Posted: 12/3/19 at 1:45pm. Post by Tony Brooks.
Note to reader: This blog post is the tenth in a weekly series and contains excerpts from Ken Braddy’s book, Breathing Life into Sunday School.
It is sad to say, but Walmart does a better job of welcoming people than many churches! They have assigned parking for people with disabilities and for expectant mothers. They have a greeter at each door. They smile and say, “Welcome to Walmart,” and provide stickers for children. Any employee is ready to help you find what you need. They smile when you leave and provide a warm goodbye.
Following up with first-time guests at church and creating a comfortable environment is critical in this culture! If a new guest comes to your Bible study class, be assured of the following:
They are anxious! They are not sure of the dress code; they wonder where to park, what door to enter, where to find a class; they may feel inept in their Bible knowledge, and more. (Some answers about those things will be in next week’s column.)
They evaluate everything. I have said before that a first-time guest will decide within the first 5-10 minutes whether they will come back. (More on this next week.)
They feel like outsiders. They are not sure about the dress code, whether they will know people, and where to sit once they find a class. They will see longtime friends in the class in conversation more than persons will talk to them. (More on this next week.)
They are hopeful. If they have the courage to come to your church and class, be assured that they are looking for a place to belong. They are looking for friendships, community, and understanding/answers from God about their current situation. They may be looking for a place to belong and a place to serve as well.
They don’t want to be identified until they are ready. Getting to know them individually is great! Having them stand and share about themselves in a group (whether a Bible study group or stand in worship to be recognized as a visitor) is a good way to make sure they never come back! (More on this next week.)
They are influenced by their children’s experiences at church. They may have loved the Bible study and worship. If they ask their children what they think, and it is bad…they won’t come back. If Bible study and worship was okay, but their children had a great time, they will probably try again! (More on this next week.)
They are not in a hurry to join the church! It takes on average today 18 months for a person to join the church. You can ask them to enroll in your Bible study. Let them know it is to connect them more with social events, prayer concerns, and a part of a group that will care. Love them, encourage them, but don’t push church membership. Many people believe that attending, giving, and serving means membership. (More on this next week.)
Their first impression of the church is hard to overcome if it is negative. The first 5-10 minutes matter. (More on this next week.)
Our last impression is hard to overcome if it is negative. They may have loved the Bible study group. If you don’t speak to them after worship, but you do talk to others, they get a message of not being important. (More on this next week.)
The church doesn’t get bonus points for being friendly. I have worked with a lot of churches around visioning. When I ask about who they are, they often say, we are a friendly church. As Braddy would say (p. 111), you’re supposed to be friendly! Friendly for many church members means that I spoke to the guest before the service or during the welcome time. What did you do at the end of the service? Were you only talking to your friends, or were you going out of your way to find the guests to talk with? Go back and look closely at Luke 15. Are you going to spend time with the guest who needs community (and possibly God) or friends who already have community?
You may be thinking…what can I do to make guests feel welcome? I am glad you asked. (More on this next week.) I know this looks like a soap opera getting you hooked for next week, but there is not enough space in a blog post to answer all the questions you may have in this one!