There are loads of conferences and books out there that provide a basic checklist for churches to ensure guests want to come back. But me and my friend, Jason Young, while we were writing The Come Back Effect, discovered the checklist falls short quite a bit. Even if you’re checking all the right boxes, it doesn’t guarantee a guest wants to come back.
There are five main things most churches assume they need to do to get guests to return. They seem like the right ideas, but there’s often one thing missing. Let’s look at some of the ways we fail at creating a welcoming environment for guests and what we should do instead.
1. Create a Parking Lot Team
A parking lot team helps assure guests know where to park. It keeps kids and families safe while they cross the lot. But a parking lot team doesn’t ensure that a guest feels welcomed. In fact, sometimes it can make a guest feel unwelcomed.
I’ve pulled up to church parking lots where the parking lot team wasn’t enthusiastic and engaged. They are talking to their friends or slow to respond. Consequently, I’m trying to decide whether or not to wait for them to tell me where to park or to just take control of the situation. By the time they acknowledge me and try to correct what I’m doing, I’ve already decided where I’m parking and pulling into the spot. That makes the walk to the church doors an awkward one.
That should show you one thing: You don’t need a parking lot team to help people park. People know how to park themselves. You need a parking lot team to smile at people. You need a parking lot team to respond to them. You need a parking lot team to welcome them. You need a parking lot team to remove the stress of arriving to a new location.
Your parking lot team is the first set of faces people see when they come to your church. They should do all they can to make people feel at ease, to feel visible, and to feel cared for.
2. Create a Greeting Team
Ah, greeters. The smiling faces that hold the doors and hand you a bulletin as you enter the church. Again, though, greeters don’t guarantee a guest will want to come back.
Sometimes walking through a door with a stranger standing uncomfortably close to you while shaking your hand can be scary. And if the greeter isn’t aware of how the guest feels, they could be doing more harm than good.
A great greeter understands that people feel nervous when they approach a church for the first time. They’re worried they won’t fit in. They’re worried they are going to go through the wrong door or do something that makes them look stupid in front of a new crowd of people. Or that they won’t know where to go once they get inside. So the greeter will take their time and be available. They’ll allow some space for the guest to experience the church on their own terms. They won’t rush the guest, but they’ll be available for whatever the guest needs. More than anything, they’ll just be an empathetic ear that will make the guest feel at ease.
3. Create an Ushering Team
One of the most awkward feelings in a church service is showing up to a room full of people sitting or standing in rows and trying to figure out your place. Am I going to sit in someone’s special spot? Will I walk toward the front only to see a purse on a chair or a “reserved for pastor” sign on it? Usher teams were created to combat this anxiety.
Unfortunately, I’ve been in plenty of services where the ushers make it even more awkward for me. Either they don’t know the spots that are available, so they parade me up and down the aisles until they find a spot, or they rope off sections and don’t respond quickly enough to when those areas are needed.
A great usher is proactive. They know the seats that are available. They don’t make you ask to find a spot or to be able to sit in a roped off area. They’re aware that even though there are a few seats available, once the seats are 80% filled, they’re actually full. And they’re quick to make exceptions to letting people sit in roped off areas if they’re coming in with a child or have other special requirements during the service.
4. Create a Kids Welcome Team
One of the scariest things for modern day parents is to trust strangers with their kids. Yet that’s what we’re asking them to do every weekend. A welcome team can help ease some of that fear, but there are certain things that will negate any benefit we might have gotten from that:
- Dirty or outdated-looking classrooms.
- Unsecure classrooms.
- Teenagers receiving babies from parents.
- Kids working in the nursery without a strong adult presence in the room.
- Over-packed rooms.
- Unprepared or non-enthusiastic volunteers.
Fix those things. Then the kids check-in/welcome team can accomplish their purpose.
5. Welcome Newcomers from the Stage
“We’re so glad you’re here!” You know what? People don’t actually care that you’re glad they’re there. They just want to be comfortable in your services. If you’re welcoming and then embarrassing people by having them stand or raise their hands — or if you’re using insider language that makes them feel like outsiders — they aren’t feeling welcomed.
Feel beat up by this list? I hope not. My goal wasn’t to criticize anything you’re doing. But I do want to show that sometimes our best intentions don’t accomplish our purposes if we’re missing a few key components. Let this article light a new fire under you and your team to make things better. I encourage you to check out The Come Back Effect. There’s certainly more where this came from.
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