Archive for ◊ April, 2015 ◊

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• Thursday, April 02nd, 2015
Encore Post:
“Please come back; join our church. You’ll like it here. We need you! Honest – we’re nice people.”

A church that is struggling to survive – or simply concerned with a diminishing number of filled pews – can sometimes project a neediness that is off putting.

Church success should not be all about the numbers (there’s nothing wrong with being small), but still…it can be a bitter pill to go from the BIG church to the LITTLE Church or the STRUGGLING TO SURVIVE church.

There are many reasons for a shrinking church (that’s another whole blog in itself), but one reason can be the congregation and how they embrace visitors.

When visitors arrive at your church on Sunday morning, how are they welcomed? Oh, sure, you may have pleasant ushers or even people assigned to meet and greet. But what about the rest of the church family? When there is a stranger(s) in your congregation’s midst, does the following sometimes happen:

• Someone says loudly “Who’s that?”
• The person is stared at suspiciously.
• Church members are so busy talking to each other, they ignore a visitor.
• Members assume someone else will extend the needed welcome to a guest so no one does.
• The person sits alone within a zone of empty seats.
• The minister singles the visitor out during the service and puts him or her on the spot.
• During the passing of the peace, the visitor is interrogated.
• During coffee hour, the person stands alone.
• The person is monopolized by a single overbearing individual.

Does your church appear desperate?

For example, a visitor arrives on a Sunday morning and members are:
• Too cloying: “We are so grateful that you’re here with us today. So grateful!”
• Too over the top: “Please, please come back and visit us again.”
• Too self serving: “We are the best church; we do so much. You would love it here.”
• Too transparent: “You’re an accountant? Terrific, we need a new church treasurer.”
• Too pushy: “Your children will love our Sunday School. Of course, since you will have kids in the SS, you will
be expected to be a teacher.”
or
• There is Information overload: The visitor is loaded down with materials about the church, including a gift
basket.
• There is stalking: The visitor gets an inordinate number of calls the following week from the minister or a
deacon.

Sadly, it only takes one overbearing or thoughtless church member to make a visitor uncomfortable and happy to leave – never to return.

When I showed this blog to Gretchen, she made a good point: “ My cry about this has always been that visitors can always innately tell if the congregation is happy to have them because it’s an opportunity to share the love of God or if the congregation is just relieved to have another seat filled and potentially some more money in the offering plate.”

Properly welcoming visitors to your church requires politeness and empathy on the part of EVERY member of the congregation. It’s not easy to make the decision to walk into an unfamiliar place and stand out among a group of people who are already friends.

I would venture almost every church says to itself: “We’re very welcoming and friendly.” But I would argue “Not necessarily true.” Church members need to look at themselves and each other and decide whether they truly are projecting a warm and loving image. If you have visitors who do not return, it may be time to look in the mirror and decide what image your church truly projects. And it may also be time to schedule a few congregational classes on How to be Welcoming 101.

Gretchen also adds: “I have always thought that church members should be encouraged to take a Sunday off from their home church and go to all different churches, then come back, de-brief and have the welcoming training you suggest! I remember reading once about a minister who canceled church for one Sunday and instructed his parishioners to visit different churches that day. They met back at their church for lunch together afterward and that was the kick-off for the training. What’s cool about that is it makes it an all-church effort and everyone’s accountable for coming back and having some helpful observations to share!”

What about your church? Is your church welcoming? Or do you sometimes get a niggle that your church falls short on that front. Have you ever visited another church and loved it – or been turned off? We would like to hear from you. Please drop us a line and tell us your welcoming story – either within this blog page or at info@finishingwithgrace.com