There are a lot of reasons a church might grow. Sometimes people come because of the preaching. Sometimes people come because of the music. Some people like the great programs for kids and youth. But I’m convinced that amid all of our emphasis in the last few decades on building weekend services that are more attractive to outsiders, there’s an often overlooked factor in church growth. Growing churches are guest-friendly.
All churches think they’re guest-friendly, but when you take a good look at them, you often discover they’re friendly to people who have been attending for 15 years or more—not to new people.
A guest’s experience in the first 12 minutes dramatically influences whether they’re coming back or not. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. When non-Christians come to your church for the first time, their number one emotion is fear. What will people think? What are they going to do? Am I going to have to sign something, sing something, sacrifice something or say something?
They don’t know what’s going on, and they’re scared to death.
Your first goal with guests (and by the way, I never call them visitors) is to get them to relax. Then you can communicate with them. When people are afraid, their barriers are up and it becomes a case of, “I dare you to teach me something!” No matter how good your sermon is, they won’t listen to the Good News about Jesus until they get past those fears.
You need to put guests at ease.
7 Ways to Make Your Church More Guest-Friendly
How do you do that? Here are some ideas:
1. Reserve your best parking spots for guests.
It just shows you’re thinking about them. If you had guests for dinner at your house, you’d probably do whatever it took to make them feel more comfortable. You’d use your best silverware and your best dishes. You might ask them about food preferences before you plan the meal. You should show similar courtesies to guests at your church.
2. Station greeters outside your building.
You need people strategically placed around your campus to greet guests. At Saddleback, we used to play a game. I would dare people to get into the building without having their hand shaken at least three times. We place greeters way out in the parking lot. Why? We’ve found that some people hate to be greeted publicly during the service, but they love to be greeted personally.
3. Set up an information table.
Put all sorts of information on the table that might help people find their way around. Put maps out with classrooms and restrooms easily marked. Put out brochures about the church that give people information they can take home and read at their convenience. Most importantly, have hosts stationed there to help people find their way around. Make sure your hosts know where the restrooms are and where the children should go!
4. Have music playing when people enter.
In America almost every public building has music playing. Even in the elevator, music is playing. You go into the restroom and music is playing. You go into a restaurant and music is playing. People expect to hear music. If you walked into a church right now and everyone was dead silent, you’d probably be uncomfortable. On the other hand, if you heard fairly loud praise music playing, you’d probably feel much more comfortable. Here’s something interesting I’ve found: If you play soft music, people talk softly. But if you play loud music, people talk louder. When non-Christians come into your church, they want it to be noisy.