As a pastor, I would hope everyone who enters our doors would love our church just as much as I and many others do. I have to remember to keep seeing things through the eyes of quests. We've all heard of secret shoppers before. I wonder how we'd do if there were "secret church attenders" (not to be confused with those who say they go to church but never actually do).
What would turn visitors off from church? Here are some things that would definitely turn me off from coming back to a church. I'll try to be as generic as possible in case these are from real situations I've witnessed in my own church - probably not - after all, our church is perfect, right?
10. Can you dress a little nicer? It is the Lord's Day after all.
If you set the standard of suit and tie that's all you'll attract. Present a "come as you are" atmosphere. Guests shouldn't feel as if they have to "come as I am or don't come at all." What if that is their best and they wore it because they already knew it was the Lord's day?
9. Take that crying kid out of here...
Sure Jesus wept and He loved kids...but crying kids - hades no! A crying baby can be distracting during church but the situation must be handled with extreme love and understanding. No one can predict when a kid will cry. Yes, we have a nursery but some mothers feel uneasy about putting their kids in a new nursery. Some kids are apprehensive as well. Never call them down from the pulpit if you are the pastor. Never surround them with all your security team. Don't attack them at first cry. Usually moms know enough to step out. They are probably trying a few things before making a move toward the door since it takes an act of congress to lug a baby, diaper suitcase, bible, purse, etc. out from the middle of the row. Gently offering them a crying child room or a place to sit in the foyer where they can still hear the message is best.
8. Children's ministry...I have no idea if we even have one of those...
While we are on the topic of children, all leadership, welcoming team, and anyone else in a serving position should be familiar enough with the preschool and children's ministry to tell a guest about the basics. Don't just point them there either. Walk them to the appropriate area asking the children's names, ages, etc. so you can introduce them to the people you hand them off to. Even waiting on them so you can escort them back to the sanctuary to find a seat is a great way to say welcome!
7. I'm sorry, we are full.
This is otherwise known as, we weren't ready for you. Some services like Easter and Christmas may have this problem more than not. Pastors should keep an eye on the congestion levels of their congregation. New services should start when you are at about 75%-80% capacity consistently for about 4-6 weeks. Don't wait till you are maxed out. Starting a new service or providing an overflow room could help a ton to keep your welcoming teams from being put in this position. If people see you have a plan for growth they will deal with a little congestion. If they don't see you a moving, they'll be a leaving.
6. Pass the offering plate multiple times.
Take up offering once during a service - building fund, tithes, special funds, etc. Always tell guests they are not obligated to give anything but to be blessed. Instead of hounding or shaming people into giving, teach on it. Maybe a message once a year or a 3 minute talk before the offering. Don't be ashamed of this act of worship but don't come across as a church who is only concerned about money either.
5. My pastor isn't usually like this.
Knowing you will have to explain why your pastor is the way he is (be it obnoxious, loud, long, etc) because you know a guest will have a problem with it is a problem in itself. Pastors must come across as real people. They must tell personal stories, preach like they talk in real life, and be friendly in the pulpit. They do have the responsibility of rebuking, correcting, and upholding truth but this can be done lovingly. If it always seems they are rebuking, mad, unorganized, etc. and many others have noticed it as well, it is time to confront your pastor lovingly in private.
4. Fill out this paperwork again and again and again and again...
Ask for their info once and be responsible with it. Don't have them fill out something for every member of the family. When checking in children, have forms organized to include multiple children. You hate paperwork as much as they do. A few more tips...don't abuse their info. Don't start spamming them 50 newsletters before they leave the parking lot. Contact them, but don't intrude. Don't just show up at their house unannounced either just cause you know how to plug their address into Mapquest.
3. Don't smile at them or speak to them. After all, they are new...
Church is not a clique. Don't stare at them like they are out of place - they already had fears of being out of place and you are making them come true. Don't stand around and only talk to those you know. Make it a point to meet 3 new people each week at church. Greet guests with a smile before they get out of their cars with a great parking team. Why not invite quests to lunch after church? Welcome them with your greeters and information desk assistants. Have your ushers help them find a seat. Have directions to your restrooms and children's facilities clearly labeled. Have a warm atmosphere in your foyer - maybe serve coffee, unless you like leading church in the stone age or hades. Your welcoming team (greeters, ushers, info desk assistants, parkers, leaders, etc.) should be loving and think about people, not rules, regulations, and requirements.
2. Tell people you preach the truth and if they don't like it they can find another place to worship.
They will take you up on that. We should always preach truth and uphold the entirety of Scripture. Never apologize for speaking the truth but do it in love or you'll be apologizing for being a legalistic Pharisee who doesn't love people. Jesus was only confrontational and in people's faces when they were religious. He never acted that way with the sinner. He didn't scold Zacchaeus for climbing in a tree during service. He loved on him and ate lunch with him. He didn't appear to be unapproachable as a pastor with 12 body guards religiously named armor bearers. The pastor should be out front greeting before and after the services not locked away in a greenroom because he is not a commoner. Jesus let the woman with the issue of blood touch his garment and then he healed her. You can and must speak the truth to new people but it must be done lovingly. Truth sets free, not turns off.
1. Appear more concerned about the condition of your facilities than the condition of their family.
"Get your foot off that wall" sure sounds less inviting to a first time guest's kid than "What is your name?" Why not follow them around as they drink coffee with a mop? Yell at their kids for dropping candy wrappers in the hallway. Gripe when church is over because lots of people made a mess - lots of people always make a mess. These are all sure ways to keep a great facility that no one comes back to. You can always repaint and clean the carpet. But you cannot make another first impression.
Are there more than ten? Let me know by posting a comment below on my blog.