In my post last Saturday, I noted five aspects of churches most frequently mentioned by first-time guests. The five I discussed were limited to the physical facilities of the church. In this article, I look at four key areas other than physical facilities mentioned by guests. Though I cannot prove it objectively, the intensity of guests’ comments about these other areas tells me that they are more important than those related to physical facilities.
Four areas stood out in the responses of first-time guests. They are listed here in order of frequency of response.
Genuine Friendliness of Church Members
One of the more artificial moments in most churches is a time when the pastor or other church leader tells everyone in the worship service to stand and greet one another. All of the sudden doleful faces are transformed into a brief burst of plastic smiles and awkward greetings. Guests see right through this charade. They know that these moments of friendliness are not genuine if the members were not greeting guests and saying words of welcome before the pastor told them they had to do so.
Guests in your church are observing intuitively how friendly members are well before an official and perfunctory time of greeting takes place. Did someone speak to the guests as they walked into the church? Did someone offer to give a guest direction if he or she seemed to be looking for something? Did members break out of their holy huddles to speak to someone they didn’t know?
Guests undoubtedly have their preferences regarding worship and music styles. But that’s not their focus when they visited churches. They told us about their perceptions if the members were truly in a spirit of worship. They could recognize immediately if the members were just going through the motions of a routine order of worship. They could tell if their hearts and minds were truly engaged in the music and the preaching of the Word.
Guests are likely to return if members are really worshipping the one true God. And they can distinguish true worship from perfunctory participation.
Humility and Transparency of the Pastor
In other works, I have written about the vital importance of the preached Word. First-time guests are undoubtedly impacted by a powerful message from God’s messenger. But that’s not what they typically share with us after they visit a church.
Instead, they notice if the pastor is genuine. They comment about his apparent humility and transparency. In simple terms, they want to see a pastor who is real. And many of them intuitively know if he is or not.
Joy and Laughter
Guests are observing members from the moment the set foot on the church’s campus. Is there apparent joy in their lives? Are they joyous in their interactions with each other? Guests often comment about laughter in churches, both in informal settings and in the worship services. They see that laughter as a genuine byproduct of the joy that is in the church.
Is your church a joyous place? Is their real happiness evident in the lives of the members? Is healthy laughter normative in both informal and formal settings? The answers to these questions often determine if a guest will return or not.
Are these four non-facility issues healthy in your church? What other factors do you believe to be important for a guest to return?
Pastor to Pastor is the Saturday blog series at ThomRainer.com. Pastors and staff, if we can help in any way, contact Steve Drake, our director of pastoral relations, at Steve.Drake@LifeWay.com. We also welcome contacts from laypersons in churches asking questions about pastors, churches, or the pastor search process.