For those of us that work in the church world, for obvious reasons, don’t get to visit very many other churches, especially on a Sunday. Since November, I’ve had the unique privilege of visiting 10 local churches in our area and got to experience what it was like to be the “new person” visiting a church for the very first time. Much of what I learned surprised me.
- Visiting a new church can be a little nerve-wracking. You don’t know exactly where you’re going, how long it’s going to take to get there, or what you’re going to expect. You have to prep the entire family for “something new”…and everybody may not be on board. Don’t take your guests for granted. Just getting there can be an adventure.
- Make your church service times and address easy to find on your website. I was amazed how difficult something so basic was to find. For some, it was hidden in the “about us” section, for others, in a section cryptically titled “worship” or tucked away in a sub-menu. Put it on the homepage, above the fold, and make it obvious…something like “Service Times and Directions.”
- Ministry starts in the parking lot. While the first impression someone gets online is your website, the first impression someone gets in person is your parking lot. Nothing says we expect visitors like parking lot greeters. Someone who is easy to identify (colored vest, “ASK ME” tag or matching t-shirts), with a smile, pointing you in the right direction (or better yet, walking with you) can help make your first visit much more enjoyable.
- Directional signage can point the way. Clear signage is an easy way to help make sure your guests feel welcome. Where is the children’s check-in? Which way to the main sanctuary? Bathrooms? Coffee and Donuts? If you don’t have a place to put a sign, a friendly greeter, clearly identified and strategically placed can help.
- Be careful of “insider” language. While it may be true that the Bubble Bunnies are meeting in the Cat House and that Caleo has their Krave meeting tonight, as a new person I don’t know what you just said. Make sure you bulletin and announcements can be understood by someone who is new. Another issue I saw a lot was the person speaking didn’t introduce themselves or say what they did. I often left wondering “is that one of the pastors?”
- A friendly face is a welcome sight. Seeing someone you know, who warmly greets you, offers to sit with you and show you around, is a great blessing.
- Preaching still matters. Singing and teaching is still the central purpose of why Christians gather on a Sunday. I saw a wide variety of styles and approaches, from stained glass to fog machines. Some I liked, some I didn’t. A good communicator + meaty content is a harder to find than I would have imagined.
- Your church may not be a good fit for everyone. It’s easy to get in the mindset that “my church is the best” and someone is dumb for leaving to go to another church. There are a variety of reasons people pick one church over another…friends, musical preference, theology, location and more. Treat everyone like they are going stay forever but work and minister with the ones that you have.
- God is working in many places. It was encouraging to see fellow believers gather all around our city. I pray that God will preserve his church and that his people will grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus and be salt and light in a needy and dying world.
If it’s possible, I would highly encourage everyone, staff and lay people to intentionally visit a new church at least once a year. You’ll be reminded what it’s like to be a new person, you may pick-up some new ideas and you’ll see your church with fresh eyes.