Fifteen Characteristics of Genuinely Friendly Churches

As churches begin to regather for in-person services, some areas of guest friendliness will change, at least for the short-term. For example, for precautionary reasons we likely will not be giving guests physical gifts.

As I have consulted with churches over the years, I have assembled data on what I called GFCs, genuinely friendly churches. I set certain parameters for GFCs; then I attempted to measure the guest return rates for those churches. A guest return rate is simply the percentage of guests who will return to the church for at least a second visit.

Here is the simple but profound difference I found in GFCs and all other churches: A genuinely friendly church has a guest return rate six times greater than other churches.

Did you get that? If a church meets the guidelines to be a GFC, the probability of a guest returning is six times higher than all other churches! Sadly, only about one of twenty churches meets the criteria necessary to be a GFC.

When I began as a consultant, I had 10 criteria, and the church had to meet at least eight of those criteria to be a GFC. I have since expanded the list to 15, and require churches to meet 12 of the 15 to be a GFC. Here are the 15 characteristics of genuinely friendly churches:

  1. They are intentional about being friendly. Warmth and friendliness are clear values of these churches. They are articulated regularly. All organizations, including churches, naturally drift toward an inward focus unless they are otherwise intentional.
  2. The leaders model warmth, humility, and friendliness. The friendliness is not contrived or phony. These leaders have prayerfully become genuinely friendly men and women.
  3. The leaders are clear that genuine friendliness is more than a brief stand and greet time in a worship service. The efficacy of a stand and greet time has been debated extensively in a previously published article. Regardless of a church’s decision in this practice, leaders in GFCs were adamant that true hospitality and friendliness extends beyond a two-minute welcome time.
  4. GFCs utilize a secret guest at least twice a year. One small church of which I am aware budgets $100 a year for a secret guest. They pay the guest with a $50 gift card to come to the church and provide feedback on their experience. I call this process “looking in the mirror” because it gives the church a real opportunity to see itself as others do.
  5. GFCs had a guest friendly website. The website typically set the tone for a guest. If it did not have obvious information for a guest, such as worship times and addresses, the guest came to the church with a more negative disposition.
  6. The church has clear signage. Far too many churches lack this signage. They assume that everyone knows where everything is. First-time guests know nothing about the church or its different facilities.
  7. GFCs have a well-organized greeters’ ministry. They have greeters in the parking lot, greeters in the entrances, and greeters in other strategic locations inside. Many GFCs utilize newer members in this ministry.
  8. These churches have clear information places. It may be something as simple as a well-marked table manned by a member of the church. The signage points clearly to the information table, booth, or kiosk.
  9. GFCs have clean and neat buildings. It is amazing how much a clean facility adds to the positive mood of a guest. It is equally amazing how few churches pay attention to this issue.
  10. They have a guest feedback process. To the best of their ability, GFCs follow up with guests to get feedback on their experiences. They also encourage the guests to be open and frank in the feedback.
  11. The children’s area is clearly safe and sanitary. Don’t expect young parents to return if the church does not give clear attention to this matter.
  12. The majority of church members in GFCs are involved in the community. They thus exude genuine friendliness in the worship services because they are regularly connecting with non-church members other days of the week.
  13. Small groups are highly intentional about reaching people beyond their own groups. Thus when these group members are in a worship service, they are already accustomed to reaching out beyond those with whom they already have relationships.
  14. GFCs have new member classes that emphasize the responsibilities and expectations of church members. Members are thus more apt to look beyond their own preferences to serve others. That attitude shows up in the worship services.
  15. GFCs demonstrate an awareness of and sensitivity to COVID-19 concerns. This issue will likely be around for a while.

Give your church an honest evaluation of these 15 items. See if you can give an emphatic “yes” to at least 12 of them. If not, what should your church change?

This post originally appeared in November 2014. It has been updated to reflect changes related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Posted on July 12, 2020

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Great list. I’ve also heard of churches doing a little Biblical financial teaching in their new member classes, to explain the financial view the church (and members) are coming from. Getting that clear right off the bat.

  • We’ve only begun to touch upon this aspect of guest ministry in our training of greeters and other guest ministry volunteers–body language. We had one session in how our body language can affect a first time guest. Here it is important to know your community and the different cultures and subcultures in that community and the differences in friendly, open, welcoming body language between these different groups. This is especially important if your community is multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-racial and as a church you are seeking to reflect the diversity in the community.

  • Mark Dance says on

    I love the fact that all of these characteristics are within the reach of any church…eventually. A wise leader will be both persistent and patient in leading his or her church to become guest friendly. My advice is to tackle a few of these great ideas at a time until the culture of your church eventually shifts.

  • I recently went to an Anglican cathedral and on the way in after being greeted once or twice, I wound up in a chat with the Dean, who was also greeting people. She asked a few questions about where I was living since it was obvious that was from another country. That is the reputation you want. It was genuine. She could not have been nicer.

    I also one time wound up meeting a Catholic bishop at the airport baggage claim of all places. He was talking to a woman in her native language and was just as attentive there as he would have been in his study. After she went on, I got to thank him for something he had done, which he really did not want credit for having done. He too could not have been nicer to either of us.

    Also, a friendly church has a sermon that does not have a political lean to it, either right or left. The clergy-person whose sermon leans politically will automatically not come across as friendly to the guest whose politics differs.

  • I agree with you an all except asking our guests to evaluate us. I love the idea of using a “secret guest” to come in and intentionally evaluate us, but to ask our guests seems inappropriate some how.

  • The idea of a secret guest is intriguing. Do you have suggestions of what a secret guest should look for when they visit? I ask because I am wondering if you have formulated a form with suggestions for the secret guest, in order to make the most of their time.

  • Intentional is key here and it is listed in several of your characteristics. I think that makes all the difference. Glad to be in a church who implements these!

    • Thom Rainer says on

      I’m always grateful to hear of churches like yours, Todd.

    • Marquis Boston says on

      Good Afternoon Mr. Todd would you be willing to tell me the church you attend if you feel comfortable I live in Portland Oregon thank you and please have a gorgeous day!!!

  • H.B. Sunny Mooney, III says on

    Thanks again for addressing some positive goals that churches can set in order to improve their efforts in reaching potential members. Should these be considered? Should these be possible hills for leaders to take a stand? Absolutely!

    If our priority is disciple making, then we should remove obstacles and install ministries that welcome, not hinder, guests into Kingdom focused churches. If we don’t then it may not be the pastor or elder whose ministry or tenure dies, but the local body of believers that may have their ‘lampstand removed.’ We need to return to our First Love and do the things that give Him glory.

  • I know you mentioned this in other posts . . . GFC’s are intentional about beginning their ministry in the parking lot with friendly, helpful greeters that help create a welcoming environment for the guests (and regular members who have had a bad morning or week).

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