September is quickly approaching.
School will be starting soon, and people will be returning to old rhythms of life following the summer season.
This means more families will likely be visiting your church again.
Many people have used the COVID season as a reason to break up with their church.
Some of these people haven’t returned to church and sadly won’t, at least not for a while.
Others will be coming to your church this September and October because they are looking for a new Jesus community to call home.
Here’s the question: When guests come to your church this fall, will they stick around?
Let’s discuss three reasons they may not.
1.) There Wasn’t Space for Me
Here’s the scenario: You’re out on a date with your significant other.
You pull into the restaurant parking lot, and after circling the lot twice, you can’t find an open parking spot.
In fact, there are cars parked in the grass. One desperate soul has even parked in front of the dumpster.
What do you do at that moment? You probably decide, “There’s no room for us.”
Then, you drive away to look for a place that’s less busy because you don’t feel like waiting in line for two hours.
When guests show up to your church this fall, there has to be room for them.
If there isn’t, they won’t stick around.
Three areas to pay special attention to:
If there is no place to park, they’ll likely drive away.
If there isn’t a spot for their kids in your children’s ministry, at best, they may give your church one more chance.
If there isn’t a seat for them in your auditorium, they probably won’t come back.
Of course, the challenge this fall is predicting how many people will show up.
While most of us are unsure about that, my advice is this: Be Ready. Be ready to adjust quickly. Have backup plans. Train volunteers to focus on accommodating guests.
If there isn’t space for your guests, they won’t stick around.
2.) I Felt Unwanted
Remember middle school? (Some of you may have just broken out in hives thinking about it. Sorry!)
Remember carrying your lunch tray and scanning the room, looking for a place to sit?
In the early days of every school year, before connections are made and patterns are set, the cafeteria is a scary place!
You end up setting your tray down at a table with people you don’t normally sit with.
As you sit down, no one looks at you. No one smiles. No one talks to you.
What are the chances you will sit there tomorrow? ZERO!
You clearly weren’t wanted.
When’s the last time you visited a new church?
It doesn’t feel that different from the school cafeteria.
If you aren’t greeted with a smile…if no one says hello…if no one makes eye contact…it can feel awful!
Why is it such a bad experience?
You feel unwanted. And, when you feel unwanted, you won’t come back.
So, is your church intentionally warm?
Is your hospitality team trained to make eye contact, smile, and say “hello?”
A few years ago, our church implemented the 5-15 rule with our staff and volunteers.
When someone is within 15 feet of you, make eye contact and smile.
If they are within 5 feet of you, say “hello.”
Maybe this simple practice could help make your church feel warmer—like you want guests to be there.
Training your volunteers, staff, and really anyone to do this can make a huge difference because when a guest feels wanted, it can be the deciding factor on whether or not they return.
3.) I Felt Like an Outsider
You’re at a wedding reception.
You’re out on the dance floor having a good time, and then a song starts that has specific dance steps.
Everyone around you forms a line and starts into this choreographed sequence.
You don’t know the moves. What do you do? You go find the cake.
Why? Because you feel like an outsider.
You don’t know the inside info, and we all hate that feeling so, as fast as we can, we run to where we feel comfortable.
Here are a few important questions: What do you do as a church that makes people feel like an outsider? What are the moments where a new person will feel like they don’t belong?
These are important questions because if your guests feel like outsiders, they likely won’t return.
Let me address an objection you may be feeling. “So, we’re supposed to become seeker sensitive? What about communion? Baptism? Liturgical elements? These moments require some insider info.”
Of course, keep including these things in your services.
What I’m saying is as you do them, help the outsider feel like an insider.
What if you offered a quick explanation for elements of your service that might be confusing for a visitor?
- “As we take communion today, if you’re new with us, you might be thinking, ‘Is this for me? Let me take a second to explain what we believe about communion…”
- “Today, we get to witness a baptism. If you’re new, let me briefly share what baptism is…”
Orienting language can help the outsider feel more like an insider.
Identifying these moments and speaking into them can help a guest feel like they are welcome and belong.
Will your guests stick around your church this fall?
I think that depends. Will there be room? Will they feel wanted and like they belong?
Here’s an idea for an action step to help you evaluate whether or not your church is ready.
Invite a few people to visit your church who aren’t part of your church—the more unchurched the better.
Offer them a gift card in exchange for feedback on the experience.
Listen carefully to the perspective of an outsider and adjust your language, training, and experience to become a more hospitable church.