Six Reasons Your Church Might Not Be As Friendly As You Think It Is

“We are the friendliest church in town.”

I have heard that statement thousands of times. I promise. In over 500 church consultations and thousands of church member interviews, I heard it. Most church members really do think their church is very friendly.

But, more times than not, they are wrong. Guests who visit the churches usually have a much different perspective. Here are six things to consider if you really think your church is friendly.

  1. Almost all church leaders consider their church friendly. But we have strong evidence to the contrary. We have learned that self-perception (or perception of one’s church) often does not meet reality.
  2. Volumes of survey data from church guests indicate that very few churches are really friendly. Our surveys over a ten-year period indicate that over eight in ten guests did not consider the church they visited to be friendly.
  3. Many church members perceive their church to be friendly because they have established relationships in the church. But church guests typically do not have those relationships in the church. They, thus, see the church differently.
  4. Many church members see their church as friendly because they have a brief stand and greet time in the worship service. This issue has drawn a lot of attention at this blog. I think we can all agree, however, that there is much more to genuine friendliness than a two-minute greeting time.
  5. We found that most guests who think a church is unfriendly never let anyone in the church know. They simply leave and never return.
  6. We found no significant evidence that church members are connecting with unchurched persons and bringing them to a worship service. It would seem that genuine friendliness would result in an influx of non-believers. That just has not happened.

Do you think your church is genuinely friendly? Upon what facts do you base your perception? What can your church do to become friendlier to guests?

Let me hear from you.

photo credit: gb_packards (Mike) via photopin cc

Posted on November 8, 2014

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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  • When I became the Pastor at our church over 10 years ago, we were nowhere close to being a friendly church. However, after prayer and confronting the church lovingly over the issue and the proof I saw, we have become friendlier. Other people in our community have noticed as well as some visitors. It has taken some time and gentle reminders from Scripture about how we are supposed to be as Christians. Honestly, it is nothing like it was when I arrived but at the same time,I feel we have a ways to go. What has worked for us is defining why we are here each Sunday and our “friendliness” coming out of an attitude of love and worship of God.

  • I can’t argue with good research, but I do not think unfriendliness is all on the church. Churches have to walk a very fine line between being friendly and smothering new guests, and it takes time to consider whether people are friendly or not. I always tell people that I invite to church to give us a Minh or two and then decide.

  • Sweet "T" says on

    Is that the CC at the BBC where the GAs usually meet? My family (wife and kids) have moved quite a few times and so we know about friendly, greeting, welcoming, etc. but our pastor and the assistant are either local or have been at only two churches (small town adjacent) in over 25 years. All the Deacons and other leaders are local and so they have never(?) walked into a church where they knew no one. As a newcomer, I have not spoken out in formal settings about how I see a need to be more concerned about guests but I have talked about the matter to individuals in casual conversations but they seem to be in denial. In the days of many revival meetings and homecomings and all-day singings even small town people who’d never moved were exposed to other congregations but now….

    • You raise another important point: guests are often not familiar with our church lingo. If you grew up in a Southern Baptist church like I did, you’re familiar with things like RA’s, GA’s. WMU, etc. Not all visitors will know what these things are, so a church would do well to offer some information about them. When I teach a new members’ class, I always explain how the Cooperative Program works, and I tell them about our annual “Lottie Moon” and “Annie Armstrong” offerings. You’d be surprised at how many people – even those who grew up Southern Baptist – are unfamiliar with how these things work.

  • Daniel Smith says on

    Could a church be over friendly? I have Pastored smaller churches and wonder if guest get the new fish in the shark tank feeling. After everyone has came by and talked to them. I also wonder if that’s one of the reasons smaller churches have a hard te growing.

    • But how do you ask a church to be less loving and friendly? I asked this question on another blog, and the only responses I got were attacks on my motives.

    • That is a great question. But I think that comes back to a definition of “friendly”, are the church members really extending a GENUINE invitation of friendship or are they just so desperate to have a new person they all crowd around trying to be overly welcoming actually smothering the guests. Smothering a person, gawking at a person or just viewing a person as an additional seat filled is far from the hope of ” friendship “.

  • Laura Meeks says on

    Hi Thom,
    I have been in church my entire life.
    I have been church shopping several times in my life.
    I have never attended a church that “feels” friendly in atmosphere on first approach, it only “feels” friendly once I have established friendships there.
    Seeker friendly churches only attempt to win “members”.

    I have invited friends and family to every church I have attended, they come to “check it out” or if they are in need or in turmoil of some sort. But if they are not a born again Christian, they only come to get what they need and then they are gone.
    If you are looking for friendships, most churches are not, and should not be in that business.

    It is my experience, that visitors to a church who are like I was church shopping will stay when they feel the church is a fit for them personally, Biblically, doctrinally and then worship type etc…..not friendly.
    I am a born again Christian, it has been my experience that if we go out into the community and be helpful to its “members” first while also sharing the Gospel with them, they will be converted and will then have a desire for the things of God, church etc, and not just a friendly atmosphere.

    Can we? -Preach the Gospel every week, so perchance the visitor will hear it and perhaps realize their “need” for salvation, they will return.
    Should we? The church is for believers, perhaps more sermons should be aimed at sending us out to get them saved and then bring them to church, friendly or not.

    • There is a lot of truth in your post. Makes me wonder if all the friendliness in the world would cause someone to return to a truly doctrinally un-sound church, if so that’s pretty much my image of a cult. On the other hand: I sure hope that someone visiting a congregation, and finding that the preaching and the ministry they see/hear is going on is solidly God’s work going on, would also have some sense that it’s a friendly place. Those with too much consumer mind-set see ‘friendliness’ as a service the good church ought to provide. But that doesn’t mean an obviously un-friendly congregation should be off the hook. If our congregations aren’t places where people cultivate healthy warm community, fellowship, service, conversation, etc… how can the teaching be anything but a head-trip?

