Editor’s note: One of the purposes of Ministry is to provide practical instruction in pastoral and evangelistic ministry. This bi-monthly how-to page will seek to fulfill that purpose, providing effective and implementable strategies for pastors and other church leaders.
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If you survey churches and ask what their strengths are, almost every one would include “We are a friendly church.” However, when I surveyed some of the visitors who attend those same churches, I found the opposite perception.
People who attend church regularly look at the issue of friendliness from the inside out. From their perspective, they are experiencing a friendly atmosphere. Guests to a church view the issue of friendliness from the outside in for they may not know other people. If they have needs, they are rarely noticed or dealt with.
Many church growth studies have found a direct correlation between friendliness and potential growth. The friendlier a church, the greater its potential for growth. According to a Barna Research survey of people looking for a church, “More that 90 percent stated that friendliness is either extremely or somewhat important.”[i]
At the beginning, we should point out that all members are responsible for greeting visitors. And while that is true, what often happens? The greeting may never get done. Members find it easy to slip into the mentality that we are a friendly church and therefore visitors will be welcomed by someone else.
Here are several practical guidelines to build a friendly church from research that has made a difference in churches.
1. Give guests the best attitude.
Visitors to your church need to notice a prevailing friendly attitude. Most will make up their minds about your church within 30 seconds of entering the front door.
2. Give guests the best communication.
Whenever I visit other churches, I station myself in a busy part of the building to see how many people will speak to me. Many times, people will walk toward me, and then they will look away and ignore me. If this happens in your church, your guests will feel invisible. Teach your members that whenever they come within ten feet of a person, they need to say “Hi.”
3. Give guests the best service.
Recently I visited a church and, upon entering, a lady greeted me by asking “Hi! Is this your first time with us?” After I replied in a positive manner, she introduced herself, asked my name, and walked with me into the building.
At the welcome desk, she introduced me by name to the person at the desk who immediately offered help and gave me directions to important areas of the church, such as the restrooms and sanctuary.
If you want to be a friendly church, I suggest you follow these three principles:
- Approach new people promptly.
- Offer help and information.
- Introduce them by name to others.
4. Give guests the best welcome.
As I was visiting a church once, to my dismay the pastor asked all visitors to stand. Then he asked each of us to introduce ourselves. This act is embarrassing for most. Barna shows that 72 percent feel very uncomfortable being pointed out during church greeting time.[ii] To welcome guests from the pulpit can be a good thing, but be careful in how you recognize them. Whatever you do, take great pains not to embarrass the newcomer.
5. Give guests the best parking.
People often will drive around for several minutes to find a parking place closer to the entrance. If they do not find easy access, they will drive on by without stopping. If you want to be a friendly church, reserve approximately 5 percent of your parking places for guests as close to your main entrance as possible. Clearly mark them for first- and second-time guests.
6. Give guests the best seats.
People like to have a sense of openness; guests prefer the aisle seats and the seats in the rear of the sanctuary. But, most regular attenders like to sit there too. If you want to be a friendly church, reserve the aisle seats and the rear seats for guests.
7. Give guests the best time.
At the end of one church service, the pastor said to the audience, “Remember the five-minute rule.” I later found out that the people of that church had been instructed to speak to guests during the first five minutes following each worship service.
If you want to be a friendly church, I suggest you reserve the first five minutes following every worship service for your guests. How will guests who visit your church answer, “Is this church a friendly place?”