Opening disclosure. This post is going to seem negative, and I am far from a negative person. The glass is always over half full for me. I actually intend it to be positive if it encourages churches. Our transition 18 months ago to the Dallas area was difficult when it came to finding a church to call home. In fact, I ended up taking a short-term interim pastor position for a softer landing. I grew up in the church where my parents and grandparents attended. We were there until I surrendered to vocational ministry at 38 years of age. Then I spent 16 years serving as a pastor. I have never been among the church shoppers until we moved to Dallas.
But Cheryl and I learned a lot.
“First Impressions” or “Guest Relations,” whatever term you choose to use, was always high on my priority list as a pastor. We weren’t perfect, but we were extremely intentional in thinking through how we considered visitors from the moment they Googled “church” to how we followed up with them once they came.
I think my motivation came from my years in the business world. When I was in retail management I knew that the way the store looked, the merchandise was presented, and our associates treated shoppers were all vitally important parts of motivating someone to buy an item.
After visiting lots of different churches, in Dallas and in other cities, I have come to realize how poorly many churches do in this critical area – at a time when church shoppers are harder to come by than ever before.
I would never call any names, but in the first three churches we visited not one person said hello to us. And in two of them we attended Bible study. (True story!) We even filled out information cards, and no one contacted us. Not even an email!
And I wish I could say that type experience ended after those three churches. It didn’t.
We started asking around and went to some churches where people told us they were very friendly. They weren’t. We often left feeling no one even knew we were there. They may be very friendly if you already knew everyone’s inside stories and the names of their kids, but they weren’t to outsiders – at least not to us.
We saw churches that had greeters, but the greeters didn’t smile and they were usually busy catching up with people they already knew.
Please understand two things. First, these were all good churches. I have no doubt every church we visited is making disciples. I am just sharing our experience, because I think it matters if we want to help first-time visitors (some who may not even have a relationship with Christ) move from church shoppers to become growing disciples.
Even more important for you to understand if you’ve made it this far reading – I’m FOR the local church. This is not meant to be complaining. I want the Church to succeed and even believe the Church is the hope of the world. I’ve spent my ministry years trying to help the Church flourish. Cheryl and I always said if we weren’t serving on a church staff we want to be the best church members possible.