Is your congregation really welcoming? Do you have an outstanding preacher, wonderful Sunday school, in-depth Bible studies and a great choir, but non-members don’t show up that often? You may need to shore up your welcome.
Here are a few questions and possible solutions to consider that may help you extend the hand of welcome to your community.
How easy is your church to find?
You may have a problem attracting seekers and non-members if it is difficult to find your church building. Take steps to make it easier for people to find you:
- In your Yellow Pages listings, include clear instructions on how to get there, along with the name of the congregation, pastor’s name and contact information, worship service hours and Sunday school schedule.
- Place street signs that indicate that there is an ELCA congregation “three blocks ahead.” Creative signs can certainly help (“Try our Sundays; they’re better than Baskin-Robbins”), but don’t make them too long! Remember, many people are driving by and can’t stop to read a long message.
- Make efficient use of your outdoor signage. If the signs are perpendicular rather than parallel, they will be easier to read.
What message do people get from the physical facilities?
First impressions are important. In the real estate business the term “curb appeal” describes the important aesthetic impact a property has on a potential buyer who looks at it from the street.
Inside, the house may be exactly what the buyer has in mind with all the comforts of a dream home. But if the yard is a mess or the sidewalks are in disrepair the buyer might not even take a look inside.
The same can be said about your church’s curb appeal. The location may be great and the denomination a perfect fit, but if the grounds are a mess, visitors just might walk on by. Evaluate your physical facilities and pay attention to visible qualities:
- Are your lawns neat? A weed-infested, uncut lawn with untrimmed trees and dying plants in the flower-bed will not help your curb appeal. Keeping up with the basics (like mowing the lawn) can go a long way to achieving curb appeal with little effort and expense.
- Do your sidewalks need repair? If your sidewalks are broken or uneven and have big chunks missing, you run the risk of having visitors run the other way. Remember too that an unshoveled, snow-packed sidewalk, or one covered in ice, is not only unappealing but dangerous.
- Is it obvious where parking areas are? Does your church have off-street parking? If so, are there signs to let people know where to park?
How can you welcome a visitor without being either overbearing or aloof?
Dealing with a new visitor is crucial. If your main goal is to have this newcomer return on a regular basis, you must be aware of and deal with a number of common pitfalls:
- As territorial creatures, we are very particular about where we sit. If you arrive at worship to find a visitor in the seat you’ve been occupying every Sunday since 1972, do not give the occupant the evil eye or say things under your breath. This is not welcoming.
- Jargon in your vocabulary can be intimidating. Some people new to worship may not know what certain words (like “narthex”) mean, so don’t use them injudiciously.
- Greetings can be tricky. When mega-church founder Bill Hybels surveyed the neighborhood before establishing the Willow Creek ministry, he found that people do not like to be singled out when visiting a church. It makes them feel awkward. Therefore, refrain from calling too much attention to visitors. Don’t make them stand up in front of the congregation and don’t make them wear a name tag.
- Be helpful to those next to you. If you notice that someone has lost his or her place while trying to follow the service, silently indicate the right page.
Is your facility clean and well-maintained?
Just as exterior curb appeal is important to attract people into your building, a clean, well-maintained interior is important to keep them coming back. Remember to:
- Clean the sanctuary regularly.
- Check for broken or splintered pews.
- Remove worship folders that are left behind.
- Ensure that restrooms are well-marked, clean and have plenty of soap, toilet paper and towels.