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8 Reasons Why People Aren’t Coming Back — from a Secret Shopper

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

As a secret shopper or mystery worshiper in churches around the country, I’ve found there are some reasons that I will say I would not come back to church for a second visit, and some may be news to you. Whether I’m working with a church plant of 60 people or a megachurch of over 15,000, some things are universal and should be present regardless of church size.

Why Not Come Back to Church?

Throughout this post, we’ll look at actions and areas every church needs to address in order for people to come back to church.

1. The Front Door

Before a guest ever steps foot on your church’s physical campus, he or she has probably already checked out your church website.

What every church should have clearly visible on their homepage is a section or button for first-time guests. Once clicked on, this should take you to a page that addresses FAQs, service times, directions, parking instructions (is there a side of the building that is better to park on if one has kids?), what to expect (upbeat music and relevant, practical, biblical preaching in a come as you are atmosphere, etc.), what to wear (are jeans OK? are shorts OK?), and encouragement for them to be sure to stop by Guest Central or your church’s Information Booth to pick up a first-time guest packet.

2. What Stinks?

It’s important that no church ever underestimates the sense of smell. While sight is the strongest sense for short-term memory, the sense of smell is the strongest and most vivid for long-term memories.

If you’ve ever smelled something and had memories you hadn’t thought of in years come flooding back, that’s your sense of smell in action.

Every church has the potential for positive or negative smells. Mold is a bad smell. Coffee is a good smell. Bleach is a bad smell. Citrus is a good smell. Many churches have restrooms that are disgusting and smell bad. This lack of attention to detail can be costly and discourage many from ever deciding to come back to church.

As best you can, try to walk into the lobby or entrance of your church with a new nose.

3. Park Here

One of Tim Stevens’ three “growth lids” that he thinks every growing church should have is someone who is constantly watching is parking.

Tim says, “This is why Visitor Parking is so crucial. If it’s difficult for newcomers to go to your church, they won’t go.” Some would argue that guests want to remain anonymous and don’t want special parking.

Of course, some want to go unnoticed and will choose to park in regular parking (a minority), but for the rest of newcomers, they are appreciative of a close parking space; it’s a kind gesture in an already intimidating and nerve-racking experience of attending a church for the first time, especially a large one with a huge campus.

4. This Way, Parents

One way to assure guests will not come back to church is to have a confusing, long or hard to find process for getting their kids registered and in the right classroom. Wise churches have signs for first-time guest kids’ check-in and make the process quick and painless.