THE INVITING CHURCH
By: Randall S. Rogers
Attracting and keeping visitors is a major concern of growing churches and presents both an opportunity and a challenge.
Growing churches that are effectively attracting and keeping visitors have good ideas to share, but not many books have been written on the subject.
A survey of growing, inviting Assemblies of God congregations in 11 states (the East, North, South, and Midwest) indicates that all are using the same basic methods, which are usually omitted by nongrowing churches. These methods fall into three categories: invitations, welcoming, and follow-up.
Most visitors attend a church for the first time because of a personal invitation from a friend or family member. Inviting churches emphasize personal invitations by regularly encouraging the congregation to invite others. However, this should not rule out other means of sending invitations. Publicity such as newspaper ads, radio and television, direct mail, billboards, news releases, and attractive brochures also produce visitors. Obviously some invitations are more costly than others and require planned budgeting. Five percent of the total church budget is suggested as an appropriate amount to designate for publicity. The Barna Research Group in the Barna Report, Ministry Millstones: A Dozen Mistakes You Can Avoid, encourages the allocation of the money spent on publicity over a variety of means rather than using a single medium.
The facility is also part of the invitation. A well-groomed lawn with clean, convenient parking are inviting. Enhancing the inside decor by using warm colors and attractive furnishings, including plants and flowers, is significant.
Large, beautiful buildings may be intimidating because of their size. The survey indicates, however, that this problem with a building can be extensively overcome by the membership’s personal invitations and a ministry that meets spiritual needs of the adherents.
Welcoming begins with friendly entrances. Some churches, as Lakeside Assembly in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, provide special parking for guests. Parking attendants to assist visitors add to the effort to say, “We’re glad you are here. We were expecting you.”
George Barna, in User friendly Churches, states that visitors need to sense a positive congregational response toward the church’s vision of ministry. Greeters at all entrances are of primary importance. Diagrams, maps, and signs clearly identifying all rooms and corridors are inviting to a newcomer. Braeswood Assembly of God, Houston, Texas, uses attractive brass frames with plastic magnetic signs for easy arrangement.
Visitor centers located in the foyer are common in growing churches. More emphasis is placed on the friendliness of the staff stationed at the center than on the information received, so the guest does not feel simply processed through a system.
Welcoming during the worship service is accomplished in a variety of ways: having visitors raise hands, stand, remain seated while regular attenders stand, or simply acknowledging guests are present without spotlighting in any way. At this time ushers give guests visitors packets. Guest cards may include name tags or stick-on labels to identify visitors. To avoid spotlighting guests who do not wish to be singled out, Bethel Full Gospel Church in Rochester, New York, attempts to place the information packet in the visitors s hand upon arrival. Then during the service, when guests are welcomed, only those who did not receive a packet are
asked to raise hands.
Reception rooms conveniently located near the sanctuary offer an opportunity for the visitors to meet the pastoral staff and share in light refreshments after the service. First Assembly in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, has added a 10-minute video that briefly describes the ministries of the church. Those who bring guests or members who share a pew with a visitor are encouraged to accompany the visitors to the reception.
The welcome is concluded by a prompt follow-up. Volunteers at First Assembly in Lenexa, Kansas, begin phone calls to guests on Sunday afternoon. The consensus of growing congregations is that the first follow-up should be within 48 hours. Cornerstone Assembly in Madison, Tennessee, has volunteers visit on Mondays and deliver a plate of homemade cookies. This tasteful idea creates an appetite for more church fellowship. Phone calls, letters, and visits confirm the friendliness of the church.
The Inviting Relationship, a book by Dr. William W. Purkey and John J. Schmidt, describes the invitational model with four functioning levels that easily apply to churches: “intentionally disinviting,” “unintentionally disinviting,” “unintentionally inviting,” and “intentionally inviting.” Only a few churches would be considered “intentionally disinviting.” However, some desire be an exclusive group and are suspicious of guests.
A large number of churches are “unintentionally disinviting” by simply overlooking barriers in the church that keep visitors away.
“Unintentionally inviting” churches are those who attract some guests through positive yet unplanned features. They may maintain current size or grow slowly, but little effort is made to have visitors.
The “intentionally inviting” church takes deliberate steps to send invitations, to welcome guests, and to follow up promptly.
How high is your church’s I.Q. (Invitational Quota)? The checklist above will help you determine if your church is an inviting church.
INVITING CHURCH CHECKLIST
__ __ Entrances to the parking lot are clearly marked
__ __ Special parking for guests
__ __ Parking attendants on duty
__ __ Clean parking lot and well-groomed lawn
__ __ Clearly marked entrances to all buildings
__ __ Greeters at all entrances
__ __ Diagrams or maps showing locations of all rooms
__ __ Clearly visible signs for every room
__ __ Visitor center
__ __ Attractive inside decor
__ __ Visitors packets distributed
__ __ Recognition of guests during services
__ __ Reception room
__ __ Three or more means of publicity
__ __ Five percent of budget for publicity
__ __ Members often invite others
__ __ Follow-up letter from pastor
__ __ Follow-up contact within 48 hours
__ __ Follow-up visit
__ __ Staff and membership are intentionally friendly
(The above material appeared in the June 1992 issue of the Advance Magazine.)
Christian Information Network