For the first time in our lives, Sherry and I have the freedom to choose what church we attend. When we lived at home, our parents chose for us, and after we got married, we always attended the church I (and sometimes she) worked at. But now we are free to visit any church we want, so over the past couple of months, we have visited nine different churches.
In most cases, we have gone as anonymous visitors, and it has been an eye-opening experience. We have been surprised how difficult it is to fit in and connect at a new church. (If you know we attended your church recently, I’m obviously talking about one of the other eight.)
So this week, I thought I’d share some tips on how to attract, connect and retain new attendees: Five Simple Ways to Make Your Church Stickier. None of these ideas are new or revolutionary, but I bet you think your church is a LOT better at each one than you really are. Trust me on this; they’re not.
Let’s dive in with Simple Way One:
1. Make your church friendlier.
I’m sure you assume your church gets a pass on this one; your church is one of the friendliest churches on the planet. When you walk in, everyone says hi, you have a built in greeting time in your service when all the new people feel welcomed, and after church, people hang around forever laughing and connecting. You’ve got the friendly thing down.
Let me give you an outsider’s perspective on the friendliness of your church. When I arrive, one or two assigned people with big nametags smile and say hi. (At some churches, the assigned greeters are either engaged in conversation with someone else, grunt hello or just frown and hand me a bulletin.) Once I navigate past people in the lobby talking to people they already know, I am placed in an isolation bubble called the auditorium.
I sit with people who don’t acknowledge my presence in any way until the forced greeting time. “Turn and greet your neighbor before you sit down.” At most, someone might crack a half smile, give their name and shake my hand. Normally, I get a grimaced look, a quick handshake and a short, “Hi.” I don’t realize it at the time, but that is the last time anyone will make any contact with me at your church.
After service, I again have to navigate the lobby where people who already know each other have exclusive parties with other people who already know each other. Sometimes, I stand in the lobby looking bewildered and feeling as out of place as a bikini in a Denver snowstorm, but no one sees me.
Finally, I find my way back to the car feeling more alone than I did when I arrived. And in case you think it’s because I’m an introvert, my extroverted wife feels the same. Feeling alone and disconnected is the one experience we’ve had at almost every church we’ve attended.
So how do you make your church friendlier? Here are a couple of ideas (most of these I stole from others):
Teach on hospitality.
Take a weekend (or a month) and teach your congregation how to be hospitable at church, in the workplace and at home. Hospitality has always been a hallmark of Christianity, so we need to teach on it.
Create a “gorilla greeter” team.
Get as many people as possible to be gorilla greeters. Their job is to make sure they talk only to people they don’t know for the first ten minutes after they arrive and for the first ten minutes after the service is over. They don’t need lanyards or nametags (in fact, that would defeat the purpose). Their job is to find people who seem disconnected and figure out how to connect them.
Adopt a “neighborhood.”
Divide your auditorium into sections and get leaders to adopt a section as their neighborhood. They commit to attend the same service each week, sit in their neighborhood, and watch for new people who sit in the section. They become the small group leader of that section.
Give the greeting time a purpose or kill it.
Find a way to make the greeting time in your service purposeful. Why are you doing this? How can you make it more effective? Is it accomplishing the purpose you designed it for?
How has your church worked on friendliness? What has worked and not worked?