Have you ever found yourself church shopping? Perhaps you had to move unexpectedly or felt your previous church no longer served your needs. You did your homework beforehand, browsing websites and connecting with church leaders through Twitter and email. Still, it isn’t easy switching churches.
Everyone has visited a new church for the first time. Whether you recently celebrated an anniversary in a faith community or attended the congregation you grew up in, people in the sanctuary are likely visiting that church for the first time. No matter how involved you find yourself with the church or how long, it’s easy not to see the visitors among you. It’s also easy for visitors to be turned away from the church. If you’re curious as to what turns new people away? Here are some ideas.
Refusing to see visitors.
It’s easy to spot a visitor in the crowd. They don’t know where to go because they don’t know what they’re doing in a new environment. Whether sitting two seats to their right or working as a greeter, visitors need you to see them and acknowledge them because isn’t seeing them half the battle?
Not offering a smile.
Believers are Jesus’ people. They’re supposed to be filled with His light, love, and joy because that’s how the spirit of God has transformed them. However, there have been plenty of times when visitors have gone to a new church, and no one has smiled at them. Instead of looking away, be brave and meet their hopeful gaze, giving them a genuine smile.
Not offering to help.
When we know a place’s rhythms, routine, and knowhows, it’s easy to forget that everyone doesn’t know what you know. Chances are, if it looks like they might not know what they’re doing, likely, they don’t know what they’re doing. So if you see someone who looks lost, offer to help them. They’ll be so grateful in return.
Choosing not to introduce yourself.
As church members, we sometimes believe that the business of getting to know visitors and newcomers belongs to the church’s staff. However, that can’t be further from the truth. As the body of Christ, believers are Jesus’ arms and legs, and as Christ calls us to be the church, the church staff needs you to notice the new people.
Forgetting that visitors are people who want to be known.
It’s always amazing how much you can learn about someone in less than a minute. With that being said, humans were created for genuine relationships, and there’s something about another person wanting to know you that make you feel understood and known truly. So if there’s a new person or a visitor in your church, ask them questions about themselves, like where they’re from or what they like to do. Connect the dots and practice active listening so you can ask them other questions. This practice will make them feel loved.
There’s nothing wrong with trying to get to know someone. However, while doing so, you should also respect their boundaries. If they’re an introverted or private person, they might not want to answer your questions, so don’t take it personally and be okay and respect their limitations if they choose not to move with you in conversation.
Forgetting their name.
Frequently, parishioners sit in the same spot during a church service. Newcomers, who might still be visiting for weeks, typically sit in the same area during church. Whether you see each other after church in the foyer or next week while sitting in front of them, the newcomer will likely remember you because you’re a church representative, so do your best to remember them. If it helps, write their names on your phone or a church program.
Do what you can to build up your name-remembering muscle. If you’re an usher, don’t sit the newcomer in the front row, and if they choose to keep their children with them because they’re not comfortable in the children’s program yet, don’t stare when they act like kids. Jesus loved little children as we do. Here’s the bottom line: we can be good neighbors to people visiting our church for the first time. We can mimic Jesus’ compassion and actions, who welcomed every saint and sinner in His presence.
Not following up with visitors.
Most churches have cards where guests can share their contact information but don’t forget actually to contact their guests. Some people become Christian after attending an event where they heard the gospel. However, it might not be the event that Jesus ultimately used to bring them to Christ. It may be the follow-up call from a member who shared the gospel with them again. It’s unclear how our evangelism or hospitality will affect others, but it’s a guarantee that doing nothing will reap nothing.
Not welcoming those who are hurting.
Churches should be a place where people who are marginalized, hurting, struggling and in deep sin should be welcomed so that by God’s grace, they will be restored and cared for. This would mean that the church is a place that doesn’t show partiality, according to James 2. It would mean that the church is a place that doesn’t throw stones but hopes to extend truth and grace, a place where sinners come to find love and rest.
Ultimately, the church’s job is to pray for those who visit and trust the Lord. It’s not about numbers but the souls who know Jesus. So whenever we think about retention, we shouldn’t emphasize numbers and how many people are in the pews but on the proclamation of the gospel and Jesus. We should love our neighbors and newcomers to the church.
We can take note of the Good Samaritan who acknowledged the stranger, the one who every passerby ignored and walked past. In doing this, we’ll stop some new visitors from church shopping because we’ll have appropriately welcomed them into Jesus’ space. So if you see a new face in your church, embrace them and ask how you can enhance their experience.