What do church guests need when the come to your church?
When you think about it from a broader, cultural context, it’s sort of an unusual behavior. Especially when it seems like the new studies on church attendance that come out every week all point to the national decline in church attendance.
Still, in spite of the statistics, I have regular conversations with church leaders who see new first-time guests every week. In fact, I hear from church leaders on a regular basis that they’re consistently seeing unchurched people come to church for the very first time or returning to church for the first time in decades.
In an age when attending church is becoming a fringe behavior in our culture, why do people decide to attend?
A recent Pew Forum research study explored the reasons why people attend church on a regular basis. [ref] The results also provide some insight into why guests come to your church. It’s important for us to understand these internal motivations so we can design experiences that will ultimately connect with the broader culture. If you’re a church leader who’s investing time in reading this article, then I imagine you want to see the message of Jesus impact your community.
While we don’t necessarily want to build a ministry program solely based on the reasons that people visit churches, we do need to be aware of those motivations as we design the experiences our churches provide. Here are five needs that people are attempting to meet when they come to your church:
Church guests need to explore their faith.
It might seem obvious, but when people arrive at your church, they are there because of spiritual questions.
There can be a cheap “straw man argument” that some churches attempt to scratch people’s ears by simply offering pop psychology or hosting some kind of Tony-Robbins-like motivational talk to get people to attend. However, we’re finding that this is just not the case when you actually listen to what growing churches talk about on any given weekend.
It goes without saying that people come to your church because they want to grow in their faith; the important nuance to remember is that they’re arriving with questions about their faith. For some reason, there’s something about what you do at your church that they want to understand and possibly connect with. First-time guests want to learn how your community and your approach might connect with what they believe. They’re wondering if the experience of coming to your church can help them grow. There’s a lot of evidence to show that at the core of growing, thriving churches is teaching that does two things:
- Connects with Scripture // In a related study, Gallup found that the kind of teaching people look for in church is teaching related to Scripture. People are looking for a transcendent connection to an ancient text. [ref]
- Teaching that’s relevant to their life // People are asking, “How do I apply this lesson to my life on Monday morning?” They aren’t looking to acquire trivia or learn how to say fancy Greek words—they want to know what difference the text will make in their lives as they go about daily life.
Church guests need to raise their kids.
Raising children is one of the most universal human experiences.
In fact, 89 percent of all adults will be a parent at some point in their lives. [ref] It’s one of the most common yet difficult life experiences that humans wrestle with. It turns out that a part of the reason why people come to church is because they look at the children they have been charged with raising, wonder what it takes to raise a well-rounded adult, and come to an instinctive conclusion that faith is a part of the equation.
Thriving and impactful churches that understand this implicit human need should go out of their way not just to provide a children’s ministry but also to equip those that raise children. One of the simplest ways that most churches could connect with the needs of their community is by doubling down on their investment in the next generation.