Giving Guests the VIP Treatment at Elevation Church

I ran across this post at www.timschraeder.com that I just have to share. Evidently, Tim showed up at Elevation Church, with Pastor Steven Furtick, and had an outstanding experience. He called it his ‘VIP Experience at Elevation Church’. I know Elevation boasts a huge staff, lots of money, and an amazing facility. So do a lot of mega-churches. However, what Elevation gave Tim was much more than a ‘big church experience’. They expressed a very high level of excellence, mixed with awesome systems and an intentional ‘guest friendly‘ culture.

You can do that at your church too. It may not look like, sound like, or smell like this; but I’m pretty sure it can feel like it. Take this article to your version of a ‘First Impressions Committee’ and hold a strategic session about what you can learn from it. Enjoy.

Guest Friendly Greeting

 

A while back I had the privilege of visiting New Testament Christian Church in Greece, NY. Among other things, I was impressed with how we were greeted. As we walked up to the front doors of the church a gentleman was waiting and opened the doors for us. Since we were carting the whole family in, that was helpful. As soon as we entered the lobby a very helpful greeter introduced herself and very quickly got us acclimated to the church. I received a welcome brochure, was asked to fill out a guest card and was quickly shown where Guest Services, the bathrooms and the children’s rooms were located. She was very friendly and comfortable talking with us. What a great way to enter a new church for the first time!

In his book, Fusion: Turning First-Time Guests into Fully-Engaged Members of your Church, Nelson Searcy shares four steps to greeting guests. I urge you to setup a meeting with your greeters/ushers this month and discuss how you are doing with each of these.

  • GREETED
    Obviously, your first step is to greet guests as they arrive. This means greeters will choose to focus on guests before attendees. Otherwise, your guests may very well ‘slip in’ unnoticed. It is very easy to greet guests. In fact, you can use the acronym “h.e.l.l.o” as a reminder.

H = say ‘Hello’ (give an authentic and verbal greeting)
E = engage in conversation (look them in the eye & refuse to be distracted)
L = listen (let them share who they are with you, listen, and remember)
L = listen some more (nearly everyone likes to talk about themselves)
O = offer assistance (note any way the guest(s) might need assistance and offer to help)

  • DIRECTED
    It doesn’t matter how many signs you have posted (and you better have visible signs posted), guests want to know where they are supposed to go and what they are supposed to do. Are they supposed to drop off kids first? Should they go to Guest Services now or later? Or is the sanctuary the next stop? Don’t assume anything. Better to give your guests a little too much information than not enough. Confusion creates anxiety and you don’t want anxious guests.
  • TREATED
    Your next step is to ensure guests are treated well. Ideally, you will give them a VIP experience without making them feel uncomfortable. Think about what you would do if a very important person were going to visit your home. What would you do to accommodate and take care of them as they arrive and during their visit? Could you give them a special gift or offer them something to drink? Might they want a breath mint just in case they forgot to brush their teeth before leaving the house? What else?
  • SEATED
    Finally, remember to help your guests to their seats. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to escort them. It does mean you ensure, in advance, that comfortable and appropriate seats will be available as they enter the sanctuary. By the way, appropriate seating does not mean the front row or front rows. Most guests will feel self-conscious enough that they will likely prefer a seat in the middle or closer to the back of the room. This is especially true if they have young children. In general, guests want to maintain a good degree of anonymity during the service – so don’t seat them somewhere that will obviously highlight them to the rest of the congregation.
To read more about the guest experience, I recommend you check out my Guest Friendly Series right here. I also suggest this article by Tim Schraeder outlining his experience visiting Elevation Church and this article by Casey Ross at a Northpoint Campus Church as he explores the question, ‘What Do Our Guests Want From Us?’.
 
