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”?