Nine Surprises in Worship Services That Made Guests Return

In a recent Twitter survey, I asked respondents to share with me a singular event that impressed them in a church worship service. In fact, most of the respondents said they were “delighted” or “surprised,” and that the one event made them desire to return to the church.

I am appreciative for all the responses. A pattern developed around nine factors. Here are some representative quotes around each of the issues:

  1. “Someone had an umbrella waiting for me in inclement weather.” This comment was made for both snowy and rainy weather. Some of the respondents indicated that someone actually stayed next to them so they would not slip or fall.
  2. “A member actually invited me to lunch.” I admit I was surprised by the frequency of this response. This invitation had a huge impact on guests.
  3. “The kids area had leaders who were friendly and helpful.” This issue was obviously highly important to young families. I realize more than ever you keep or lose young families at the point you check the kids in or take them to a class.
  4. “There was a time of meaningful prayer.” I continue to be gratefully amazed at how important prayer is to guests. They love the times of quiet when people are asked to pray silently. They also love guided prayers.
  5. “Someone walked us where we were supposed to go.” Every place in a church facility is unknown to a first time guest. They love greeters staying with them and taking the fear of the unknown away.
  6. “There was genuine friendliness outside of the stand and greet time.” I have come to the conclusion that church members tend to like the stand and greet time more than guests do. In fact, most guests see the stand and greet time as artificial, especially if members are not friendly outside that time.
  7. “People followed up with my prayer requests the next day.” Many churches have places on guest cards for prayer requests. If leaders in the church emphasize that people will pray for the guests, many are likely to complete the card. The guests are really impressed if they hear from someone the next day.
  8. “I loved having the opportunity to speak with the pastor.” In some churches, this conversation took place in a reception room after the service. In other churches, the pastor called or wrote a personal email that was obviously not a form email. Guests really love hearing from the pastor.
  9. “I received a gift at the end of the service.” Many guests love receiving a gift for their visit. Their favorite gifts are freshly baked cookies or freshly baked bread. But any gift is appreciated.

Keep in mind, those who responded to our survey noted only one of these nine surprises that caused them to return. They considered any of these efforts above and beyond what they expected.

What do you think of these nine “delights and surprises”? Do you have experiences you can add to the list? Let me hear from you.

Posted on December 21, 2015

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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  • I visited a megachurch where a dignified middle-aged male greeter walked around outside wearing a ‘silly hat’ – he had a variety. He just greeted people – he wasn’t a clown – and among the imposing landscaping and colossal building it was a nice compassionate touch. I forgot myself for a moment and appreciated the touch of humanity.

  • Kay Heidemann says on

    Imagine if all of His people actually implemented all 9 and even added to them? How many people would not only return but actually see the value of our God, the value of worship, the value of others, the value of service, and the value of being a Christian …and get saved because of it?!

  • One of the biggest things for me when I first went to the church I have now been a member of for 6 uesrs, was that a member told me about childcare and led me there. I had a very rambunctious 3 year old at the time, and had been to several churches that made no mention of it so I had him through the service, when it was available. If you offer Sunday School or childcare mentioning that to parents can make a huge difference, even if they choose not to use it the first visit.

  • It’s called hospitality and St. Benedict wrote the book on it! (Pun intended!!)

  • Thanks for all the comments, folks. It’s time to get back to the topic of the blog post!

  • TwilightReader says on

    We laughed during my first service (having never sat through an entire church service in my life, that was a surprise. I was expecting the service to be very solemn) and have had many laughs during the service since then.

  • Growing up I alway thought that “church”was the place I should go to meet God through the life and ministry of Jesus. How the people treat and interact was often a more powerful witness than anything preached from the pulpit. I wanted to see what difference church made in people’s lives.

    Thom, I love the grace and collegiality you extend to those who comment hear. Speaks volumes to me.

  • Thom,

    Thanks for the observations. I wonder what the breakdown would be if you could factor in whether people were “churched” before that first visit. As a 63-year old who has been a believer for 41 years, I’ve occasionally forced by circumstances to “church shop.” I have joined three churches where none of the delightful things you listed happened, but the doctrine was sound and the music didn’t usually make me cringe. It seems like the criteria for re-visiting or joining would be different for folks who aren’t used to coming to church at all and have no idea what to expect. Someone complained that “sound doctrine” wasn’t listed, but the truth is that many people, including some who’ve gone to fundamental churches all their lives aren’t necessarily equipped to evaluate a church’s doctrine, certainly not on the first visit. It’s the church’s responsibility to have sound doctrine, THEN to make certain we welcome visitors in a way that is not just superficial.

    God bless – Paul

  • I worship at and volunteer for a mega-church in Southern California. Each Sunday we strive to create a “Disneyland” experience for visitors. That doesn’t mean, all fun and games, glitz and glamour. What is means is that visitors arrive at our campus and see that we are ready for them. Our volunteers are well trained in their job, arrive early (because guests come early to get the lay of the land) and are ready to welcome attenders. Our facilities are in top notch condition: not necessarily brand new or state of the art, but clean, stocked and in good repair.

    Little is worse than people running around at five minutes before the service getting set up or facilities that are run down.

    I would also add as an introvert, please, please don’t make me meet and greet. If you must, do it at the end of the service–extroverts can greet to their hearts content and we introverts can easily escape this highly uncomfortable ritual.

    • I did think at Disney World it was like a clean orderly city where the employees were good and kind. When I visit a church I don’t need false enthusiasm that I am there; cordiality and interest are plenty.

  • Donna Cullen says on

    Thank you for sharing this list. As an introverted person, I acknowledge that some welcoming practices are uncomfortable. Being sincere, demonstrating love for those outside the building – being in ministry and welcoming the stranger to engage in that ministry hold more weight. It is not about me or my family, it is about an outward focus. For me, the church is a place to convene to plan how to serve and to involve others (strangers) in that ministry. Capturing input from mission focused folks can prove allusive.

  • Hugh Callison says on

    I am surprised that there were no comments about the use of music in the plan for worship. Most churches that I visit, but have no desire to visit again, seem to have the opinion that the worshippers are not capable of reading musical notation and that they might possibly be unable to sense a feeling of worship when only lyrics of hymns are provided for little-known or unknown hymns or choruses intended as an avenue for worship. If I ever attend a church that provides the musical notation and also provided musical accompaniment that agrees with the correct harmonization of that accompaniment, I would definitely return. I go to church for worship, not “friendly greetings,” clever sermons or entertaining dramatic skits. If I can freely worship God in a congregational setting, the “friendly” part will take care of itself as I become a regular worshipper in the congregation.

    • Amen. Hymnals are wonderful things and need to be used. If you expect people to sing, give them music to go by. And utilize the classics, not just 7-11 praise choruses (7 words repeated 11 times). I am the director of music and organist at the most wonderful United Church of Christ imaginable. A variety of music is good, but don’t count the beautiful classics out. And never forget the hymnals in the rack in front of you!!!

  • Love reading all responses ; we pray for the leadership of our country . We pray that the next President will be a godly man , and have godly thoughts , and do all in the will of God , and not by mans on ideals . Scriptures says ; What so ever you do in word or deed , do all in the name of Lord Jesus giving thanks to God and the Father by Him Col 3:17 . If Donald Trump is our next Leader ; I hope to see him in worship . Thank you, Bob