 

Image © denlitya – Fotolia.com

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Ten Church Strategies: The Assimilation Strategy

 

Just an FYI – I didn’t make up that word: assimilation. It sounds very, well, official and businesslike (or Star Trekish – I notice we all leave the Borg’s tagline off: ‘Resistance is futile’. Wise.). That word does represent what we hope will happen to our guests. Dictionary.com defines the word ‘assimilate’ as follows: ‘to take in and incorporate as one’s own; absorb.’ This is what most church leaders desire regarding the guests who darken their door each week. We hope they will start coming to church, like it, and stay – eventually becoming members and leaders themselves.

In this installment of the ‘Ten Church Strategies‘ series I’ll talk about creating your Assimilation Strategy, or what I prefer to call your Guest Friendly Strategy. Check out more posts on Guest Friendly right here

Key Sub-Systems of The Assimilation Strategy:
Following are SIX key subsystems necessary for guest friendly assimilation at your church. These systems will intersect with many of the other ten systems, but most notably The Weekend Service Strategy, The Small Group Strategy, The Discipleship Strategy, and The Marketing Strategy.

  • Guest Friendly Campus System (Facilities & Grounds)
    First impressions matter. No matter how big or small your building and grounds, it’s critical that each area is built and maintained to serve both attendees and guests. This system will include outdoor signs, the cleanliness of the grounds, the parking lot and parking spaces for guests, your entry areas, interior signs, restrooms, sanctuary, and much more. (Check out ‘Guest Friendly Parking‘, ‘Guest Friendly Signage‘.)
  • Guest Friendly Host Services System
    I’ve heard it said that ‘people’s perception is their reality’. We create guest’s reality, whether it is true or not, by how well we host them. Unlike our regular attendees, who know what to do, where to go, and who to talk to, guests are mostly clueless. This system includes the development of all the people who will welcome and take care of guests, like ushers, greeters, and various kinds of hosts (cafe, parking, etc.). This system should also include all preparations surrounding the materials guests will receive when they arrive at church for the first time (welcome packet, gifts, new info. cards). (Check out ‘Guest Friendly Welcome‘.)
  • Guest Friendly Service System
    Next up is the guest friendly church service. This system actually fits almost entirely within The Weekend Service System, but is worth noting here for a few reasons. This system will focus primarily on the few small things that can be done in a service to ensure guests feel comfortable participating in the service. It may include things like reserved seats near the back, but more notably the language being used during the worship, announcements, offering, and message. Additionally, this system will help keep ‘insider‘ activities that would alienate or confuse a guest to a minimum. (Check out ‘Guest Friendly Perspective‘).
  • Guest Friendly Follow Up
    A successful Assimilation System should always include relevant and timely follow up. This may come in the form of phone calls, personal visits, letters, emails, Facebook or any number of other means. This system will help guests know they were noticed during the service and will welcome and encourage them to return again someday. (Check out ‘Guest Friendly Follow-Up’, ‘Guest Friendly Website‘.)
  • Guest Friendly Next Steps
    Probably one of the most important pieces of The Assimilation System will be the ‘Next Steps’ you create as a church to help move people from ‘guests’ to ‘regular attendees’ and eventually members. These systems will communicate next steps to your guests and will facilitate all of the follow up activities that you will ask guests to attend, view, or listen to. For many churches, the final assimilation ‘next step’ would be a membership class.
 

Note: Inspiration for the Ten Church Systems comes from Nelson Searcy and the Eight Systems of the Local Church he proposed in his free e-book entitled, ‘Healthy Systems, Healthy Church

Photo compliments of wragg on istockphoto.com

A Mystery Guest Report on Four Churches

 
What if I sent a special agent to your church to evaluate how you’re doing in that area? Hmmm. Interesting thought. I might have to explore that idea some more. Oh, wait. I don’t have to send a special agent. I just need to identify some guests who have already genuinely visited your Sunday service and ask them what their experience is like (or you could hire a Mystery Guest – read here to learn more).

 

Today’s post is just that. A friend recently moved away from our church and settled in a new location. Naturally, she and her husband did some ‘church shopping’ to see if they could find a church family that they could participate in. After several experiences my friend was perusing my blog and noticed the “Guest Friendly Series” I wrote. She decided to email me her feedback on some of her experiences and agreed to let me post them for your benefit as well.

