Top Ten Ways Churches Drive Away First-time Guests

NEW RELATED POST: Should Your Church Stop Having a Stand and Greet Time?

If you attend a church regularly, you’ve probably noticed the phenomenon. A guest shows up for a worship service, but he or she never returns. It is, unfortunately, a common issue in many churches.

I did a Twitter poll to ask these first-time guests why they chose not to return to a particular church. While some of the responses were anticipated, I admit being a bit surprised with some of them.

Though my poll is not scientific, it is nevertheless fascinating. Here are the top ten responses in order of frequency.

  1. Having a stand up and greet one another time in the worship service. This response was my greatest surprise for two reasons. First, I was surprised how much guests are really uncomfortable during this time. Second, I was really surprised that it was the most frequent response.
  2. Unfriendly church members. This response was anticipated. But the surprise was the number of respondents who included non-genuine friendliness in their answers. In other words, the guests perceived some of the church members were faking it.
  3. Unsafe and unclean children’s area. This response generated the greatest emotional reactions. If your church does not give a high priority to children, don’t expect young families to attend.
  4. No place to get information. If your church does not have a clear and obvious place to get information, you probably have lowered the chances of a return visit by half. There should also be someone to greet and assist guests at that information center as well.
  5. Bad church website. Most of the church guests went to the church website before they attended a worship service. Even if they attended the service after visiting a bad website, they attended with a prejudicial perspective. The two indispensable items guests want on a website are address and times of service. It’s just that basic.
  6. Poor signage. If you have been attending a church for a few weeks, you forget all about the signage. You don’t need it any more. But guests do. And they are frustrated when it’s not there.
  7. Insider church language. Most of the respondents were not referring to theological language as much as language that only the members know. My favorite example was: “The WMU will meet in the CLC in the room where the GAs usually meet.”
  8. Boring or bad service. My surprise was not the presence of this item. The surprise was that it was not ranked higher.
  9. Members telling guests that they were in their seat or pew. Yes, this obviously still takes place in some churches.
  10. Dirty facilities. Some of the comments: “Didn’t look like it had been cleaned in a week.” “No trash cans anywhere.” Restrooms were worse than a bad truck stop.” “Pews had more stains than a Tide commercial.”

There you have it. The top ten reasons first-time guests said they did not return to a church. I can’t wait to hear from you readers. You always have such good additions and insights.

Posted on November 1, 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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  • Doyle Riggan says on

    I think it’s important to deliberatly search for visitors and go our of our way to make them feel welcome, even if it means getting to our lifegroup late. My wife and I work in our church’s cafe and we often see people sitting or standing around that are obviously first time visitors. We will either approach them ourselves or ask another member or couple to welcome them. Our daughter and son-in-law live in Pennsylvania. They attend a conservative Christian church. We have visited this church several times when we were at their house and not once has anyone approached us to welcome us or ask us if we were new. I can only imagine how people visiting our church feel when they are not made to feel welcome.

  • Having just recently moved to new town I did a lot of church searching. One church I almost left in frustration because I looked for twenty minutes for the sanctuary. I ask directions and people pointed vaguely to another building. In another the preacher stood in the pulpit and told stories. I couldn’t even figure out what verses he was preaching on. The church I’m going to now has awesome sermons and music and that over came the initial embarrassment of first time guests having to raise their hand. Also the people were friendly and ask if you needed help finding anything.

  • Torie Pendleton says on

    Being a USAF family, we have searched for churches many times over the last 18 years. Oh, the stories I could tell!

    We do not mind the stand up, meet and greet at all, as long as church members actually greet us. Many times we have stood in a church, where it is obvious that we are the only visitors present, and had no one greet us. It is a bit like crashing a family reunion at that point. Even if the members do not want to inundate a visitor with all members, there should be a hand full of people designated to greet him or her.

    When we move into a new area, we start researching websites as soon as we find out. I have found that many times webpages do not correlate with what is really going on at a church. Many times the sites are drawn with the pastor’s vision in mind but no one seems to have shared that vision with the members.

    Facilities matter. Not whether you have $10,000 one room church(just visited one of those here in Jersey) or a multimillion dollar church, but whether the building is clean, well-keep and up to date. It matters because it tells a visitor whether the membership cares about their church or not. And it indicates whether or not the people strive for excellence as God commands. If it’s Christian, it should be better!

    I have been a believer for almost 30 years and these things turn me off each time I encounter them. But, we still give the church a chance. Several times we have walked into a transition phase of a church and have stayed for years to help new leadership build a church that honors God.

    The unbeliever will likely not do that. They will see substandard conditions and move on. Is it right, of course not! But, why do we expect unsaved people to act like Christians!

    Boring sermons, we always give the preacher a chance. The problem many times is that all of the negatives leading up to the sermon tend to make it difficult to concentrate. Still, if a pastor delivers a message based on the Word of God then it is a blessing.

    Again, I have the benefit of the Holy Spirit to decern whether or not a church is where God wants us. A lost person does not have that.

    I’ve said this for many years, if I was a lost person I would not seek a church based on what I have seen over the years. It is a sad statement, but it is true!

    • Thom Rainer says on

      That is very helpful information, Torie. Thank you.

