about it.”
  7. The check in process for children was slow and disorganized. “My kids were screaming the whole time; I’m not going back.”
  8. There were memorial plaques everywhere. “They were on the pews, the tables, the organ, the piano, and the windows. It was creepy. I felt like I was in a funeral home.”
  9. The service did not start on time. “My family rushed to get there on time, but the service started over ten minutes late. No one seemed to know what they were doing.”
  10. People were saving seats. “They might as well had a sign that said, ‘You are not welcome near me.'”

Keep in mind that these comments are second-tier responses. But they represent many people.

They just might represent guests who won’t return to your church.

Thom Rainer is the president of LifeWay Christian Resources. For the original article, visit thomrainer.com.

The above article, “10 Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Guests” was written by Thom S. Rainer. The article was excerpted from www.thomrainer.com.

The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”

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