Warning: these are real life reflections from a solid and mature believer who already has a heightened sense of what a ‘Guest Friendly‘ environment could look, sound, and feel like. I trust her input and feedback implicitly. Here’s what she experienced after visiting four churches. I wonder what her thoughts would be after visiting your Sunday service?

Let me just share a few thoughts I’ve had as I’ve been a guest at a number of churches since I’ve moved down here. I’ve often thought to myself, “If it’s this difficult for me and I’ve been in churches my whole life – I desire Christian fellowship and am actively looking for it – what’s the chance that someone without those things is going to successfully integrate into the church?”  

Church #1: 
A lot of the things you touched on {in your ‘Guest Friendly’ series}, even simple things such as posting signs, can make a real difference. For example, there was one church I visited and liked, so decided to try the adult Sunday School the next week. I arrived in the foyer at the time listed in the bulletin – but no one was around. Where were the classes held? Finally, a couple people walked by and I stopped them and asked. They said I could follow them, actually they turned out to be teachers, and it was a little complicated getting there. I would never have found it without asking. Of course, it would have been better if I hadn’t had to ask!
 

Church #2: 
When I read your example about people thoughtfully leaving the back row for newcomers, it reminded me of another interesting experience. I visited one church where there was a hallway outside and surrounding the sanctuary, with windows in the wall from the middle up looking in. There were some pews around the this hallway, and some others were sitting there, so it appeared to me to be an overflow space. The sanctuary looked pretty full, so I decided to sit in this space rather than try to find a seat inside. I sat near a doorway, and although two ushers kept the doorway filled, I could see and hear pretty well. To my surprise, when it was time for the sermon, the ushers closed the doors, with me sitting right there! I guess it was ‘time to shut the door’ and that’s what they were going to do! Now I couldn’t hear what was going on, so I had to either leave or open the closed door and find a seat in the sanctuary at this late point in the service. NOT guest-friendly! 🙂 But I’d made up my mind to visit this church, and I was going to do it! Non-guest-friendly, door-blocking sentinels…er, ushers…were not going to stop me! 🙂

The interesting thing about that church was that there were 3 services, 2 contemporary ones, and a more traditional one in between. It wasn’t really clear on the website, so that’s how I ended up at the traditional one first. I stayed for the other one as well. 

Church #3: 
I have another example that relates to the whole ‘Guest Friendly Perspective‘ you wrote about. At another church, they had a visitors’ center, so I stopped by to get information on the church. The lady I spoke with was nice, but essentially they didn’t have anything there for her to give anyone. She said she was subbing, but would have the secretary contact me. So I leave my contact information with her. I get an email from the secretary a day or two later. Basically it said, “Next time you come, ask for this information in the back of the sanctuary after church.” That was really discouraging. What if I wanted that information to help me decide if I wanted to come back? I wondered why I had to beg for this information!
 

Church #4: 
As you know, it’s really important for the church leadership to model and cast a vision for a guest-friendly culture in the church. If it’s not there, it’s not going to happen overnight. The church I’ve been visiting the past three weeks is by far the friendliest one I’ve visited so far. 
What has intrigued me is that the people in the pews are friendly; it’s not just coming from the pulpit. Each Sunday, the people in the row near me have smiled and welcomed me and not just during an official greeting time; when I first entered the row they gave me a warm greeting. This has happened 3 separate Sundays with 3 different people! The first week, the lady near me took the time to introduce me to several others in the church, and to take me out to the foyer for some “guest honey” that someone brings for visitors. Another time at a ladies’ event the group leader took the time to introduce me to others in the group as well. What a difference that makes! I saw several of those ladies at church this Sunday and it’s huge to have someone recognize you…. I’m not sure anyone has actively been teaching “guest friendly” here, evidently it’s just in their DNA.

I guess all I can say is that “guest-friendly” is a need! It’s also an important responsibility for the body of Christ.

Image source unknown.