    • I wonder how many lost people actually pursue finding a church home. Personally, I was saved through a personal friendship and then sought out a church home.

      I was also a military wife and struggled with many of the mentioned issues in the article, especially the stand up and greet those around me. Yes, even military wives can be introverts in spite of being forced to go out of their comfort zone to welcome new military families. If I had not personally experienced the “you’re sitting in my seat” I NEVER would have believed someone who claimed to be a Christian could do such a thing.

      I response to the consumer mentality, I think many of us who are saved aren’t necessarily looking for someone to “bend over backwards” to serve us. I am looking for signs of the living Lord working and moving within a congregation and desire to hear the Truth from the Bible being taught and how the people are living out that Truth. I usually visit a church a minimum of three times before deciding anything. Also having the gift of discernment, I believe that I can tell the difference between people who are truly disingenuous or those who, like me, are truly introverts going way out of their comfort zone to say hello to a stranger.

      Thanks for this forum!

    • As a (retired) military family, i agree completely with what you say!

    • “Many times we have stood in a church, where it is obvious that we are the only visitors present, and had no one greet us.”

      Now that IS a legitimate complaint! If you’re going to do a “meet and greet”, make sure you’re reaching out to the visitors. Otherwise you’ll come across as a clique.

  • Is #1 referring more to a time of greeting when visitors are specifically called out or anytime of greeting. We do a general time of greeting for people to say hi to each other and the kids to be dismissed to kids church but don’t single visitors out in anyway.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      The first response was to any type of greeting where people are asked to stand up.

      • @ Dr. Rainer: Yes, that’s pretty much how I took it. Judging from the replies on this article, it seems to me this is one of those areas where we can’t please everyone. If we have the “meet and greet” people will think we’re being too forward. If we don’t have it, people will think we’re cold and unfriendly. Personally, I’d rather have people think my church is too loving and friendly rather than the other way around.

  • I am at that place where my family is looking for a Church and have been for the last few years. Honestly I just do not know what to expected from a church. What should I be looking for. Most of them I have felt out of place not knowing where to park or where to get more information. How we can be the newest people there stand by our self in the middle of the church member after church services and no one talks to us. The other thing I found was how boring service is when pastor are like that boring professor that teach word for word in the book. Take the stories of the Bible and grind to life through stories that we are experiance now. The last thing I am a big researcher and I visit the churchs website and read it in detail, it should be layed out easy and fit the membership you want to come to your church, I feel most want people in there 50’s and older as new members only. As a young family I want excitement and energy from my church. Thank you Thom for all the great information. Tim

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Good stuff, Tim. Thanks.

    • WHY are you going to church? If it is to worship God – then pray that God will send you to a church where the word is preached. If it does not square with the BIBLE – then find a church where the word is preached.

  • Thanks, Thom. Good feedback. Also was surprised by #1- and concerned, since we do that here! 🙂 You already answered one question I had- the number of respondents. The other question I have- where did you get the list of individuals you tweeted for your poll?

    • Thom Rainer says on

      The respondents came from a question I tweeted. Some also responded on Facebook.

      • We’ve done the stand up and greet for the past 10 years and grown every year as a church. It is more than likely driving away second time guests, but if interaction and connection is a core value of our culture, perhaps is an immediate weeding out process? I’m not disagreeing with you or the respondents, but every church has their non-negotiables I would guess. Great list btw. Our church needs more signs and an information center. Thanks for the article.

  • Excellent article Thom.
    I also want to agree on the lack of parking and a parking lot director. Our church has a dire shortage of handicap parking. The overflow fills the visitors spots. It is really sad how many senior Pastors overlook the facilities and preach every week about bringing in visitors.

  • I’m really surprised by no.1… And it seems to conflict with no. 2.
    Can you share your numbers?
    Do you think your respondents are primarily believers? If so, what does this say about their friendliness?

    • Thom Rainer says on

      My numbers are a non-scientific Twitter poll with 143 respondents. Of those, 38 responded with number one. The first two do not conflict. Friendliness and a requested stand up and greet are not necessarily synonymous. And I think a number of the respondents are introverts.

      • I wonder if how a ‘stand up and greet’ is conducted makes a difference in the way people perceive it. I hate having to stand up solo and feeling conspicuous. I don’t at all mind if everybody is standing and saying hello to those in close proximity.

        Regarding the issues that are related to ‘presentation’ – whether of the facilities or the interaction styles of people – I can’t help but think of the Tabernacle. Back in the day, God really wanted his people to built and maintain the place in which acts of worship took place with special care. I don’t think focusing on the ‘right things’ and keeping the facility in which we gather in good order are mutually exclusive concepts. In our homes, most of us like friendly family members *and* trash cans that get emptied on a regular basis.

        The thing that stands out to me in reading these comments can be boiled down to one statement: You can’t please everyone. Some appreciate a meet and greet, some loathe it. Some appreciate a welcoming parking spot reserved for them, others prefer the anonymity of parking in the back. Some are offended that the plate for the offering was passed to them, but I’ll bet there are others who would say, ‘I am commanded by God to give, and that church didn’t allow me to have the opportunity!” if the plate was not passed to them.

