“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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- We found that most guests who think a church is unfriendly never let anyone in the church know. They simply leave and never return.
- 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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Friendliness is subjective and that goes for both parties.
Also, in some churches, you need to have belonged for ten to twenty years before you are no longer a “newcomer”. This is often because some families have belonged for generations.
Great article! Sadly, our Pator knows our church is not the most friendly and is doing his best to address it, but you can’t force a horse to drink.
My husband and I do not like the meet & greet and we never have.
We are both very active in the church that we attend and can see so many self absorbed people and basically click-ish people. I guess you could say that our pastor, and a few more of us are considered the “peculiar” ones of our bunch because we will make sure we take time to go and speak to our guests before worship starts or directly afterward. We take the time and get to know the people and truly listen to find out their needs or what brought them to us. Meet & greet at our church appears to be for the members to say hello to each other, not to say hello to the guests. I have never seen anything like it. We had a member pass away and only a few of us had taken the time to know this member before passing. This member had been sick for a while and continued to come to church as long as he could. I have no idea why…because none of the rest of our members were even concerned with his declining condition. Many are completely oblivious to anything not pertaining to themselves. No one even offered to bring food after he passed. When we broke the news of this member’s passing, we heard “Now, who was that?”, “Where did they sit?”, “What did the member look like?”, or “Oh, that’s so sad, but I just don’t know who you are talking about.”
Our pastor is doing his best, but we see his discouragement and continue to encourage him and build him up. I just don’t know if this is society these days or just the demographics… I have just never seen such an unfriendly sort when it involves new people coming in. It is a very selfish mentality that we are seeing.
I’m just wondering if you could write about that some day soon. I have a feeling that many of the churches in the nation are having some of this behavior just by judging your recent articles and the book “I Am A Church Member” (great read by the way). I picked it up so that I could possibly understand some of the “Me..Myself…I” behaviors we have in our church.
Thanks again for a great post!
“Many are completely oblivious to anything not pertaining to themselves.” Yeah, that’s unhealthy – especially if that’s the norm. In our congregation I am aware of many of people such as you describe, but they’re balanced out by as many other members who genuinely look after each other and reach out to people they don’t know.
Thom, this is interesting. Being friendly should be natural for the Christian (Gal 5:22), but, like so many things in churches, isn’t there a level of subjectivity here? I may think someone is friendly but the next guy might not. What constitutes as “friendly?”
Often our best Bible teachers are also our finest greeters. It is vital to consider the bigger picture as to where one’s gifts will be most effective. This is not to imply Bible study should take second priority, but if guests turn back to their cars, what is taught become irrelevant. What happens on the parking lot and the entrance affects the entire experience. No matter how well prepared the platform leaders are, if there is a poor experience at the door, it is difficult to overcome.
If guests make it in the door, clear signage is vital and well informed folks in the hallways to pick up the mantle.
Friends are friendly to friends, but not necessarily to strangers. Therefore, we must deliberately teach our leadership teams, greeters, ushers, and the body as a whole to not overwhelm, but make a gracious contact with guests. We must be careful not to embarrass or back folks in a corner, but provide needed information and be gracious hosts.
With no attempt to be pseudo spiritual, simply teach our folks to review how Jesus encountered strangers.
There are volumes of things to be said about greeting guest and presenting a friendly atmosphere. Now ever, in our zeal to “entertain strangers,” we must not forget the Body.
Though it ought to be the other way around, the church can learn much from the Waffle House.
The great preaching at my church was what kept one of my friends visiting, but after about six months of no one other than me reaching out to meet with her, she left because of the lack of initiative by others. Some would say ‘hi’ during the mid-service meet-and-greet, one even offered to meet but then didn’t follow-through. From what I know, none of them really offered her friendship, a one-time coffee or genuine small group invitation. Yet there was much encouragement to members to evangelize and invite friends to church events. Breaks my heart in a big way because my friend was really hoping it would be different.
Doesn’t the ‘friendliness’ thing work both ways?
Sometimes the unfriendliness radiates from the guest rather than the church. I think sometimes guests enter a church for the first time expecting to have intimate friendships instantly, when the church members have known each other for decades and walked through tough times together.
Some of them may leave thinking the church is ‘unfriendly’ because they didn’t make instant friends and become close with everyone in one morning – are their expectations too high?
