Everyone likes to think, “Ours’s is a friendly church,” but is that the reception visitors receive? As members, when we pull into the parking lot, we see the cars of our friends and we can anticipate the warm welcome from people who love us. It keeps us coming back for more! But is that how others see us? Let’s walk in to our church with “new eyes” and look around.
Listening to the Building & Grounds
Grandma was right: “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.” Like it or not, the first thing people see is our parking lot and, if it is littered, pockmarked with potholes, and lacks any place for them to park, that all-important first impression isn’t going to be a good one. On the other hand, if there is a spot reserved near the door marked, “For Our Guests,” it shows somebody cares. If the lot is clean, well-lit, and bordered by flowers, I’m ready to learn more about these people.
At Grandma’s house, only salesmen and strangers come to the front door. Friends and family always came through the kitchen. Likewise, sometimes there is a difference between the front door of the church and the door the family uses. If that’s the case, we need to make sure someone is at the front door to welcome guests, or there should at least be a sign pointing to the “Friends and Family” entrance.
The Entrance Exam
Almost before he asked me for my name, he began a theological inquisition. Was I a member of the “Lord’s Church”? What did I believe about the Holy Spirit and Pre-millennialism? He was a “gatekeeper.” A sweet-faced, white-haired lady met me with a smile, but then began gathering grist for the gossip mill. She was a “busybody.” Unfortunately, sometimes visitors are subjected to an entrance exam.
A smiling face and a warm greeting the moment I walk through the door says, “We’re happy you’re here!” The second step is just as important. Do we introduce ourselves and ask anything at all about our new friends? About their family, work, where they live – the questions we would ask a new friend?
And don’t forget to introduce your new friend to another member. Don’t just shake their hand and leave them standing to navigate their way alone. Show them to class or invite them to sit with you during worship.
“You’re sitting in my spot”
Ouch! Sister Smith had been sitting in the same spot on the same pew forever. Brother Jones had staked out the seat next to the isle from the day the building was erected. Before I could warn our guest of the sin they were about to commit by sitting in the sacred space, Brother Jones or Sister Smith rudely booted them out – and they will never come back. If you are going to become permanently attached to a sacred space, at least have a plaque made to warn people.
“Where is everybody?”
Once, Jan and I went to visit a congregation. We checked their website first and they advertised a coffee hour thirty minutes before Bible Class. That sounded so friendly, but when we arrived, we walked into the foyer and no one was there. We walked into the auditorium and no one was there. We scratched our heads and then heard voices down a flight of stairs, so we followed the sound and found the Fellowship Hall. When we walked in, everyone stopped talking and just stared at us. There was a coffee pot and the remains of a tray of donuts off to one side. No one said a word. No one got up to greet us or invite us to sit with them. I’m not shy so I walked over to a table full of men and introduced myself. They shared their names, but nothing else. It was like I had walked into a conversation I wasn’t supposed to hear. Jan looked around wondering where the children were. It took us visiting for three weeks before we discovered what a warm and friendly congregation they really were, but I wonder if anyone else would give them a second chance.
How hard would it have been to at least put a sign in the foyer or on the doors directing us to the coffee hour? If this was a friendly church, why didn’t someone get up and prove it?
Don’t Forget the Kids
My children are precious and so are yours! If Bible School is important, then the classrooms should be clean and well lit. As a parent, I want to know my children will be safe. Who is the teacher and how will my children be protected?
We were so impressed by one congregation. Not only were the classrooms inviting, but there were pictures of the teacher and her aide posted on the door. When parents dropped their infants off at the nursery, they were given a pager in case there was a problem. The new parents could worship with peace of mind knowing that if there was an issue, they would be contacted.
I love “Family Friendly” worship where the children are considered a part of the congregation too. The worship leader always has at least one song for them and the preacher begins his sermon with a story and a lesson for the children. One congregation Jan and I visited began the worship by inviting the children to bring their contribution to the front, file past a giant water bottle and drop their coins in. As the kids rushed to the front, they were often given extra coins to contribute. Everyone loved it! By the way, the children decided how their collection would be used. It might go for a school lunch program to help feed hungry kids. It could be used to drill a well in a poor country so those children would have safe water to drink. It had even been used to build the playground at church. The important thing was the children were included.
Put Out the Welcome Mat!
Over and over I’ve heard churches complaining they aren’t growing and I wonder sometimes if we aren’t our own worst enemy. Here are some more suggestions and questions:
- Do we send our visitors a personalized follow-up letter and call telling them how happy we were to meet them?
- Is there any information available in the foyer about our congregation, our history, and the services we provide?
- Are parents told about Bible School, Children’s Worship, or the Nursery facilities?
- Are guests invited to join in with activities, service projects, or even just asked to sit with them during services?
- Does anyone ever invite the guests to lunch after services or to coffee later during the week?
Perhaps the solution is as simple as the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”