        In a nutshell… sincere members and a welcoming facility should help most visitors feel welcome. If not, it may simply be that they’re a better fit with another body of believers. For those of us in smaller towns with fewer options that match up with our doctrine, worshiping in a place that, from an ‘atmosphere’ position, isn’t a perfect match, is an opportunity to practice grace towards others, and / or have a positive influence by becoming part of that congregation.

      • Kirk Skeptic says on

        What has become “stand up and greet (aka “holy commotion”) was originally an opportunity to make peace with one’s brethren prior to approaching the altar for the eucharist. Given the degree of dirty interpersonal politics in the church, I wish we’d return to the original intent. Having visited many churches, I find the phoniness of the modern practice more an exercise in empty ritualism than a Tridentine mass.

    • >>1: Having a stand up and greet one another time in the worship service.
      >>2: Unfriendly church members.
      >I’m really surprised by no.1… And it seems to conflict with no. 2.

      Assuming that “stand up and greet” means having the visitors stand up during the service, then the unfriendliness is emphasized when nobody says anything to the visitor after the service is over. If you really want to impress visitors with your unfriendliness, have somebody stage whisper: “You need to stand up, because you are a visitor”.

      If the “stand up and greet” means “Passing the Peace”, then the visitor may not know what is going on. It requires a degree of spiritual maturity to “Pass the Peace”, without it seeming forced, or an affection, or otherwise insincere. Also observe how the congregation performs “Passing the Peace”. It is not uncommon for visitors to be greeted only by those in the pew next to them, but members be greeted by people in the pews in front of, behind, and on either side of them. A distinction that emphasizes that the visitor is not one of them. Also observe congregation behaviour after the service. How many people talk with the visitor? Exclude the people in the information desk from that number.

      To really emphasize how unfriendly the church is towards visitors, have the preacher talk to somebody else, whilst shaking hands with the visitor. Better still, arrange things so that the preacher shakes hands with the members, but not the visitors.

      However, I’m of the opinion that the more common situation is that either #1 is true, or #2 is true, than that both are true.

    • Jim, as an introvert I will admit that the mid-service stand-up-and-greet-people thing (whatever you want to call it) is awkward for me even if I’ve been at that church for years. It’s not that I’m not a friendly person and don’t want to shake your hand. It just seems very awkward and contrived–from the point of view of an introvert. Furthermore, as an introverted first time guest, this moment can be extremely stressful–even if everyone you meet is very friendly and sincere.

  • John Daly says on

    It’s not that I don’t want to participate in a meaningless, obligatory greeting; it’s just that I don’t want to participate in a meaningless and obligatory greeting.

  • Andy Anderson says on

    Don’t forget a parking lot with craters, holes and weeds all over.

    Poor design of the church where the visitor must enter thru the side door that empties directly into the side of sanctuary where everyone turns and looks.

    Pastor that is too busy to say hi and leaves quickly after the service.

    Pastor who the visitor thinks “why is he yelling at me”

    Church member notices your political bumper sticker and says “you probably won’t fit in here.”

  • I agree with the first response! I’ve attended churches all my life and still cringe. It can be very uncomfortable for introverts. Sometimes I’ve been late on purpose to avoid the forced friendliness and physical contact with strangers – especially during cold and flu season. I feel sorry for first-time guests who are not expecting that.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Introverts unite!

      • Thom, can we unite separately? We’ll be united in our choice to go home individually and not force conversation with people we don’t know.

    • Yet if we don’t greet visitors, that can be very offensive to extroverts. I’m something of an introvert, but I don’t like to attend churches where people don’t speak to me and make me feel welcome. I ask again, what is the church supposed to do? Be less friendly and welcoming?

      I’ve asked that question previously, and the only response I received was a series of attacks on my motives. That pretty much proves my point.

      • I went to a church that was pretty big, solid theological basis, most of the congregation was my age-group, and really no reason to leave that church except for one thing, I could never connect. Sure members would be social before and after service, but they would clique into groups and would not address those they did not know. A simple “Hello!” while walking by from a member or two would’ve gone a long way. Then there was the mandatory greeting time, which just felt so unbearably forced, and I made no new friends through this either. I went to that church for a year and still felt like a visitor by the end.

        Now I know that their philosophy was to make connections through small groups (or whatever you want to call them) and not through church services, but there was no clear path to get into one.

        Basically what made me leave that church and find a new one was that as much as I’d try, I actually couldn’t join it.

        The fix I would suggest for this church?
        1) Ditch greet time, just get on with the service
        2) Encourage your ushers to not only greet new faces, but if they see those new faces again try to actually get to know these newcomers, but if the newcomer doesn’t seem interested in talking, don’t bother them too much.
        3) Ushers should direct newcomers where to go for getting more involved in the church.

        Having small group leaders be ushers may be a good idea, since you can have these people meeting and greeting newcomers directly inviting them to their small group. That was if a newcomer wishes to join, they already have a friend instead of just hanging out with a bunch of strangers (which most people would not do).

  • No clearly marked visitor parking was another we’ve experienced.

    Thanks Thom.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Great add. Thanks, Mike.

      • Glenn Johnson says on

        Unfortunately, being rejected over an avatar is sad, since I cannot change it because the account has been deleted leaving me no way to control what pops up in the photograph. I understand why you wouldn’t allow it, but my message is clear. Church is not about YOU. It is about the body (the Bride). Dan is a radical and clearly has forgotten the GOLDEN RULE.

