Tackling Small Church Myths, part 3
This is the next installment in our ongoing “Small Church” series, which looks at guest services through the lens of the smaller congregation: those with 150 or fewer people in attendance each week. See the entire series here.
In a recent post we looked at five myths that trip up smaller churches when it comes to hospitality. These are myths that we can’t correct if we’re not aware of them. In today’s post (the last one in this mini-series-within-a-series), we’re addressing the final two myths: They know it (or they’ll figure it out), and They’ll be back.
Why they don’t know it (and may never figure it out):
Every organization…no matter how large or small, no matter how established or new…has a culture. And those on the outside of that culture always have to do more work to crack the code.
It’s not that they can’t crack the code. It just may be that it doesn’t feel worth it. If your Facebook page hasn’t been updated in years and your service times still show your Zoom link for early pandemic virtual gatherings, then sure: a potential guest could just send a message or call the church office or show up on Sunday morning and hope for the best.
Or they could pop over to the page of another church in town, or check out another website, or just stay home because it’s all too much trouble anyway.
Why they may not be back:
To draw on the previous section, they can’t come back if they never show up in the first place. But even if they do show up, they may feel that your culture is too entrenched for them to ever be a part of it. If they’re ignored (or if too much attention is placed on them), they may decide that this small family loves each other a lot, but has a hard time loving new people in a way that makes them feel welcome.
How we can help with both:
To build a guest-friendly culture, we have to identify and remove any barrier that would keep people from connecting with us, our church, and ultimately Jesus. But much like we can’t correct myths we’re not aware of, we can’t remove the barriers until we know they’re there.
So recommit yourself to seeing everything in your church from the eyes of your guests, especially these six areas:
- Perception and preparation: what does a guest think about when they think about your church? How navigable is your website or social media presence? What would a guest know about you based entirely on your internet footprint?
- Manageability of your facility: is your building visible from the road? Do you have signage identifying entrances? Do guests know where to park and where to walk in the building? Is your building clean, warm, and inviting?
- Weirdness in your worship service: baptisms and communion and scripture and sermons and songs are precious to us, not weird. But to the unbelieving outsider, they’re often nonsensical. So explain yourself – and the elements of the service – often.
- Culture of your congregation: if you want to get serious about welcoming new people, the time to talk about that is right now, not after a fumble with a first-time guest. Talk about what is helpful to outsiders, what is overwhelming, and how we can make them feel like one of us from day one. Nick Garner, Next Generation Pastor of First Baptist Church in Creedmoor, North Carolina, suggests asking your newer church members what they think is helpful to “outsiders.” As people new to your culture, they’re best poised to give you insight you haven’t thought about.
- 1:1 encounter: remember that every guest’s experience is intensely personal to them, and we’d do well to honor that. Don’t be shy to (figuratively) hold their hand in their first weeks: sit with them in church and help them to navigate the nuances of your service. Invite them to your Sunday School class. Set up a time to grab coffee.
- Guided next steps: in a smaller church, you might not have mapped out your guest experience journey…and that’s okay. As you get to know your new friend, help them interpret what is the easy, appropriate next step (join a class, start to serve, become a Christian, get baptized, etc.). And then walk with them through that process.
Do you have an idea or question for the Smaller Church series? Reach out to me directly or comment below.