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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  • DeWayne Wyatt says on

    My home church is in the less than 250 membership range, but it is a healthy and growing church in a small rural town. The church satisfies 13 of the 15 items listed. The once flagship church of the county with membership greater than 700 practices 6 of the 15 items and the church is physically dying–often less than 200 in SS, pre-pandemic. This statistic would validate the statistics in this article.

  • You made a good point that friendly church leaders typically would also create a friendly church community. My family will be moving to a new village later this year so we will have to start from scratch when using facilities such as groceries and clinics. I hope there is a family church near the new home so that Sunday worship wouldn’t be interrupted much by our move.

  • Where do you find your ‘secret shoppers?’

  • Frederick Mundle says on

    Hello, again…
    If I receive from your ministry daily, then it is my daily bread along with my regular devotions. You are welcome to reply to me with particulars as to where I may purchase your book(s). In the meantime, I shall try to research on line for more of your materials. Thank you for your ministry.


  • Hope Christian Church, North Haven meets all criteria and Pastor Jim is exceptional in preaching the word of God.

  • If you would please email me the questions that you want the secret guest to give you feed back on. You said something that you would have a list made up some time in December 2014.
    Thank you for your help.

  • Courtney Geisendorff says on

    Have you posted the video?

  • Jesse Roland says on

    As a Pastor I always check out other churches when I get the rare chance to visit and what I have discovered is that #1 is possible only if it is a genuinely friendly church. If it is not “natural” the “intentionality” is mechanical and you can just tell. For some churches other strengths get them over even when “friendliness” doesn’t I suppose (I visit churches where there are lots of people but I wouldn’t call them friendly). I am convinced of this… unless the people are genuinely friendly you can’t train them to be so. You can train them to do certain things but genuine warmth you can’t.

  • Thank you for the reminder this article brings to me. Balance is important. A gathering of believers is for worship, teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, but not limited to these. If I can remember–and that is becoming more new-heart-me than it once was in the natural-me, then everyone around me has either accepted or is being offered the same mercy and grace that was given undeserving-me. Sometimes I read these suggestions and I wonder if these might have read the same for a corporation wanting to make customers come back to the store again. I like that your wrote about being prayerful. Seems to be that that’s a beginning point: ask the H. Spirit what He has in mind. A caution to add for me to add that no matter how friendly a church may become, if the guest doesn’t hear a sermon which highlights the loving mercy and grace of Jesus, and is back by a church praying for the convicting work of the H. Spirit, then I can do cartwheels in the corridor, pass out $100 bills to everyone, invite everyone to my backyard for a bonfire aferwards, … but it all seem trivial, without being lead to hearing about Jesus and meeting those who have been adopted by Abba.

    • Oops. I see in my previous Reply a lack of attention to revising and editing in more than a few spots. Does that negate my contributions? 🙂

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