      • Glen Johnson, who is Dan and why do you call him a radical? Are you implying a visitor rejected your church because of the red faced horned avatar in your comment? If so I certainly wouldn’t blame the visitor. The avatar is repulsive and intimidating. You stating you have no control over it is reckless and confirms the absurdity of your comment. Veronica Doniel

      • Personally, I think all of them are okay but that is not my top 10. I am realistic

        1. Money Pastor, Does not feed his sheep.
        2. Money Church no accountability.
        3. Loud Music and to long
        4..Too much marketing 101
        5. Trying to fit everyone’s needs.
        6. Clicks
        7. Teaches well but more of a free spirit do as you want just love..

        Just off my head

      • barb close says on

        u forgot ppl asking how u are doing then walking away before u get to answer most ppl care about who can give money and who cant we poor ppl feel like we shouldn’t be allowed to enter a church cause we cant give all our money goes to our bills, so when they ask for offering we run to the bathroom so we don’t have to give, I feel bad for poor homeless ppl who cant give at all and don’t feel welcome ppl are in this world for themselves not God

      • I get up what some people would call poor. I wore dresses made from the sacks that the feed for our animals came in plus other things. BUT my parents always gave at least a 10th of EVERYTHING to church, pastor or needy. We gave of our money, vegetables, live stock and everything else. That is what the Bible teaches. So to you I would challenge: give at least 10% to church and I guarantee you the other 90% will cover your needs. That again is what the Bible promises. I promise it works. I would not give anything for my childhood. Loved every moment and as a older person my life style is becoming like it. Sincerely.
        Please accept my challenge. You will be a better person (Blessed)

      • Lying about healings. no, REALLY. I’m an asthmatic and I once went to the front and pastor not knowing anything whatsoever about the disease prayed (violently almost shoving me) and then said BREATH NOW… and i breathed normally as I did when I stood up. And the whole church stood in awe when I breathed normally (actually asthma comes in attacks). Then there’s the lack of evidence for real healings. And why don’t they simply take a day and REASON with each other as to why healings don’t take place. I am aware of certain healings within myself when I screamed at God for help and probably got it. But hapless people bring severely retarded children and Rheumatoid Arth and cancers? Rather say our faith lack entirely.

      • Loud Music is my No1 turn off
        Long and boring sermons, exacerbated by wooden pews
        Public prayers from another subculture
        Jacobean English
        Odd rituals

      • The BRIDE? Sorry for taking offence… Not really … Fake sorry. Church is not about us. It’s about Him.

      • Jackie C. says on

        The BRIDE refers to the bride of Christ, in other words, us! The church, which is referred to as “the bride of Christ”, so you see, church is indeed all about us and is indeed all about the Bride and is indeed also all about God, as the Church is His Bride.

      • The unfriendly is onemy top reasons, and ignorance of what’s taught, from the members.
        I once visit a church and had active respiratory infection on top of being asthmatic and went into and asthma attack while trying to sing and the members started praying for me to be delivered from demon. I was sick not demon possessed, another church I visit thought I was a sinner in need of salvation because I had pants on. I hate visiting churches

      • Colsamuelrockman says on

        The church IS the Bride of Christ.

      • Conan Sensh says on

        Just create a new account. Simple.

      • Thom – we have a meet and greet. We also have a tear out that we ask visitors to let us know about them. Those that turn them in get a letter from our pastor thanking them for coming and then asking for comments. NEVER has the meet and greet been a negative – they say that the people were friendly and appreciated it.

      • To me, a meet and greet feels like a cult introduction. Just my opinion.

      • I agree. While some visitors are looking for acceptance or a place they feel they can connect to, many others are curious or coming from a non-religious or anti-religious background, or even from a different denomination with potentially very different worship “styles”. For those many who show up at the door with a degree of skepticism or confusion or cautious optimism, the meet and greet or the sign of peace or whatever your denomination may call it, it’s all the same – a personal, psycho-contrived exercise that is not only too MUCH, but too SOON. There’s nothing wrong with asking visitors to say hello IF THEY WANT TO, but you should also encourage visitors to remain anonymous if they wish to. Churches can offer coffee time if the purpose of the group is to encounter EACH OTHER. The purpose of worship time is to encounter CHRIST, and those who are well-churched should understand without having to have it explained: a new visitor is quite possibly someone who is struggling with sin and forgiveness and redemption, and looking for answers – that person needs to be given room to breathe and come forward in THEIR own time and as they are comfortable. When the throngs pressed in on Jesus, people came forward begging to touch his garment. In other words, the people who needed to encounter him took that initiative; the apostles didn’t go out and say “raise your hand if this is the first time you’ve seen us.” Harry is absolutely right – in most churches I’ve been to, the Meet and greet or the passing the peace or whatever, always feels like a cult. Even when it isn’t that intense, it feels like a celebration of the community that I don’t necessarily feel I belong to (yet).

      • My issue with the “fellowship time” portion of the service (as it’s been called in the churches I’ve been in) is that it feels contrived. People shouldn’t have to be told to get up and welcome some people. If the people in your church can’t be bothered to say good morning, then you have a real problem, and setting aside an official time of the service to force them to say good morning does nothing to fix that problem.

