The Church Turning Away Visitors


What does it take to fill the pews?
Some disturbing statistics from the Barna Group:

»50% of Americans have no church home.
» Every year, 2.7 million church members fall into inactivity.

»50% of all churches in the US did not add any new members to their ranks in the last two years.

What’s going on? 
Hundreds of churches have actually taken to surveying UNBELIEVERS to learn what it would take to get THEM to attend.

In an attempt to prove the church needs to be sensitive to those seeking, we hear verses like…

“You shall love (the stranger) as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34).

Subtly, the overriding goal is attendance and worldly acceptance rather than transformed lives. Preaching the Word and boldly confronting sin are seen as antiquated, ineffective means of winning the world. After all, those things actually drive most people away. Why not entice people into the fold by offering what they want, creating a friendly, comfortable environment, and catering to the very desires that constitute their strongest urges? As if we might get them to accept Jesus by somehow making Him more likable or making His message less offensive.

Evangelism does not require salesmen… It requires true believers with a passion for the lost.  You have to see the the lost as Christ did…

Matthew 9:36
When he saw the crowds, he had COMPASSION for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like SHEEP without a shepherd.

What is at stake in the gospel —it’s an issue of life or death, an eternity in heaven or hell.

Family members, friends, co-workers.

That realization should drive you to your knees to plead, not only with them to believe the gospel, but with God to save their souls.  I pray every day that my son is kept safe.  More than that, though, I pray he loves Christ and that he will live a life worth writing about.  I ask God to save him and create in him a clean heart.
Many of us pray this way for our friends and family, but we cannot forget our neighbors and those coming to church on Sunday that have yet to say, “ok God, I’m Yours.”  Their very soul is at stake here.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau,

»55.3 million people die each year.
»151,600 people die each day.
»6316 people die each hour.
»105 people die each minute.

Thats nearly two people per second….gone…forever.

It is for this reason I have a heavy heart and am disappointed when new people, lost or found, come to check out a church they haven’t been to before, and leave feeling as if there should have been a sign out front that said,
“Visitors: Not Welcome.”

You can learn a great deal about a church’s priorities and personality just by scanning the church’s bulletin.

As an outsider–that is, not a member or regular –judgments are made… Good and bad.

Now, in all fairness, most churches are eager to receive newcomers and want them to feel at home and even consider joining. Sometimes, the worship bulletins reflect that with announcements of after service receptions to meet the pastor, the occasional luncheon for newcomers to learn about the church and get their questions answered, and free materials in the foyer as well as a new members class.

No church willingly turns its nose up at newcomers. 
This can, however, be the effect of our actions.

Here are a few ways churches signal newcomers they are NOT wanted.

1. The front door is locked.

Any church can possess a lovely front facade, beautiful sidewalks, and grandiose landscaping. The front doors can be impressive and catch the brilliance of the rising Sunday morning sun just right, before early service, that it looks as though the light is shining from within.  However, if the doors are locked, that says something….
“we didn’t care enough to open the doors for you this morning.”

2. The Main entrance is opened late.

Even if we understand why a rarely used front door is kept locked, it makes no sense that the primary door should be closed.

Seemingly small things like, having doors unlocked a minimum of 45 minutes prior to the announced worship time goes a long way for early arrivals.

3. The church bulletin gives inadequate information.

The announcement reads: “The youth will have their next meeting this week at Stacy’s house. See Shawn for directions. Team B is in charge of refreshments.”

As a visitor, I’m thinking, “who the heck is Shawn?” and “if we do discover how to get to Stacy’s house, how awkward will that be; my kid showing up, not knowing anyone?”

So,  because the parents don’t return, neither does the youth. Next Sunday, he tries that church across town that is drawing in great crowds of teens. For good reason, I imagine. They act like they actually want them to come.

