The 10 Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Guests
The research and the post got me in trouble five years ago.
So, why am I re-visiting this issue?
Over the past few weeks, I have been involved in micro consultations. We bring ten pastors together for one and one-half days of intensive training and practical planning. With four of these micros completed with forty pastors, I still hear how important this issue is.
We want people to visit our churches. We want them to return so they can have multiple opportunities to hear the gospel and connect with believers. But many do not return. Why? In a social media poll, I heard from over 1,000 persons sharing their experiences of being “one and done.” They visited a church one time but did not return. Five years ago, these were their top reasons. Not much has changed in their responses today.
1. Having a stand up and greet one another time in the worship service. Those who want to debate this issue are longer-term members in the church. They are split almost evenly on their preference. But, among first time guests, the response is an overwhelming 90 percent negative. The stand-and-greet time is for half your members and almost none of your guests.
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 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. Since I posted this information five years ago, the safety issue has come to the forefront.
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. Almost all of the church guests went to the church’s 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 church’s website are street 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 anymore. But guests do. And they are frustrated when it’s not there. By the way, if you have prohibitive signage (“Do not bring food or drinks in the sanctuary!”), your church is perceived to be unfriendly.
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. Since I did his survey five years ago, I have more stories about it. The stories are not apocryphal.
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.”
These ten issues persist in too many churches today. Do we really want guests to visit and return? Countless churches are saying “no” with these ten problems.
Let me hear from you.
This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on October 14. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.
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