        Furthermore, there is SO MUCH time before and after the service for socializing.

      • Two thumbs up for Nicholas’s comment (who lacked a “reply” button). Let’s all just take a moment to really consider, “If the people in your church can’t be bothered to say good morning, then you have a real problem, and setting aside an official time of the service to force them to say good morning does nothing to fix that problem.”

      • I would argue that the problem would people who think that the whole purpose of church is to not “bother” people. If you’re main reason for defection is a handshake from a stranger, we are doing pretty good as a church methinks.

      • Scott Cason says on

        These things have always driven me crazy. You have a good flow going and you suddenly want to slam on the breaks so the people that have been talking to each other all morning can talk to each other again? And Josh, handshake from “A” stranger is fine, you get 7, 8, 9, 10 strangers coming at you at once and it is intimidating. Most first timers are wanting to observe and not wanting attention drawn to them like this.

      • We used to have a time when people could introduce themselves. Absolute death! Most people are scared to do it, and besides, IMO it’s rude. When I’m walking along a street with a friend and we come upon someone else whom I know but my friend doesn’t, what’s the polite thing?: *I* introduce them. I don’t expect them to introduce themselves to each other.

        So what we do now is have people greet the folks around them and if a regular meets someone who’s new, they ask whether they’d like to be introduced more widely. After a couple of minutes to say hello, I ask if anyone has someone to introduce and I bring the mic around to those who raise their hands. More than half the time, I’d say, people decline to be so introduced, but the offer is friendly. A newcomer is our guest and whoever meets them first will introduce them to others. After they’re introduced, we all say “welcome!” and at the end we say “welcome!” to everyone.

        This has also helped my very introverted congregation get used to the process of greeting newcomers. Without that appropriate time and cue, many would feel it was an imposition to say hello to the person next to them.

        Some people are super-shy, have Asperger’s, or the like, and just sit quietly during greeting time. And I’m sure some people deliberately come in late to miss it. That’s okay. Most people are there.

        Good point about “slamming on the brakes.” I agree, which is why greeting is the first thing we do, after I say welcome. Then I give any spoken announcements and then I say, “And now let us begin our service,” and the prelude begins.

        IMO, this is one of three or four key things we’ve changed that has led the typical newcomer’s description to change from “Chilly bunch!” to “What a warm, friendly congregation!”

      • I don’t think #1 was referring to a meet and greet. I thought he was saying folks were uncomfortable when everybody was expected to turn and shake hands or whatever with everybody around them during the service. Or at some churches were you ‘pass the peace’. This makes me uncomfortable as well because I am rather shy. When you say meet and greet, I am thinking of something in the vestibule, nave, or whatever where you greet newcomers. That is great to have.

      • I have been in a church where sharing the peace becomes a moment of mayhem. It completely turned me off. Folks running up and down the aisles were actually taking care if church business.

      • I think your right. I am a private person with a small personal space “bubble”. I avoid the greeting at all costs. Some days it’s difficult to smile and act like I’m awake :). And have you ever turned to shake hands and everyone is busy shaking someone else’s hand? Awkward. Or three people are trying to shake hands at the same time? I like the idea of greeters, but as was mention before church business and hugs from ” friends” keeps them from the more important task at hand. Whatever happened to ushers? They always took care of new people, made sure they had a good seat, and heavans could they not politely introduce the families a person might be sitting next to? New or not it sure would make for a friendlier and more familiar environment. “And do you know the Smiths?” Most adults can take any direction they like from there. A simple hello to a full on “my name is Sally, what is your name again?” And so on. As a child our ushers were always the friendly faces of our community. It doesn’t have to be the elderly gentlemen many of us associate with ushers. They don’t even have to be men. Just kind and friendly. I hope there are some of those in most churches. When my family was church “shopping” some of the worst things were definitely PARKING, being ignored at the greeting, too much talk about the future of the church and how much it was going to cost (there was even one that handed out a form for you to sign to become responsible for a portion of their new mortgage- $10k worth), an egotistical pastor, general lack of respect for the Church-clothing, attitude, kids chomping gum and lack of attention and participation. I’m fine with jeans and a T-shirt on kids or on my worst days, but cut-offs, flip flops, adults in shorts on Sunday morning, pastors in jeans, etc. etc. No bulletin of what to expect during the service. If children were dismissed at a certain time and where to take them, music to be played, if any, greeting, fellowship after service and where, location of information area and many more. You learn a lot about a church family by announcements of small groups or events. And oh my the unfriendly, unwelcoming, or false friendly people! More of those than the genuinely kind I think sometimes. And let’s not forget the loud music. It might be beautiful music! But my ears were still bleeding afterwards. And please don’t clap to “praise the Lord”. Everyone knows we are clapping for the praise ” band” or choir or whatever. I don’t think God gets excited about applause. And just to be clear. I’m not some old fashioned woman from the 40s and 50s! This is a contemporary perspective. Just wanted to be clear 🙂

      • As a shy introvert, a stand up meet and greet sounds terrifying. Please let me attend the service without having to do this. I can meet people afterwards if I’d like. I’m not sure about that devil guy though.

