When Friendly Isn’t Enough

This is a Guest Post by John Walker, one of the authors in the book, Finding Church. Previous posts by John include Should I Go to Church, I Don’t Understand Church, and I Choose Friendly. John and his wife are retired and enjoy gardening, walking their dogs, and cooking.

If you would like to write a guest post for this blog, check out the guidelines here.

Is your church friendly? Is every visitor greeted when they arrive, during the service and after the service? Does the pastor send them a letter telling them how happy he is that they visited the church?

Yet, in spite of doing these things, have you noticed that most visitors never come more than two or three times? Some come only once. Apparently they don’t want to make your church their church.

Several churches in the area where I live have grappled with this situation. Since they were sure they were friendly to their visitors, they decided that they must need to make some changes in order to attract and keep new people.

One church decided to build a new facility on the busiest corner in town. But the church did not grow. Another church hired a full-time minister of visitation. But again, they did not grow. Another church hired a full time youth pastor. But they too did not grow. Actually, the congregation slowly declined in size.


Becoming Part of the Church

Where did these churches go wrong? They assumed that people were looking for new buildings in good locations, staffed with lots of people. But they overlooked what is often the number one reason that churches do not grow. They failed to make their visitors and new people a part of the church. Allow me to explain what I mean.

After the friendly welcome they received the first time they visited and the customary follow-up letter from the pastor, returning visitors were often on their own. A few people might shake their hands and greet them, but usually newcomers were themselves responsible for getting to know other people in the church and for finding out what the church might have to offer them.

Intentionally Implement a Plan

All of these churches, however, were able to turn the situation around, and now are growing. They learned to make their visitors a part of the church, staring on their very first Sunday. How did they do it? They intentionally implemented a plan. To help us understand their plan, let’s follow a fictional family, Bill and Susan Scott and their daughter Kathy when they visit one of those churches.

When the Scotts arrive, two greeters meet them at the door, ask them to fill out a card with their names, address and phone number, and talk with them briefly to learn a little about them. The greeters then introduce them to a couple of families in the church who share some common interests and who the greeters know will spend some time getting to know them.

Pastor Tom Smith and several other people also greet the Scotts before and after the service. They make it a priority to talk to the Scotts before talking to their friends and before taking care of “church business.” The church follows Pastor Tom’s example. Pastor Tom believes that the most important people to talk to on Sunday morning are the visitors and the new people.

Getting To Know You

Pastor Tom believes that God sends visitors to the church, but expects the church to get to know them and make them feel welcome. Most visitors want the people in the church they are visiting to reach out to them. Very few visitors will reach out to the people they are visiting.

Karen Allen, the church’s visitor coordinator, arranges for a personal contact with the Scotts the week after they visit. Karen has discovered that a personal visit to each visitor’s home usually works best. The people who make the visits decide if they will drop by the homes unannounced or if they will call ahead to let the people know they will be dropping off cookies or muffins.

Karen always arranges for a contact to be made with each visitor before the following Sunday. Karen has found that Monday evenings or late Saturday afternoon usually work best.

Karen asks the Drapers, who met the Scotts on Sunday, to call on the Scotts. The Drapers are about the same age as the Scotts and have children who are about the same age as the Scotts’ daughter Kathy.

The Drapers make a brief but friendly call on the Scotts. They hand the Scotts a plate of cookies at their front door, tell them that they are glad they visited, and that they hope to see them again. They chat briefly with the Scotts, but do not go into the house.

Getting To Know All About You

Before the following Sunday Karen talks to several people in the church who she feels have similar interests with the Scotts. She tells those people a few things about the Scotts. Those people, as well as the people who met the Scotts on their first visit, greet the Scotts on their second visit and briefly try to get to know them.

Before the Scotts end their second visit, the people they talk to introduce them to Donna Hardwick, a children’s program leader, and to Frank Chavez, who plays on the church’s baseball team. Bill Scott loves to play baseball, which he mentioned to one of the people who talked to him.

After the Scotts second visit, Karen encourages the Greens and the Samuels to get to know them better. The Greens invite the Scotts to join them for lunch the following weekend and the Samuels invite Kathy Scott to a community theater production the Samuels family is planning to attend.

One of the families in the church, the Millers, have dinners, barbecues and other food-related activities in their home every two or three months to which they invite everyone who has recently visited the church. The pastor or another staff person always attends, as well as several additional friendly, positive people from the church who share some interests with the new people and who also are involved with ministries in the church that might interest the new people.

The staff and other people from the church understand the nature of these events, and make sure they talk to all of the new people who attend. When the Millers invite the Scotts to one of their barbecues, the Scotts will meet people who will often become their friends. These events are the single greatest church builder the Millers have discovered.

Join Us

After the Scotts visit the church several times, they are asked to take cookies to a children’s activity their daughter Kathy will be attending. Later, Donna Hardwick asks them if they would be interested in helping out with a children’s class once a month. They’re interested. Now they are beginning to feel that they are not only an accepted part of the church, but also that they are contributing to the church, which makes them feel even more that they are part of the group.

Pastor Tom and his congregation have not forgotten about the Scotts now that they are part of the church. They continue to help the Scotts build relationships within the church, and help them find places to be involved.

This story about the fictional Scott family might give the impression that this “method” will increase the numbers of people in our churches. It can and often does. However, this method works not only to keep our visitors, but also is part of living in the Kingdom, part of getting to know, love and become involved with the lives of others.

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