Guest Friendly or Seeker Sensitive

 
 

It seems I’ve caused at least a minor stir among some of my readers regarding this past month’s “Guest Friendly” series. Evidently, some of you are getting the impression that I am actively promoting a particular model of church ministry labelled years ago by Bill Hybels as the ‘Seeker Sensitive Model’. I can understand how my most recent posts can come across that way.

I’d like to bring clarity to that question here. To be blunt, clear, and concise: I am not suggesting your church adopt a “seeker sensitive” approach to ministry. Let me explain.

SEEKER SENSITIVE: the seeker sensitive model which, until recently, was a key value at Willowcreek Community Church states that most aspects of the Sunday morning experience should be specifically catered to the unchurched or ‘seeker’. This means that the worship, announcements, special music and the preaching from the Word is primarily centered around the unbeliever.

GUEST FRIENDLY: In my ‘guest friendly’ series I have been talking a lot about how to host your guests. I introduced new language like “Insiders Looking Out”, “Outsiders Looking In”, etc. in my post about adopting a ‘Guest Friendly Perspective’. I’ve encouraged you to view the Sunday morning experience, your parking lot, even your website through the eyes of the guest. If you’d like to read through the entire series, you may click on this link.

Here’s the deal. I think it’s important that your church is guest-friendly. That means you are regularly thinking about your guests each week in some way. It means you don’t alienate them with your words or your attitude. It means you don’t drive them away simply because you WEREN’T thinking about them. Is that being ‘seeker-sensitive’? Technically, yes, but it is not a ‘Seeker-Sensitive Model’ of church ministry. It is simply common sense.

Let me say that again . . . being ‘Guest Friendly’ is simply common sense. If you want to experience growth and desire the unchurched to not only darken your door, but come back again, it is critical that you figure out how to care for your guests. The only reason that I can see for a church to specifically choose to NOT be guest friendly would be because they just don’t want new people at church.

Here’s the difference. In a Guest Friendly Church, your ministry will include and take into consideration the guests in your midst; but it won’t just focus on topics that are solely for the unbeliever. In a Guest Friendly Church, you will welcome guests, make them feel at home, and hopefully follow up with them; but you will also welcome your regular attendees, make them feel at home, and include them in every aspect of your Sunday experience. In a Guest Friendly Church, you may give some sort of evangelical call at the end of your message for those in the room who are ready to receive Christ’s amazing forgiveness; but it may come after a message that was on a totally different subject.

A Seeker Sensitive Church will eventually alienate your committed members and mature believers. It communicates that the newbies and the unchurched are more important than they are. None of us want that.    What we DO want is for our committed members and mature believers to receive powerful, spirit-filled ministry every single week, equipping them to become a light for Christ in their communities and workplaces. What we PRAY FOR is that, as the light of Christ is spread into our communities, the needy, broken, and curious will show up to church one Sunday to see what this ‘God thing’ is all about.

When that happens . . . will you be Guest Friendly?

Guest Friendly Signage

 

A couple years ago we were evaluating the signage inside our church building. Understand, the signs had been posted for about 8 years before I took a real hard look at them. I was embarrassed to discover that one of our signs pointed people AWAY from the gradeschool rooms rather than TO them. Ugh. I wonder how many people got confused about that one.

Despite this gross error, I can also say that we were still way ahead of the game compared to a lot of other churches. Many churches don’t even have signs. I guess they just assume people will figure out where to go, that they will ask someone, or perhaps that it should be obvious. Here’s a little hint for you – it’s not obvious. Another pointer – they don’t want to have to ask or try to figure it out themselves.

If you don’t have signs in your building, no matter how small your church facility, then I would like to propose that you may be suffering from an “Insiders Looking In” or “Insiders Looking Out” perspective – both of which are dangerous to your church’s health and growth potential. Check out “Guest Friendly Perspective” to learn more about those malady’s.

Here are a few simple pointers for church signage. Don’t worry, this isn’t rocket science.