      • I think a meet & greet is VOLUNTARY. No on is going to force a visitor to come to those. It’s usually held after service anyway. It’s an option for the visitor to find out more if they wish to.

      • Not everyone seeks to meet other people. If the meet and greet happens to include these people then visitors can and will get the wrong impression of the church. Meet and greet should be offered after the worship service. More time to talk and more genuine.

      • Our church still does the meet and greet. If visitors resent the fact that we’re loving and friendly, what am I supposed to do about it? Be less friendly and loving? That ain’t going to happen.

      • Ken, your response reminds me of those who proclaim how humble they are. Lol. True humility doesn’t proclaim it to the world. Likewise, someone who is truly loving and friendly isn’t going to force themselves upon another individual. Since you go to church to learn and grow in serving your community, rule #1 is to consider the very community you are there to serve. Church should be an organization that exists for those who are not its members. If your focus is on YOUR love and YOUR friendliness…well, the focus is on you.

        I think a happy medium for churches to consider is having greeters that are authentically kind and friendly as people enter the building and then having a “coffee time” or something comparable after service. That way guests can experience unobtrusive friendliness at the door and then if they like what they see or are further curious about that community, they can make the choice to engage further after service without any pressure.

      • Marsha Carr says on

        one reason I stayed at our church was our ‘greet your neighbor’ time. Finally a church that even cared if I was there. Our church leadership has talked about this at great length as we have read articles such as this, but it really is who we are as a congregation. It is wrong for us to be chameleons and change our true colors for every visitor that comes through the door. That would be hypocrisy and also why many leave the church. We don’t expect every one who visits to stay a lifetime, but we do try to leave every visitor with a touch of Jesus for the time that they are visiting. What makes me uncomfortable when I visit a church is one that is so big that it requires parking attendants and a faceless ‘information’ booth, and a coffee shop. Makes me feel like I have just been at an amusement park! On the other hand, that atmosphere may ‘work’ for someone else, and I would never suggest that the church changes just for me. There are plenty of styles and churches for everyone. What is most important is that the church preaches and teaches the Truth of God.

      • Rusty Slider says on

        I wonder if you would agree, after thinking about it, that your comments focus not on the visitor but on the member? By definition, it would seem that the intent of “a meet and greet” is one that should be helpful and welcoming from the perspective of the visitor. Too frequently, church members misread or misinterpret what visitors need or want and make the assumption that “the way we (read that members) do it is the way they (read that visitors) ought to like it and if they don’t, too bad. If visitors don’t appreciate or value the way you are “helping,” then, it really is not helping at all; not attending to that fact does not make it any less true. Christians, in the best sense of the word, best serve others when they see it from the other’s point of view rather through the lens of their own personal perceptions.

      • > If visitors resent the fact that we’re loving and friendly,

        If #1 refers to asking visitors to stand up in the middle of the service, and be recognized, then you emphasizing that they are outsiders, and need to be thrown back into the ghetto from whence they came. There is nothing friendly about such a request.

        If, OTOH, #1 refers to the “Passing of the Peace” during the service, whereby everybody says “May the Peace of the Lord Be Unto You” to everybody around them, that is common in quasi-liturgical churches, then it is a description of an act that should be sacred, and friendliness does not enter into it at all. Visitors who are unaware of this liturgical curiousity are left confused as to what is being done, and why it is being done. The action is not viewed as “friendly”, becuase it emphasizes that they are outsiders. It also implies that there are secret codes to learn, if one is to worship there.

        If, on the gripping hand, #3 refers to the habit in some churches of talking to a visitor already seated in a pew, then the activity is more apt to be viewed as “I must have come to the wrong place, a rock concern, perhaps. Not a church.”

        What has been described as the acid test for sincere friendliness is, without having the first time vistitor pointed out to you, asking them to dinner at home with you are your family, after the service has ended. Whilst the guest is in your abode, you may not discuss either your, or their relig ious beliefs. The sole exception is to pray before and after the meal, if that is your natural habit. This approach also means that your meal must be adjustable for any dietery requirements that the guests may have.

      • Nice judgmental responses from people that know nothing about me or my church. We have a “meet and greet” time for the specific purpose of welcoming guests. No, we don’t single them out, but we do try to make them feel welcome. Would you prefer that we ignore them? If we did, I can practically guarantee you some of them would complain that our church is unfriendly and snobbish.

        The reality is, you’re not going to please everyone on this issue. The mixed responses to this blog are living proof. I’d rather my congregation err on the side of love and friendliness. If you resent the fact that our church is friendly, then I don’t see what we can possibly do about it.

      • Jonathan, nice Frederick Pohl reference (on the gripping hand).

      • Ken, I like the gist of your response and was amused by your response to the responses. Truly you can’t please everyone and that’s not what church is for. I’ve been in churches that had meet and greets that lasted one third of one song, and others that devolved into beautiful bedlam where the pastor had to get on the mic and say, “I love how loving this group is… In two minutes we’re going to take seats and begin the message.”

        As you noticed, I said “beautiful” bedlam. Yes. it was chaotic… and I’m sure some (especially introverts) would like that less (although my introverted wife actually did liked the moment I’m referring to), but it felt like community and that is what church is. Ecclesia just means “gathering of called out ones.

