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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  • I understand many visitors, gauge a church friendliness by the way people treat other people in their congregations.

  • My husband and I both try to visit and spend time with visitors and potential members.

  • This is long, but I hope as a leader in a ministry that works with local churches and a church member, these ideas are valuable to the discussion. Three main points here: sharing experiences, an idea about the way people relate to different groups and an the importance that you keep coming.
    In 30 years of marriage we had to change churches 5 times. The one that we have been at for the last 8-10 years, two incidences were hard. When I first sat down someone said you cannot sit her, my husband is coming and then going to a workshop who’s title led me to believe I would make friends however the message of the workshop was, “Do not talk only to your friends every week, talk to new people.” This only made me feel like it would be harder to break in. I ended up making my first connection while sitting in the cry room which was for parents and children. I was there as an adult in transition, using the room for anonymity because I did not want my crying to be public. I met someone who’s children were older but she had experienced similar transition…
    Another valuable realization which God helped me with is that people relate in different patterns to men, women and authority. Learning to trust is important in all three areas. Sometimes it is vigilant trust – you don’t trust that person for every area, but for the area that that person is able and offering to give. The Lord convicted me that I was treating a pastors wife poorly and showed me that I was expecting something emotionally of her which had not been given to me by my mother and that she was not able to give it to me. As the Lord met that need by His presence and through a sponsor and prayer partner, I was able to change the interaction pattern and approach this pastors wife with a giving heart. When I gave my testimony for membership at the current church, there were only men elders present. I was ok to share my testimony but later did let them know that for many women, there was a need for a women to be in the room. Also a pastors wife can make a huge difference if how welcomed one feels. (The flip side is members need to help the spouses feel cared for.)
    I love our church but struggle with finding places to be transparent. Groups run for sessions and there are are some good Bible Studies, but when you have family that demands time and caring for but does not give back emotionally, you get used to having the relationships at church mean more to you than they do to the people you depend on. People move on but the body of Christ is still there. Remember that going each week consistently means more to people than is consciously realized by most people.

  • We have been looking for a new church for years. Believe it or not, some people do not want to stand up, introduce themselves, or made to feel like we’re on display.

    For crying out loud, the velocity in which the church tries to impose themselves on guests on their first visit is down-right scary!

    Some of us are shy and do not wish to reveal anything but our names to the greeter when asked. Wait until week two. If we’re back in week two, we’re nibbling the hook!

    Take it easy on us!!!

  • I 100% agree with your post and wonder what it might look like for those ‘friendly’ church people to actually love and care for people outside the walls of their congregation. Then, perhaps, people would come to worship because they already experienced the love of Jesus through the church members. Relationships would already exist.

    A ‘Friendly Church’ makes the assumption that random visitors with no connection to the ministry walk in the door in the first place. Waiting for someone to come ‘to us’ in order to welcome them is a recipe for a dying church.

  • ok, I guess I am what you would call “unattached” I don’t have a parish….and I have visited over 70 parishes in the past year ( daily services), I’d have to agree with this article- most churches are not only not friendly, many are downright hostile to new comers. As a single(never married, no kids) adult, many churches actively exclude folks like me from faith formation, others have what I call “assigned seating” and woe betide the person in someone’s “assigned” seat! The stand and greet ritual drove from more than one church…but I have to say that a lot of the attitudes towards newcomers comes from the top down, if the clergy can’t be bothered to talk to newcomers —how can they expect an attitude of welcome to exude from the laity? Welcome is much more than a coffee hour or a meet and greet.

  • Richard Atkins says on

    My wife and I intentionally seek and experience differing worship experiences while out of town. Many churches greet us in the parking lot and in the lobby with great enthusiasm as well as thank us for coming as we leave the church facility.. One thing we do is to just stand up and stay put after the conclusion of the worship experience. It is rare that anyone will enter into any type of dialogue with us, particularly those seated near us who greeted us during the traditional meet and greet portion of the weekend worship. I’m led to believe that this might be the evidence that counts most regarding how welcomed we really were..

  • I’ve been a member of my church for over four years.Most Sundays I sit behind the husband of a staff member and a deacon. They have never greeted me. Nor have they greeted anyone else. So I turn to the people behind me and try my best to be genuine in my greeting. Surely there must be a better way than just this few minutes in the middle of the worship time that is supposed to be focused on worship of our Lord and Savior.

  • You’ve touched on the thing I love most about our current church. Anyone is welcome and made to feel welcome – appearance, mental health, physical health, age, dress, it’s all accepted. And it’s just a suburban church.

    How do they (we) do this? Listening and remembering names – not because of any teaching but because it’s what people do.

    I think I would call this church accepting. Friendly seems to not quite capture it.

  • Very interesting and thought provoking article.The issue of church friendliness is one my family has been wrestling with for some time now.Our church considers itself to be very friendly but as relative newcomers(6 years)we think it is very unfriendly to anyone but those who are long time members or those who hold positions.
    I was a member of the Pastoral staff for 4 of the 6 years we’ve been there and on several occasions I mentioned in staff mtg’s how that our members were only friendly with a select few.Yes,we do the meet and greet and my wife tries to go around before service and welcome everyone,which is between 300 & 400 people.After being rebuked for my comments I stopped mentioning it.
    We have actually stopped attending and not surprisingly we have heard from only 3 or 4 of the congregation.My 16 year old daughter is so disillusioned with church that she doesn’t even want to attend now.How do you answer a teenager who asks why the youth group has never reached out to her?
    At any rate,I have learned first hand that many think they are friendly but when it comes right down to it they are actually not.
    All of which me to ask the question: if this is how we treat our own,how are we treating those outside the house of faith?

  • Thom

    Great post. I found everyone’s comments great to read. For me it is much more than a Church having certain members be greaters or approachers. church members needed to be in the community greeting and interacting with the nonchurch and the church to bring them in or getting the church more involved outside the church. For me a friendly church is a church that is working and aging outside it church walls.

    Thank you Tim

  • Too many churches have cliques. The meet and greet may be all right but if that’s all there is to a “relationship” with other people – then the meet and greet is basically fake. I pray that God will send me a genuine friendship in a church (I’ve made efforts) as well as getting leadership to look around esp those in volunteer leadership roles who treat even volunteers as outcasts…and they wonder why its hard to get volunteers.