OUTSIDE:

  • Clearly Post Your Church Name Outside
    Seems obvious, huh? Yes, it is, and I’ve driven by churches that weren’t clearly labelled. Oh, there usually is a sign of some sorts, but they are sometimes small, hard to read, or in an inconvenient location while driving by. Ideally, drivers will see your sign at least 5 seconds before they have to brake to turn into your driveway, especially if your church is on a busy road with speedy traffic.
  • Make It Look Nice.
    Besides being easy to read, it should also represent your values to your community (along with the rest of your building). The drive-by is a critical part of your testimony to the community. If you were an unchurched person or new to the community, would you think your church seemed like a welcoming place when you drive by? Believe it or not, people DO occasionally attend church ‘on the fly’ while they drive by on a Sunday morning.
  • Clearly Mark Driveways, Entrances, and Exits.
    Do you have more than one driveway? Make sure they are clearly marked as entrances (or exits) to the parking area. Is it unclear as to which doorway is the main door to your church lobby or foyer? Place a sign over the door. Assume nothing. Take an “Outsider Looking Out” perspective – check out the signs Walmart posts outside and inside their store to lead people to where they want to go. How might that apply to you?

INSIDE
  • Get Some Signs.
    I need to make this clear first. If you don’t have even a few signs in your building, arrange to get some. You may never notice them, but they will serve your guests very well.
  • Simple is Good.
    You may choose to get extremely creative with your signs – which is fine, but make sure the actual text and directional arrows are easy to read. In the case of signs, functionality is more important than creativity.
  • Don’t Hide Them.
    You’ll want your indoor signs to be placed on walls or areas that are high traffic. The temptation sometimes is to place them in odd areas in order to make room for other things on the walls. Be careful with that. Even though most of your attendees won’t need the signs after the first few visits, you still need to be ready to serve your guests well. What I have discovered is that hidden signs tend to, well, stay hidden.
  • State the Obvious.
    Another temptation is to not post what seems obvious to you. It may be obvious that the big wooden double doors lead into the sanctuary, but don’t assume it will be obvious for someone who has, perhaps, NEVER been in a church before.
  • Give Directions at the Main Entrance.
    It’s important that there are signs for all of the key areas of the church near the front entrance as people walk through those front doors. If a guest ever gets lost or confused, they will tend to make their way back to the entryway or lobby to get their bearings and figure out where to go next.
  • Lead People Through the Building.
    Ideally, you will have signs placed all throughout the building leading your guests to where they might want to go. For instance, if your cafe area is to the left, down the hall, to the right after the restrooms and then the second door down . . . you’ll want at least three signs. One pointing to the left from your foyer; one just after the restrooms pointing to the right; and one over the second door.
  • Post Destination Signs at Each Room.
    I recommend every door leading somewhere important have a sign associated with it. Again, most of your attendees won’t even notice or need the signs, but then again that’s not who they are for. This includes a sign over the sanctuary doors, the fellowship hall, the kids classrooms and most importantly, the restrooms.

Guest Friendly Welcome

Recently, my wife and I went out to eat together. With gift card in hand from a generous friend, we made our way to Applebee’s Restaurant. I can’t remember when we have ever had anything but a good experience at this restaurant. They do a great job of hosting their guests, from the parking lot, to the greeting at the door, to the food and all the way back out the door. I remember receiving food that was cold a long time ago. As soon as the waitress discovered what happened she leapt into action. The end result was a new plate of food, a coupon in hand, and a free meal. Instead of leaving frustrated, we left impressed.

I think the church can learn a lot from Applebee’s. We can learn a lot from many businesses and organizations who go the extra mile to care for and prefer their guests. I’m sure you can name a few as well.

How does the guest experience at your church compare? In particular, how welcome do your guests feel within 30 seconds of entering your building for the first time. How about the first 10 minutes? Do you tend to assume that they will feel comfortable and meet a friendly face simply because you do when you walk in every week? If so, then I recommend you check out the “Insider’s Looking Out” portion of this blog entry. The answer to these questions are critical to you and your church! If you would like a quick reminder as to ‘why’, please read Guest Friendly Philosophy. Let me say it another way: The guest’s first 10 minutes will play a huge role in whether they one day experience a God-sized transformation at your church.