We’ve tried every gimmick known to man to please guests, but what seems to work best is going back to basics. Teaching the word of God every time we meet, trying our best to love people, and praying for the Lord to send us the people He wants us to have – those he knows we’ll be able to disciple with our particular congregational personality and gifts.
Certainly I would never make excuses for an unfriendly church, but there’s more to leading people to Christ than treating guests with a surface friendliness.
Amen. Very well stated, Keith.
I can honestly say the church I currently serve is friendly, because visitors tell me so. One time I even had a visitor write on a visitors’ card, “The people here are very welcoming!” We do a “meet and greet” time, but my last church did not. Still, my last church was quite friendly, too. I visited several prospects in the eleven years I served there, and they consistently commented on the friendliness of the people.
Mind you, I’ve visited a few churches where I felt about as welcome as a polecat at a picnic. I’m something of an introvert, but if people don’t make some effort to welcome me, it’s very unlikely that I’ll go back.
“welcome as a polecat at a picnic.” I like that.
Thanks! I can’t remember where I first heard that expression; probably from my Mom.
This has been very enlightening and also very spiritual. Your post and the comments of many has really caused me to be thinking and asking questions; especially personal. How freiendly am I as a believer? What roles do I play to make the service and the church friedly? How much of the spirit of Christ do I supply even if I don’t like a particular part of the service or the person leading or cordinating the service? What is our overral aim for being friendly? Is it to make the service a smooth or happy one for the guest, or cajole her/him to join the church? What is the connection of a soul winning oriented church and being friendly? These and more questions from me are bothered from my discovery that most sundays we have an average of 7 guest worshipping with us yet the number of the church doesn’t seems to significantly improve. Your post has really gingered me to wake up to the fact that I really do have a role PERSONALLY to play. Looking forward to your monday post. Would definitely give you feedback as I go back to the REAL work. Thank you sir and remain blessed. Peter
My husband and I are traveling full time for 18 months (6 months into our experience). We’ve been attending a different church each time we move from place to place with our RV. The experience has been enlightening…
We’ve attended churches from within our denomination, we’ve attended mega churches (with online ministries & campuses – eg in Atlanta & Nashville), and we’ve attended non-denomination, local churches.
A few thoughts from our 6 months of being a “guest”.
– “Friendly” needs to be more than just a handshake – please talk to me, and if there’s something happening after your service (open to everyone), please invite me, don’t just assume that I “know” I’m invited.
– Church People need to SMILE if they’re going to turn around to look at who is entering the congregation! (I’ve never seen so many grumpy faces looking at me when we are new and walk in and sit down. And no – we’re not late!)
– please give me a clue to how the process of your service/worship will progress. – when to sit, when to stand, etc.
– I’ve been most impressed by those who send me home with a small “get to know us” gift.
Looking forward to your post on Monday!
I would love to hear more of your experiences. We might shoot you an email. Thanks.
It’s not surprising that most churches think they excel at something they don’t, is it? How often are churches evaluated for day-to-day qualities, by their own organizations or by…..anyone? My one concern is that even if a church is “friendly,” that doesn’t mean they’re also honest, and striving for Biblical goals. We’ve experienced too many that were friendly on the surface, but had all kinds of other garbage going on once you were there awhile and actually got to know the place. Maybe the reason too many churches think they’re friendly when they’re not is because they’re too busy trying to fulfill an image, and don’t really want a truthful evaluation of their situation.
My husband is the founding pastor of the church we have been at 30 years. We have seen “waves” of friendliness. It comes from the people that attend and those really connected to the vision and wanting to build relationship for the sake of growing the Kingdom of God and relationships, not just a church. We also noticed that we are a college town and the people that seem to be best at connecting with people, being hospitable, etc. are those that have been transplanted, (possibly as a result of coming to the town for the university). It seemed that those that grew up here, had family here, stuck to their family relationships and didn’t seem to need the other relationships or desire to expand their sphere outside their family, or be sensitive to the need for relationships that others had that weren’t from the area without family here. Very much a “set in their way” complex. We have found that there is a difference in being friendly and being inviting, which we probably read in one of these blogs! Also, as leaders, Romans 12 NLT is a great goal and encouragement to emulate in our churches. Romans 12:9 “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection,[e] and take delight in honoring each other. 11 Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.[f] 12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.” We always encourage our leaders with that last part…be eager to practice hospitality!
Excellent comments, Deb. Thank you.