Hope for Tomorrow: Giving visitors a reason to come back to your church
by KEVIN BUMGARNER
Executive Editor

Article Date: Feb 20, 2014

“The Lord said to Abram: Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.” Gen. 12:1 (HCSB)

We sometimes forget what it’s like to be the newcomer.

Many of us have worked at the same companies for 15 years, lived in the same neighborhoods for almost as long, and go to the same restaurants every Friday night where we expect the same table to be waiting for us.

We are, after all, creatures of habit.

When it comes to church life, we are not much different. That’s why there is often such a fuss when church leadership tries to relocate that certain Sunday School classroom, or when a newbie unknowingly takes the parking spot or, heaven forbid, the pew space of a long-time member.

It is easy to forget how difficult it can be to walk onto a church campus for the first time and not know how to register the kids for the nursery, where the restrooms are, or whether we have a choice of small groups.

For the first half of my life, I was one of those people. I lived less than a block from the church I attended for 20 years, so it didn’t occur to me that there might be people who actually needed to know where the line for Wednesday night meals began (or that those meals were even offered), and how to find out if the snow on Saturday night meant Sunday services were canceled.

Then something happened to change my perspective: I got married and accepted a job in another state. Our relocation to Jacksonville marks our seventh move in 25 years.

Our moves have helped us develop a keen sense of awareness for how to navigate new surroundings. But it has not always been easy, especially when it comes to churches.

In another state, we visited a church that had these words emblazoned onto the side of its building: “A church on a mission.” When my family walked through the front doors and were not greeted by a single person, we quickly realized their “mission” was not to be a friendly church. If you had to ask, you didn’t belong.

How does your church make visitors feel welcome? If you have a unique story, I’d love to consider sharing it with other Florida Baptist Witness readers. Send me the details via email, or call me to discuss.

Over the years, God placed on my heart a passion for helping new members, and I’ve been blessed to be involved in those ministries for more than a decade. For just as long, I’ve been asking people in North Carolina, Texas and Hawaii why they were joining a specific Southern Baptist Church.

And here’s what I discovered: “Because my neighbor, co-worker or friend invited me,” is still one of the most common responses. In other words, despite all the changes taking place in today’s culture and how we “do church,” our personal investment in someone else’s life still has a huge influence when it comes to matters of faith.

But most responses were much less obvious. Young families I spoke with indicated the No. 1 reason they joined a particular church was because of a clean nursery, and volunteers who made their children smile and who acted like they were happy to see them. And, when those same families made a return visit, the churches where nursery workers remembered their kids’ names and something about them shot way up on their list of prospects.

For groups such as divorcees, widows and young professionals, the churches with people who “looked like them,” not surprisingly, were the most successful in attracting a crowd.

In my 10 years of asking the question about why people join a certain church, here is my list of most common responses, in no particular order:  

 I’ve passed your church on the way to work every day for years, so I finally decided to see what the big attraction was.

 Your church offered an 8:30 a.m. worship service option.

 Your church still uses a piano and organ during worship.

 I was looking for something a little more contemporary.

 Your youth group was something more than a safe place for my kids to hang out.

 I have a family member who is deaf, and your interpreters love her.

 The guys in the church reached out to my husband, even though he hadn’t been in church for years.

 Your church had other wives who knew what I was going through, because their husbands in the military had been deployed to Afghanistan, too.

 The friendliest people always greeted me at the door.

 The Japanese women’s ministry allows us both to attend the same church and learn about God’s Word in our native tongue.

 All the people were friendly and we found a small group where people took an interest in us.

► No one tried to force us into a certain class or specific worship time.

Of course, many people have told me they joined a specific church because they were looking for a pastor who was willing to proclaim boldly the Word of God. But there are other factors at play.

What can we learn from this? Your parking lot attendants and door greeters are some of the most important people on your campus on any given Sunday. You need people in these roles who can wear a smile no matter what happened on the drive over, and they know the campus like the back of their hand. Visitors want to know they’re in the hands of experts. If you can hand these visitors off to escorts who will take them all the way to Sunday School and sit with them during worship—all the better.

And the importance of the nursery cannot be overstated if your church is trying to attract young families. Moms and dads will not serve and worship at a church where their kids are not happy and the parents do not think they are safe.

Maybe that means your church leadership needs to rethink the way volunteer assignments are made, and most laity and church staff alike could benefit from someone reminding them just how important their critical two-minute interaction is with next Sunday’s guests.

Meanwhile, would you mind telling me and my wife where the median adult Sunday School rooms are? We appear to have lost our way.

Let’s Connect: 

In the office at 904-596-3171, via email at kbumgarner@goFBW.com and Twitter @FBWdreamchaser. I also am available on Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn under my given name.

 

 

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