What Not To Do:
Let me give you a few suggestions on what ‘not’ to do when guests attend your Sunday Service. Please note that my assumption is that many of your guests aren’t just people who grew up in the church since they were 6, but unchurched people (that is, they haven’t attended in years or ever).

  • Ignore Them.
    Seems sort of obvious, right? Yes, and it happens more than you realize. Most of your church attendees are in their own world on Sundays. They may be at church, but they are thinking mostly of themselves; not necessarily in a bad way, so much as in a distracted, non-focused way. They are looking to see if a friend has arrived, trying to get their kids taken care of, already engaged in conversation, or just trying to get to their seat. As a result, your guests could potentially arrive and be completely ignored simply because nobody is really thinking about them.
  • Assume They are First Time Guests.
    Depending on the size of your church, this could be a problem, especially if you tend to have a lot of guests each month, have experienced a lot of growth recently, or have a adult attendance of more than 100-150 per Sunday. We see someone we don’t know, walk up and shake their hand and ask, “Is this your first time here?” Unless this actually IS their first time here, you will have to backpedal. What if this is the 3rd time visiting? Maybe they showed up three months ago a couple of times and just came back today. Worse, what if they’ve been coming for several months off and on. I have known church leaders who asked that question, to discover the person had been attending for 3 years! Ouch. You just said, “You’ve never been here before and I’ve never noticed you, so that must mean you’re a newbie and need my help.” Much better to ask, “I’m not sure we’ve met before. How long have you been attending our church?”
  • Assume They Feel Comfortable.
    No matter how they appear outwardly, there is very likely some measure of anxiety internally. Some people will be visibly nervous while others may seem very comfortable. Either way, as a guest there will probably be anxiety. Will people judge me? Will they ask me personal questions? Are they going to embarrass me somehow? Am I dressed wrong? What should I expect? Your job is to help guests feel safe as soon as they walk through the doors and every minute after that.
  • Put Them on The Spot.
    Churches are notorious for this. I think we hope guests will feel special or somehow honored when we require them to wear name-tags, ask them to stand up and tell everyone their name or to raise their hands if they are new to the church. For most people, this alienates and embarrasses them. Your guest wants to come and experience the service without feeling obligated to commit themselves to your church and perhaps even God. Growing up I had to move around to different schools a lot. The worst day was always the first, when I would walk into the room and have to stand in front of a classroom of potential friends and enemies and pretend I was confident and glad to be there.
  • Assume They are Christians.
    I suspect this happens in some areas of the world than others – for instance, the Bible Belt. At any rate, often we will talk to our visitors as if they already know God. We’ll make Bible references, use christianeze talk, and look down on them when we discover they are ‘living in sin’. Leaders, greeters, ushers, church members should never make the mistake of making this assumption. Again, it smacks of an “Insider’s Looking Out” way of thinking.
  • Pressure Them to Come Back.
    Nobody wants to feel pressured or put on the spot – especially when it comes to new environments and spiritual things. I think it would send the wrong message to them if you asked them on their way out, “So will you be coming back next week?” That doesn’t mean you won’t follow up with them and encourage them to return! It just means you won’t put emotional pressure on them, making them feel guilty if they don’t commit to returning. (
    I will write about “Guest Friendly Follow Up” soon.)
I’ll assign some homework for you this week. You’ll like this one. Go on a date with your honey to Applebees, Olive Garden, or some other restaurant which you know does a good job of hosting their guests. Go ahead, it’s on me . . . well, not really. Ask yourself what you might consider doing different at your church based on that experience. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
  • Greet EVERYONE at the door with a warm smile and handshake, but give deference to guests when necessary.
  • Create a Guest Packet that you give to every guest. Include in the packet information about your church as well as something for free. A CD of a past message, a small book or a coupon to your local coffee shop.
  • When a guest has been identified, offer to show them around and help them get acclimated to your church environment. Perhaps even introduce them to a couple of people who might get along well with them.
  • Offer to sit with them or near them if possible. During the service, if they look confused or need help, do your best to take care of their needs without attracting attention to them.
  • Make a touch-point with them following the service. Let them know you are glad they came.
  • OK – I stated the obvious. What else comes to mind?

