A topic that does not get much attention is the dramatic shift in the front door of churches. By “front door,” we mean that place where a non-attendee or an unchurched person will first check out a church he or she has never visited. In the past few decades, we saw a change in the location of the front door. The change was gradual, almost imperceptible.
But, with the advent of the pandemic, we saw a sudden shift in the front door. We think this change will be sustained for at least a few years. Let’s look at the four major front door eras of churches.
Sunday School and Other Small Groups (1950s to 1980s)
To be clear, not all churches in this era emphasized Sunday school or small groups. Some were primarily worship-only or worship-primary. But tens of thousands of churches in North America alone sought to get guests to “check out” a church by visiting a small group or Sunday school class.
Those guests who took their first visit to a group tended to be sticky. They quickly developed relationships, the glue to getting people to return. And church members commonly would invite guests to their group before they invited them to “church,” the often-used verbiage for worship services.
Worship Services (1990s to 2000s)
For a number of reasons we will examine later, the front door shifted from groups to corporate worship services. Church members would invite people to “church” more than they would invite them to “class.” Many low-commitment baby boomers (born between 1946 to 1964) began shifting the front door to the worship services from groups in the 1980s, but the shift became noticeable around 1990.
As a consequence of this shift, churches began to pour significant resources into worship ministries. Some of the increase in resources was beneficial. Some were more concerned about production value than worship.
The Church Website (2010s)
Eventually, the front door moved from an in-person visit to a digital visit. Prospective guests went to the website of churches to check out the address, the time of the worship services, how attendees dressed, childcare issues, and other details. Churches that spent time and resources on a quality website with the guest in mind benefitted the most.
Fortunately, the cost of a quality website became affordable for all churches. Unfortunately, though, many churches viewed their websites as an information hub for members. For the most part, though, guests were the most frequent visitors. Some churches had low-quality websites with dated information. And even some churches today still do not have a website. For most potential guests, those churches do not exist.
Streaming Worship Services (2020s)
The new front doors today are our streaming worship services. The pandemic moved church members and guests to this medium in the millions. Potential guests today are still likely to visit churches digitally first. Instead of a static website, though, they are visiting a streaming worship service either live or recorded.
These guests can now check out the church’s music, preaching, and priorities in full by viewing a service. Though the number of views a church gets on its streaming services is likely lower than its peak during the pandemic, streaming services are more important than ever. People are “visiting” your church digitally before they visit in person. I pray that your church is prepared for these digital guests.
What do you think of these developments? Let me hear from you.
Posted on February 14, 2022
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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