For the first time in our lives, Sherry and I have the freedom to choose what church we attend. When we lived at home our parents chose for us, and after we got married we always attended the church I (and sometimes she) worked at.
But now we are free to visit any church we want, so over the past couple of months we have visited nine different churches. In most cases we have gone as anonymous visitors, and it has been an eye-opening experience. We have been surprised how difficult it is to fit in and connect at a new church. (If you know we attended your church recently, I’m obviously talking about one of the other eight.)
So I thought I’d share some tips on how to attract, connect and retain new attenders: Five Simple Ways to Make Your Church Stickier. None of these ideas are new or revolutionary, but I bet you think your church is a LOT better at each one than you really are. Trust me on this, they’re not.
Let’s dive in with Simple Way One:
1. Make your church friendlier.
I’m sure you assume your church gets a pass on this one; your church is one of the friendliest churches on the planet. When you walk in everyone says hi, you have a built-in greeting time in your service when all the new people feel welcomed, and after church people hang around forever laughing and connecting. You’ve got the friendly thing down.
Let me give you an outsider’s perspective on the friendliness of your church. When I arrive, one or two assigned people with big nametags smile and say hi. (At some churches, the assigned greeters are either engaged in conversation with someone else, grunt hello, or just frown and hand me a bulletin.)
Once I navigate past people in the lobby talking to people they already know, I am placed in an isolation bubble called the auditorium. I sit with people who don’t acknowledge my presence in any way until the forced greeting time. “Turn and greet your neighbor before you sit down.” At most, someone might crack a half-smile, give their name and shake my hand. Normally I get a grimaced look, a quick handshake and a short, “Hi.”
I don’t realize it at the time, but that is the last time anyone will make any contact with me at your church. After service I again have to navigate the lobby where people who already know each other have exclusive parties with other people who already know each other. Sometimes I stand in the lobby looking bewildered and feeling as out of place as a bikini in a Denver snowstorm, but no sees me.
Finally I find my way back to the car feeling more alone than I did when I arrived. And in case you think it’s because I’m an introvert, my extroverted wife feels the same. Feeling alone and disconnected is the one experience we’ve had at almost every church we’ve attended.