 

Guest Friendly Philosophy

Does it seem wrong and self-centered to you when people talk about attendance numbers at church? Do you feel like a hypocrite if you think to yourself that you’d like to see your church grow numerically? Is your perspective one that says, “As long as our people are maturing and growing in God, that is enough.”?

If your answer to any of those question is “yes”, then it’s quite possible that creating a ‘Guest Friendly’ environment at your church also seems like a waste of your time and energy. I would like to tackle a more philosophical aspect of church growth by, again, asking the question, “Why?” As leaders we need to have a firm and clear understanding why we do everything we do at our churches. This includes the topic I’m addressing this month – “Guest Friendly Churches”. Why does your church need to foster a ‘Guest Friendly‘ environment? Why is it important to have a guest friendly website? Why should you spend the extra money and time to invest in good advertising and guest follow up?

Why? Good question. Here’s the simple answer:

Because you have something (actually Someone) to give to others that can change their lives. 

That’s it. Question answered. You didn’t think it would be that simple, did you. It is.

The reason why we should desire to see new faces in our church, numbers increasing in the pews, and more and more guests attending and staying every week is because we believe in the mission of our church. We believe God is doing something special; that He is transforming lives. The thought of people driving by our church every Sunday who are missing out on the freedom, purpose, and life that we experience in Christ should be plenty motivation for us to find ways to draw them in. We shouldn’t want to keep for ourselves the knowledge that people are discovering God, getting set free from addictions, being reconciled in their relationships with their children or spouses, and perhaps experiencing the power of God in some unique way every week.

That’s exciting and it’s motivating. It’s also the primary motivation for ‘why’ people in your church will invite their family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors to church. However, this assumes a couple of things about the Sunday morning experience at your church:

  • People are experiencing transformation at your church. Obviously, if you don’t have something (or Someone) valuable to offer your community then it’s not only anticlimactic for them to come, it’s demotivating for them to want to seek God. The fact is that most of your first time guests are seeking God in some meaningful way – whether they are already believers or not. If they took the time to visit your church then the unspoken hope is that they will find Him there.
  • The Sunday morning experience is ‘Guest Friendly’.A while back I was placed in charge of watching two of our young children while my wife was away all day running errands. Sadly, I didn’t do a very good job of cleaning up after them. After about three hours the house was totally trashed. Later that afternoon I was talking to a good friend on the phone and the thought occurred to me, “Should I invite him to pop over to continue our discussion?” One look around the house was all I needed to answer that question. I had no desire to invite a guest into my home when it was such a big mess. The same will be true for your congregation. Many won’t invite others to church simply because they don’t believe the church experience is really ready for guests. It’s not ‘Guest Friendly‘.

Guest Friendly Perspective

Do you want guests at your church? Does your church have what it takes to reach them?  I’m sure the vast majority of churches in America want guests to darken their door. Most pastors and church leaders would be very happy if they saw a regular, even weekly, inflow of visitors sitting in their pews. There’s something exciting about knowing that your church just might be instrumental in touching someone’s elses life for eternity’s sake.

The problem is that many churches don’t understand that a “Guest Friendly” church requires a “Guest Friendly Perspective” from the pastors, elders, worship team, greeters, ushers, kids ministry workers, etc. A wrong mentality about guests will only drive and keep them away. Here are a few thoughts on the kinds of mindsets churches tend towards.