  • Dave Miller says on

    I wish you’d stop coming to my church and writing posts about us!!

  • We measure it objectively. We send a 5 question anonymous guest survey to every person who visits and gives us an email. #1 word they use to describe the experience is “friendly” and it appears on 75% of the surveys.

    • >a 5 question anonymous guest survey to every person who visits and gives us an email.

      That is not anonymous, unless:
      * The survey is on the web;
      * The survey site can _only_ be reached by using TOR;
      * The response rate is greater than 80%;
      * A minimum of 100 surveys are sent at one time;
      * All surveys are completed within 12 hours of the request. (IOW, within 12 hours of sending the message, the survey must be taken down/removed.);
      * The survey does not request any personal identifying information;
      * The survey answers can not be utilized to determine personal identifying information;

      Getting to the point where all of those factors are in place is extremely difficult.
      Even with all of those factors in place, anonymous answers are not assured.

      > it appears on 75% of the surveys.

      What is the response rate?

      How are the questions phrased?
      Phrasing is critical.
      One of the dirty secrets of pollsters, is that they can write survey questions that support the answer that the client wants, regardless of what the people really think. IOW, if you want “The survey says that Westboro Baptist Church ( will gladly marry an actively practicing homosexual couple in their sanctuary”, it can be done.

      The other factor to take into consideration, is that people give answers that they think are desired by the poll-taker, regardless of their actual position.

  • We have had a “secret shopper” (2 different) in the past couple of years. They will give you honest, and sometimes hard to hear feedback on many aspects of your church and worship service. It has proven the most helpful thing we have done.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      That is a great solution.

    • I’m having one of those “why didn’t I think of that” moments. We used to have “secret shoppers” when I worked in retail. They made sure the salespeople were actually doing their jobs correctly. I’ve never thought about doing it in church, though. That’s a good idea.

  • Tony Nunn says on

    Our church, Brentwood Baptist, has just brought on a new Assimilation Minister and we are taking a serious look at how first time guest are treated. I think all churches need to do this and we need expert help on what to do. Many guest do not register their visit and a church as big as ours makes it very difficult to know who are guests. We try very hard to welcome guest and I think we do a great job but improvement is always needed.

    We have over 2000 plus guest per year and I wonder how many of those are “far from Christ”. It is a great potential harvest that for the most part we (all churches) are not taking enough advantage of this opportunity to share Christ.

    I love your newsletter, the topics are always so relevant! Let’s have lunch sometime at the CC at BBC and discuss this topic more!


    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks, Tony. I do love our church! I would welcome the opportunity to talk with you. And I bet the number of guests at Brentwood exceeds 15,000 per year.

      • Tony Nunn says on

        You are probably correct on the 15,000 number if you include those who do not register. The 2000 figure is an estimate of families.

        Email me your contact info and I’ll set up lunch for us and the assimilation minister to discuss all this more. Tony

    • Chuck Kanery says on

      “Assimilation Minister?” – That has to be the creepiest thing I’ve read today.

      “It is a great potential harvest that for the most part we (all churches) are not taking enough advantage of this opportunity to share Christ.”

      Maybe your church would be perceived as friendlier if you weren’t viewing visitors as a “harvest;” just a tally on a conversion sheet like a used car salesman. Actually *BE* a friend. Let them see something in you they want for themselves. Don’t view them as a goal, but as a person.

  • I’ve noticed that our church members have stopped being as friendly to new people as we have grown. They all say the same thing. They are afraid the person they don’t know is actually a member from one of our other services. They don’t want to embarass themselves by treating a member like a guest. I tell them they need to meet them anyway but most of them are very reluctant. It’s been one of the downsides of growth.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      That’s a common issue, Ben. Thanks for sharing it. See my post next Monday.

    • Our congregation has 5 services each week. We sit up in front at the same Sunday morning service. So my “go-to” response when I greet a member I thought was a guest is that I never see what is going on behind us. If they normally attend the service at a different time, I’ll just say, “well, that’s why I thought you were a guest!” I think a lot of that is being able to swallow pride and admit that you can’t possibly be expected to know everyone in a large congregation like ours. I’ve never had a member I greeted as a guest have a bad reaction.

  • Mark Dance says on

    Lost people generally will go where they are genuinely loved. It breaks my heart when I consider the implications of your last point. The results show that we are not friendly to unbelievers on Sunday’s or any other day of the week.

    I would love to see a follow-up blog about how my church can become friendlier to guests in particular, but also to the unchurched in general.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks, Mark. That post is coming Monday. A video resource will follow in a few weeks.

    • Good Article. Ive been a believer for a good while and In my dealings with church people there have been times that i wondered about the way church members felt about me. Some are friendly and some not. Recently I have missed some services, and a lady Ive seen many times greeted me and said I haven’t seen you recently. Now being In church as long as I have I have heard older church members say that to some , maybe to get a rise out so they will come to church. I wasn’t mad , but It made me think she didn’t ask how I was or was everything ok, and to add to that I don’t remember much of her greeting me much while I was going consistently . Sometimes I think we are either so much involved In evangelizing the world or unbelievers that we don’t seem to realize that our brothers and sisters need love also. How do we forget that God who we love and don’t see expects us to love those we do see everyday. Do we really care about one another or are we just existing together. Something to think about.

  • Julia14325 says on

    I think our church is “friendly” we greet at outside doors, inside doors, have stand and greet time(that everyone apparently hates) We have members that walk around speaking to everyone before the service starts in an attempt to connect a little. Taking that initial friendliness to the next level is the hard part.

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