        The 30 second shake-hands-and-introduce-yourself kind of “meet and greet” has regularly felt phony to me… Heck I’ve been phony in those moments. The issue (and why your post elicited a response from me) is when the visitor seems offended by the lovingness and the friendliness, its often because they’ve either experienced the phony I mentioned (and was), or they’re skeptical that it can be genuine.

        If too short a period of time is devoted to it, then surface level is all you can get—which makes “church people” seem phony even if they’re not. Finding the right balance of time spent there is very difficult. But, finding what works for the community you’re trying to reach (prayerfully and genuinely) is what we should do.

        If we can’t present as genuine Christ followers, we can’t lead new folks to Jesus. Unfortunately, too often that’s all we’re doing. “Presenting as genuine Christ followers”. Not unsaved, wolves in sheep’s clothing, but emotional, spiritual, internal messes that answer, “Great!” like Tony the Tiger, or “Praise God!” whenever asked, “How are you today.”

        I cannot speak for your church, but I’ve been too many places (and no I am not a church-hopper or shopper—I’ve been in ministry in 3 churches over 22 years and am currently on sabbatical), but I’ve been too many places (including churches I’ve ministered in) where being genuine seemed foreign and had to be pried out of regular attenders. How rarely have I heard a genuine, “I’m not doing so great today. Could you pray for me?” in those short meet and greet times.

        If we are not genuine (not saying you aren’t) then that meet and greet time, regardless of it brevity or elongation (like this response), serves mostly to bolster regular attenders and separate newbies. Just food for thought. Thank you for sharing.

      • Scott Jordan says on

        I have been reading these responses and feel that a meet and greet is not the bar for which the church is being judged as to its friendliness. However, there is a question as to its usefulness in welcoming guests. Those of us in church service planning think about will new participants and guest feel welcome. We want the body to be a safe sanctuary welcoming to those passing through our doors. Different churches take different steps to achieve that. The thought process as to whether to include a meet and greet time does not at all suggest a church should be more or less loving. But rather, whether there should be a specific time in the line up of worship / Sermon devoted to it. it is arguable ken, that if your church is naturally a welcoming, loving, warm, and friendly place then you may have no need to design a friendly time within your service line up.
        Some people find it “odd” that people have to be told to greet them or each other for that matter. I have found people have asked (As I myself did before accepting salvation) why would the body of Christ, an entity devoted to love and christian principle need to be told to say hi to me? wouldn’t that be a natural outpouring from the spirit… “You shall no my disciples by their love” John 13:35. To an outsider it seems odd or fake if people who claim to be disciples need to be told to demonstrate love.
        To many churches though, order of worship and a meet and greet is a tradition that many attendants have known all their lives. To change or get rid of it would be to some like cutting off a part of the path to salvation. (Not that it would be of course) But we as humans are a people of habit, prone to our own idiosyncrasies in our own pharisee like ways. We all have it. I could get into a talk of modern pharisee like behavior with regards to church but I think that’s beyond the spectrum of this discussion.
        So I guess the question is what is the Vision and Mission for your body? & Does a meet and greet time support that mission? Is it effective? Try to answer these questions outside of the warm and fuzzies for tradition, and time honored traits and we may be close to identifying what to keep and what to change when it comes to greeting, and church introductions. I have my own ideas on what a really good model for church greeting I have seen and believe is effective and if anyone would like to ask that feel free. However these are my thoughts concerning the topic at hand. I hope it helps.

        Ken – This response in no way seeks to suggest what you and your church are doing is wrong in any way. I’m merely trying to broaden the scope of the discussion.

      • The church is for the un- churched not the churched. Get it? Visitor’s visit a church to see how the church operates especially meeting people. If you have that idea that its too bad if they feel uncomfortable I would say you have a lot to learn.

      • I am a committed Christian and a regular church goer. When I last visited my parents I went to their church with them and there was a meet/greet/handshake whatever it is. No one shook my hand or greeted me but I had to endure that time just chatting with my 10 and 13 year old boys. Awkward and I know what it’s for. My parents weren’t sitting with me and I only visit their church once every 3 years when we are able to get back from overseas. My point being they wouldn’t have ignored me because they knew I knew people there. If I was a non-churchgoing visitor I imagine it’s even more awkward.

      • Johnathon
        I’m curious. Have you ever invited a new person, without them having been pointed out to you, to your abode for lunch only to find out they’ve been sitting eight rows behind you for the last three years?cb

      • > Have you ever invited a new person, without them having been pointed out to you, to your abode for lunch only to find out they’ve been sitting eight rows behind you for the last three years.


        I’ll point that the 2007 National Congregational Study data indicates that 59% of the religious organizations it surveyed had less than 100 members, with the average congregation having just 75 regular participants, albeit the average atendee worshiped with four hundred other regular participants, and that 50% of the church-going population attend a church with 350+ members.

        I’ll also grant that that study managed to miss what is probably the fastest growing movement in the United States — the House-Church Movement.

      • Interesting. I would much prefer that everyone ignore me if I am visiting a church.

      • The Ponderer says on

        We frequently have a Get Up And Greet. During one service there was a sermon point where the pastor said that people need X-number of positive touches or hugs. I felt extremely uncomfortable as a MEMBER to have so many people insist on touching me or hugging me because the pastor said to do so. I can’t imagine how horrified I would have felt as a visitor!

