WHY SHOULD WE COME TO YOUR CHURCH
BY ROBERT C. SCREEN
Our family has moved twice in the past year. Both moves were to areas where we were not familiar with local churches. Since we have always been active in church, we were eager to find a new church home; a place where we would quickly fit in, find our needs met, and find opportunities to serve. It turned out to be a much more difficult task than we had expected. Most of the churches we visited were just not set up to accommodate or effectively respond to visitors. Several times the simple logistical problems of finding the church, arriving at the proper time, or finding a parking space kept us from participating at all.
Based on our own family’s experience, I would like to offer some first person suggestions which might be useful as you consider how to attract new people in the community to your church, and have them return again and again.
First, examine your attitude toward visitors. Do you really believe that visitors will find your church a pleasant and meaningful
place to worship? We were surprised at times to sense that the pastor and even church members seemed to say, “We don’t feel you will like it here enough to return.” Another attitude we found was, “We are not interested in growing . . . we like things the way they are.” A contagious attitude that conveys positive expectation to visitors will go a long way to making a good first impression.
Second, consider the needs of new people in your community. I believe our needs were typical:
Our children were eager to make new friends.
My wife and I were eager to meet new friends, begin building meaningful relationships and establish our roots.
We wanted our children to have a positive environment for personal growth.
We wanted to worship God in a meaningful, spiritually nourishing way.
We were eager to get involved in a class or small group.
There were other practical needs that we had as well . . . some of them could have been easily met by a church that was determined to help and reach newcomers.
We needed to know the good doctors and dentists.
We needed to know of sports and recreation programs for children.
We needed baby-sitters.
We needed to know good local service people and establishments.Third, determine how you can respond to the needs of newcomers and other visitors who are interested in your church. If I were a pastor, I would do the following things based on my own family’s experience in trying to find a new church home. Unfortunately, most of them never happened to us . . .
1. Make it as easy as possible to learn of the existence of the church and how to find the church.
List the church name, address, easy-to-follow driving instructions, where to park, phone number, service schedule and major
activities for all ages in the Yellow Pages, in the local newspaper each week, in any local directories, and in Welcome Wagon.
Have a 24-hour recorded message on the main church phone number that is heard whenever the office is closed. The message should tell who to contact in an emergency (perhaps a different staff or lay person for each day of the week), the times of worship services on the coming Sunday, driving instructions (and public transportation instructions if available), where to park, special activities for the coming Sunday, and when the office will reopen. Mention the availability of the 24-hour recorded message about church activities in all advertising.Be sure there is a tastefully designed sign with the church’s name easily visible from a car passing in any direction.
Post a complete, accurate, up-to-date schedule of services prominently so anyone entering the church from street or parking lot
could easily see.
Have signs indicating entrances to sanctuary, classes, and church office.
2. Make the visitors feel welcome and at ease as quickly as possible after they arrive.
Have someone at the entrance area of the sanctuary whose only task is to be alert for visitors. Special concerns of visitors include:
where to sit, location of classes for children, where to meet children after service, what special activities are available for visitors, and an explanation in advance of any unique characteristics of the worship service with which a visitor might not be familiar.
If possible, escort visitors to a seat and introduce them to someone sitting next to them or nearby before the service begins.
3. Make it as easy as possible for visitors to make it known if they are interested in the church and its activities.
In the pew put a registration form that has space for name, address, names of all family members, ages of children, comments, and the best time to phone the home.
Have a specific action the visitors can take immediately after the service to make themselves known. This should be mentioned in both the order of worship and from the pulpit. It might be as simple as meeting the pastor or another designated person at a specified location, or a visitors’ information table at a key spot outside the sanctuary. People chosen for these responsibilities should be warm and personable, sincerely interested in helping, and thoroughly familiar with the church and all activities.
4. Provide all visitors with a complete, attractive, up-to-date printed description of the total church program. This should include an introductory comment and welcome, a comment about the distinctives of the church’s beliefs and commitments, times and locations of all activities for all ages and groups, phone numbers of whom to contact for more information about each activity, and a list (and photos if possible) of all staff members, their responsibilities and how to contact them. These should be available at each entrance to the sanctuary, visitors’ information table. and church office.
5. Contact each visitor or family within 48 hours after they visit the church.
Send a personal letter from the pastor thanking them for coming and expressing the interest of the church for the person/family and their needs and the church’s desire to be of help and service in any way possible. The attitude of the letter should be “we are here to help and serve you.” It should not be “we hope you will join us.”
Place a phone call from pastor, staff member, or lay person within 48 hours to welcome them to the church and to look for ways to be of service, especially relating the church program to the needs and interests of the visitors. Typical tasks might be helping to get children involved in appropriate activities for their age or interest group. An offer to pick up and take the family or children to an activity by someone already in the group is especially appropriate. Any question that is not answered immediately should be followed up with another phone call by Friday of the same week.
6. Take the initiative to follow up every visitor until they indicate they are not interested, or until they are active in at least
one activity on a regular basis and invited to attend a new members orientation class.
The person designated for this responsibility could be a staff person or a lay person of the same age or with the same interests as
the visitor. The introduction could be made by the person making the first phone call.
In all of our efforts to find a new church home, we did not visit one church where all of the above suggestions were applied. In some cases, we did receive a standard form letter welcome, usually about three weeks later. At one church we were immediately placed on the mailing list and received three letters asking for a pledge commitment.
(You should make it very easy to request adding a name to the mailing list, then add names only on request. A special “new friends” category on your list will prevent asking visitors for pledge commitments.)
We have now decided to attend a church that we couldn’t even find the first time we tried (we came within 50 yards). But an acquaintance encouraged us to try again, and told us where to find the church.
We were rewarded with a carefully prepared worship service, good music, a well prepared and delivered sermon that spoke to our hearts from the Word of God. and the sincere welcome of a few of the members.
There has been no follow-up of any kind, but gradually we are discovering how each member of our family can find his or her place in the new congregation. Who knows, maybe someday there will be a new members class. It’s now been four months.