Insider Looking In
This is the worst possible mindset you and your congregation can have. It is the exclusivity that comes from a lot of people getting used to how things are and resisting any changes towards something different. The focus of the entire Sunday morning experience as well as most of the church programs is to serve the current congregation, specifically, the one that is and has been there for some time. Insiders looking in have a lot of sacred cows. Usually the pastor walks on egg-shells when certain topics are discussed. Oh, and the guests. When guests actually come to church they usually feel like outsiders interfering in a family affair and are very anxious for the service to end so they can make their getaway. If church growth happens at all, it will be primarily due to internal growth, not external. The families within the church get married and have kids or the in-laws move in town and start attending.

Insider Looking Out
Not quite as bad as ‘insiders looking in’, but still not desirable. Congregations with this mindset genuinely want to have guests and really hope to not only attract them, but find ways to help them become part of the family. The problem is that insiders looking out have a lot of preconceived notions and expectations of guests. They assume guests will understand and embrace the culture and people in the church. They reason to themselves, “After all, we like it here so others will to.” Insiders looking out expect guests to know what to do and what’s going on during the Sunday service. They assume they will go out of their way to greet people and ask questions if they have them. They expect them to be interested in church activities and upcoming events since they are interested in them. In short, this mindset assumes that guests will perceive the church similarly to how they perceive it. Guests at this kind of church will often meet one or two people who are genuinely glad they are visiting, but they will still feel like outsiders. Additionally, they will likely feel like they are stupid, unspiritual, or unfit for the church. After all, the unspoken expectations of those around them will be speaking loud and clear the whole time.

Outsider Looking In
Now we’re getting somewhere. Congregations who foster a perspective of an outsider looking in has taken the first and biggest step towards becoming a ‘guest friendly’ church. These churches are always viewing the church culture, environments, language, and activities through the eyes of new people and the unchurched. It’s not that they orient everything in the church just towards guests and it doesn’t mean they have committed to become what has been coined a “Seeker Sensitive” church. It’s just that they are considerate of people who have never been there before. They regularly evaluate the various aspects of the church experience based on what a guest would think or feel. Leaders with this mindset might send an email to the pastor during the week saying something like, “Pastor, I noticed this Sunday that when our guests arrived they had a hard time finding seats near the back. If they were me I would have felt a little uncomfortable coming in late and having to walk up the aisle to the middle section. What do you think about us asking our regular members to keep the back row free for guests?” Guests in this environment are going to genuinely feel comfortable and cared for. The likelihood that they return is much greater than the Insider perspectives. 

Outsider Looking Out
I think this is perhaps the hardest perspective for church leaders (myself included) to have. With this perspective, not only are congregations aware of how guests might view church as they arrive, similar to Outsiders Looking In, but they are also keenly aware of the actual culture their guests live in. They have become students of the towns, communities and people who surround the church. They have familiarized themselves with the social and economic statistics relevant to their area (which can be found for free at www.census.gov). They are constantly thinking about what it’s like to live in this world and in the communities around them. Outsiders looking out don’t separate their work, home, school, and neighborhood world from the church world. Rather, they find ways to draw the world into church by creating environments that are relevant, inspirational, and practically applicable to everyone. Guests are often drawn to these kinds of churches and tell their friends about them as well. They feel comfortable and are amazed that church can be so engaging and applicable to them. At the opposite end of the “Insider Looking In” kind of church, these visitors immediately feel accepted, empowered and equipped to seek and find God simply because most of the members of that church don’t have an “us/them” mentality – it’s just “us”. Churches with this mentality don’t compromise biblical values to create relevance, but they do intentionally choose to depart from the ‘norm’ of what a lot of church environments tend to be like. NOTE: usually churches of this nature will frustrate and drive away the “Insider Looking In” kind of people. More on that another day.

So how does your church measure up? How would you rate your church’s “Guest Friendly” culture based on these criteria? What ONE THING could you start doing THIS MONTH that would help foster a “Guest Friendly Perspective”?

Guest Friendly Series

 

Welcome to the “Guest Friendly” series. In this series I focused on the question, “How can we establish an environment at our church that guests feel comfortable attending and will leave wanting to return again?” Click on any of the links below to learn more:

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