The Art and Science of Creating a Welcoming Congregation

The Art and Science of Creating a Welcoming Congregation
Gary McIntosh

Welcoming guests does not happen by accident or even naturally. Churches that sit back and expect new people to find their way into the church’s networks of friendships and participants are going to be disappointed.

In most churches the social and service networks are closed to the natural addition of new people so new people simply cannot find their way in.

Of course, there are some people who work their way into the life and ministry of a church. For example, if you do not invite highly gregarious people out for dinner, they invite you. If you do not shake their hand, they shake yours. Unfortunately, very few newcomers are highly gregarious. The average guest simply does not have the desire or personality to fight his or her way into the social networks of the church.

Growing churches do not expect guests to find their way alone through the maze of relationships and expectations of their church.

In today’s world only 30 percent of our guests will come from a sister church or one of a similar background. That means that 70 percent come with little or no understanding of our church. When nearly three-fourths of our guests arrive either with no church background or from a church that is quite different, there is a corresponding lack of knowledge about our church.

Many guests will not be familiar with our worship format. They will not know when to stand, sit, or kneel. Others will not know our songs, language, and religious jargon. They will not know how to fit in or get involved in ministry. Therefore, we must be intentional in developing effective ways to move guests beyond the first visit if our churches are to thrive.

It may help you first to analyze how your visitors arrive in your church:

Front-Door and Side-Door Churches

Churches have doors through which people enter and exit. Some churches are front-door churches, others are side-door churches, and a very few are multiple-door churches. All churches have back doors ways people leave a church.

About 90 percent of churches in the United States are front-door churches. This means that most of the new people who connect with the church will make first contact through the worship service, rather than through small groups or other ministries. Churches that focus primarily on front-door ministry must put major emphasis on being effective hosts.

Being a healthy, growing front-door church requires:

1. effective ways to invite people to church

2. a worship service that is well presented

3. a pastor who is an above-average preacher

4. workable systems for welcoming newcomers

5. clear pathways for becoming involved in membership and/or ministry

Only about 10 percent of churches in the United States are side-door churches. In a side-door church, most of the new people who connect with the church make first contact through a ministry other than the worship service, for example, through small groups, adult classes, and other types of ministries. Being a healthy side-door church requires:

1. a high value on evangelism and meeting people’s needs

2. effective ways to invite newcomers to the various groups and classes offered by the church

3. a well-designed and functional small-group ministry

4. a pastor who has an above-average ability to delegate responsibilities

5. laypeople committed to caring for those outside the church

A few churches combine both front-door and side-door ministries effectively. Often such churches explode in growth (numerical and spiritual) due to the numerous ways people are invited, welcomed, and involved in church ministry.

Rates of Retention

Welcoming people is a never-ending process. Research completed in the late 1980s found that a church must keep about 16 percent of its first-time guests to experience a minimal growth rate of 5 percent a year. Rapidly growing churches keep between 25 and 30 percent of their first-time guests. Declining churches keep only about 5 to 8 percent of their first-time guests. By using the average of 16 percent, we can calculate the number of guests our church needs to grow. As an example, a church that wants to add 50 new members this year will need to have a minimum of 300 guests attend its worship services during the year.

The same research revealed the crucial importance of getting guests to return for a second visit. A church keeps about 85 percent of its guests who come back for a second visit the week after their first visit. This points out the importance of being gracious hosts the first time, so that our guests will feel encouraged to return.

The Importance of Relationships

When people make friends, become involved in a group, and find a place to serve, they will remain in a church. People stay in churches primarily because of relationships. Research has demonstrated that newcomers who remain in a church more than six months have an average of seven friends in their church, while people who drop out of a church average only two friends.

As new people come into a church, new small groups must be formed. Friendships develop when people gather together in groups, particularly when the group is working toward a common purpose. Groups normally close quickly to the addition of new people, making it crucial that churches keep starting new groups.

Not only do great hosts help their guests feel welcome, but they introduce new people to new friends and help them find a place of involvement in group settings.

A Science and an Art

Welcoming people is a science and an art. While there are principles and practices that can be followed to help churches be better hosts, welcoming guests so that they stay is more than applying scientific methods.

The healthiest churches are intentional about welcoming people, but becoming members of a church is not the same as fitting in or belonging. At the root of being a great host is the faith that God will welcome the newcomer into our midst as we put into practice well-designed strategies and plans.

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.’

This article ‘The Art and Science of Creating a Welcoming Congregation’ by Gary McIntosh, was excerpted from: web site. June 2010. It may be used for study & research purposes only.