4. Greeters Are Not Always Welcomers

Outsiders, that enter without knowing anyone, usually leave the same way. 
Every church needs at least two people that will undertake the mission of not just greeting newbies, but introducing them to other members and taking time to hear why they’re here today…. Where are they from… How old are their kids and what are they interested in.

5. The Congregation Sends Signals.

Is visitors parking clearly marked? And when you park there, does someone greet you with a warm welcome and helpful information? Or, do you find a parking place wherever you can and receive only stares as you approach the entrance?

Did you get the impression that you were sitting in someone else’s pew today?

Did anyone make an effort to learn your name and see if you have a question? Or, was the only handshake you received given during the in-service time as announced as in routine?  Spontaneous acts of kindness count more than a forced handshake because the worship pastor said, “OK folks! Lets greet each other in the name of the Lord this morning!”

Churches have their own signs, usually they are read in the faces, smiles (or lack of one), and tone of members’ voices.

6. No attempt is made to get information on visitors.

Most church bulletins have a perforated tear-off which asks for all kinds of information and even gives people ways to sign up for courses or dinners. 

Not all however.

In that case, a visitor comes and goes. The church had one or two opportunities to reach out to him or her and blew it.

A church which is successful in reaching people for Christ will use redundancy.  They will have multiple methods for engaging newcomers, everything from greeters in the parking lot to friendly ushers to attractive bulletins and after-service receptions.

7. No one follows up on first-timers.

Asking people to fill out a guest card implies that there will be some kind of contact with them afterwards.

The first-timer, who visits a church and fills out a card, has a right to expect some kind of follow-up from a leader of that congregation.

We’re frequently told that people today cherish their privacy and do not want to give their name and contact information until they decide this church is trustworthy. Studies have found this to be true, but not universally true. Many people still want to be enthusiastically welcomed and will respond to invitations to be given the grand tour and taken to lunch afterwards.

In most cases leaders can tell from guest cards whether a visit will be welcomed. If not, at the very least a phone call should be made. If the caller receives an answering machine, he/she leaves the message and may decide this is sufficient for the first time.

8. Intangibles often send the signals loud and clear.

Imagine how many visitors would want to belong to a church family that had a couple roaming the auditorium before and after services in search of anyone they did not know, engaging them in conversation, and inviting them to lunch.  Even if the Radical Greeters only get one yes to every ten “no’s,” the people who declined will go home with a much different experience than at almost any church they’ve been to before.

Often, it’s nothing more than a great smile that seals the deal. Or a warm, genuinely friendly handshake.

Some churches install a newcomers desk in the foyer, where visitors can meet knowledgable leaders, pick up material, and get questions answered.  Those can be great, but there is one caveat: you must have the right people on that desk. Individuals gifted with great smiles and servant spirits and infinite patience are ideal.

9. Post Service Matters

You the newcomer have enjoyed the service, you were blessed by the sermon, and you would like to greet the pastor and begin an acquaintance with this church.

However, within 5 minutes after the last song, the place is deserted. People were so eager to leave, they hardly spoke to one another, much less guests.

The signal this sends the visitor is clear: “We don’t care for our church and you wouldn’t either.”

Healthy churches love each other and welcome newcomers and their people are reluctant to leave following the end of services.

One wonders if pastors and other leaders realize just how scary it can be for a person new in the city to venture into an unfamiliar church. It is an act of extreme courage.  Especially if that person comes alone.

The Lord told Israel to reach out to newcomers and welcome them.  After all, they themselves knew what it was to live in a strange country where the language and customs were foreign and they were missing home. God wanted Israel to remember always how that felt so they would welcome the stranger within their gates.

Lets make an effort this Sunday to have Christ’s Eyesight… Compassion for lost sheep. 

Maybe living a life worth writing about doesn’t apply only to the people who built a thousand homes in uganda. 
Maybe it doesn’t solely belong to those who have raised a million dollars for Race For The Cure.

Perhaps a life worth writing about is one who lives out Christ’s love for the church and for the lost. 

Live. Love.


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