Some visiting Christians who were looking for a church home decided not to identify with a church I formerly worked with because they did not find the group as “friendly” as other area churches. My initial reaction was a defensive one: that they completely and unfairly misdiagnosed us; that I myself tried to warmly welcome them; that we had some of the finest people on earth in that congregation; and that it was one of the friendliest churches I knew.
Upon further reflection, it occurred to me that my own impressions were different from that of others, and that they had a right to come to their own conclusions. Also, first impressions are hard to change, particularly when it comes to guests. One church growth study suggests that the average visitor forms a strong judgment about the suitability of a congregation on his very first visit.
Obviously, doing the Lord’s work is not a popularity contest, in any faithful church. For the record, some people are not going to be attracted to the church family we’re building up in Santa Clara, no matter what. For example, some folks just aren’t interested in the truth, and we will not compromise it in order to win them. On the other hand, the Scriptures are very clear that there are right ways and wrong ways of dealing with people (Col. 4:5-6 and Rom. 12:9-16, for example). Moreover, there are other sound congregations in the area, and some of them have exceptional qualities, readily apparent to visiting eyes.
The truth is that we too have a lot of good qualities, with a lot to offer new members – which is exactly why we need to raise our collective awareness of how to best serve prospective members who are checking us out. Here are some suggestions:
- Every visitor who walks through these doors must be treated like a VIP, as a true “honored guest.”
- Don’t leave it to someone else to greet visitors! Make sure that you don’t miss a single visitor.
- Teachers of various classes, especially middle school through adult, should address this issue to your students. In fact, you might appoint a couple of point persons who have the duty of paying special attention to guests, and to introduce them to others.
- When introducing guests to others, we must keep in mind that visitors to a church assembly often have five unspoken questions:
- Do I fit in here? I.e., is there anybody like me here?
- Does anybody want to know me?
- Am I needed?
- What are the benefits?
- What is required?
- Consequently, a teenager needs to interact with other teens, a twenty-something person might need to find other young adults, a young parent needs to be introduced to other young parents, a retired couple ought to be warmly received by other retirees, etc.
- We need to genuinely make people feel welcome. I.e. it has to be more than an empty slogan.
- We need to be open to asking guests to go out to lunch with us, or, better yet, having them in our homes on short notice. “Be hospitable to one another without complaint” (I Pet. 4:9).
- Although it’s easy to be self-absorbed, or to give attention to our closest friends after the closing prayer, we really need to pay attention to others. “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4).
Generally, the church family at Santa Clara practices these principles better than the local church mentioned above does, but a good reminder doesn’t hurt. If we practice these things more diligently, people will give us a “second look,” and they will notice the many outstanding things about this congregation. And if that happens, multiplied opportunities to share the truth of Jesus will not be far behind.
– Mike Wilson; MikeWilson777 [at] yahoo [dot] com