        Also, I am an Elder at a church of about 160 members. I admit there are days I want to go to church to worship, not to feel like I am being put to work. I like the anonymity of visiting another church, and honestly on those days I would rather not make any kind of connection with anyone other than the Lord.

        So yeah, I’m not a Get Up And Greet fan.

      • scott baker says on

        I am sure the people that take the time to respond say that but you would never see any of the people who do find meet and greet off-putting. trying to judge your new and visiting members by only those who stay is like trying to judge a sports team by only their victories when you have no idea what your record is. As someone who is and has been looking for a new church and also been part of several new churches the meet and greet is definitely a point of contention in any church and only the most extroverted people in a church find them friendly. Most people who are not completed extroverts (my wife and sons) find the meet and greet time a waste and struggle with the pointless small talk that does not work to increase connections between members. F.y.i if your members really know each other they will probably meet and see each other before the service. To me the meet and greet is really just an extroverts idea gone awry (I am an extrovert). just a thought from a christian looking for a church.

      • As a visitor to a new church, I can’t honestly say I’ve EVER enjoyed, or seen the point, in a meet and great period.
        First of all, I’m an introvert and having a bunch of strangers come up to me all at once expecting to shake my hand and get my name and ask whether I’ve been there before and so on doesn’t feel friendly and inviting, it feels forced and uncomfortable and overwhelming.
        Second, in some churches, it’s used entirely as a “greet your friends” time so guests are left standing awkwardly, watching everyone else hug and kiss their friends.
        Third, I just don’t see the point. If you attend regularly, you should be able to catch up with your friends before or after church. If you don’t, it seems far more authentic and has way more impact if people come up to you naturally before or after service than to have an assigned time to greet the new person so their obligations can be met.

      • I absolutely despise the meet and greet held in the middle of services. I like to prepare myself for worship of my Lord Jesus Christ. This means I enjoy having a quiet time before service start, so many people allow their children to run up and down the aisles screaming and yelling, adults also talk loud and come back and forth through the sanctuary. But the music soothes and helps, then right when you are relaxing and looking forward to hearing God’s word you get the meet and greet, for about 10 min. the sanctuary becomes a playground of noise and laughter and milling around. From that point onward the service has lost its ability to offer quiet reflection on the Pastor’s words and the reading of God’s Word. Sorry guys I stopped going to worship services because worship has gone out the window in favor of having a good time.

      • Nona, perhaps pondering this scripture will help: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. ” –1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

      • I have been a Christian and church attender for most of my life. I am 57. I must agree that the portion of the service where everyone stands up and greets all those around them; receiving hugs from strangers, is the most uncomfortable time for new guests. I dislike it and will avoid going to a new church knowing that this may take place. I believe a better option than putting guests on the spot ( which makes them uncomfortable) is to have what I call a “Linger Longer” time after the service where the pastor and staff are available to all first time visitors in fellowship hall or area off the lobby. Offer them coffee , a snack and answer any questions they may have. This will allow those who are more social to take part in the getting to know you time, and allows for the shy and cautious to leave without being hindered by do good-ers who only hug you at church and ignore you elsewhere.

      • Hi Thom,

        I like the church I joined a year ago. However, one thing they do that I don’t agree with & I can see might turn away new comers is the “don’t re-enter main auditorium once service has begun” sign they post & try to actually “enforce”. They post a sign at the two main entrances to the auditorium & make an announcement that basically says if you leave to use the bathroom or whatnot, please do not return into the auditorium as it can be a distraction to the service. However, they suggest that you then sit in one of the “over-flow’ areas that has TV screens.

        If it weren’t for my desire in wanting to attend this particular church – I almost didn’t come back because of this. I researched the church online, did a live stream & really liked the pastor. That’s what finally directed me to go to this church. However, my 1st time there I was a bit late, hadn’t been to church in 6 months & was desperate for the Lord. When I was about to enter the auditorium the usher asked if I could please sit in the “over-flow” area so as to not disturb the service. However, I was in such a desperate place that I flat-out told him that I NEEDED to be inside those closed doors & I didn’t mind taking a back-seat. I told him that I was DESPERATE to be at this service. So thankfully he obliged.

        However, I can easily see where that would turn many away. Especially, if they came in with a family & had to unexpectedly use the bathroom. I wouldn’t want to be told upon returning that I could not sit with my family, who is already seated in the auditorium, and that instead I”m being asked to sit “alone” elsewhere outside the auditorium.

        So anyway …it’s a bit legalistic to me, but overall I do like my church (even though it’s a bit larger than what I prefer). So I’m still here a year later. I would, however, like to see this policy done away with.

        Thanks in advance. Have a blessed day/week!

        ~ Deb B. ~
        Colorado Springs, CO

      • That would be a huge turn off for me. And yeah, I would think anyone with a family. Or anyone, like my youngest brother who has type one diabetes, who might need to use the bathroom frequently for medical reasons. Or I have a whole list of reasons someone might need to leave the service for a couple moments.

      • Robert Wall says on

        This is actually the reason my wife and I left a church and didn’t come back. I have crazy allergies certain times of the year, and I adjust by sitting in the back so if I have a crazy sneezing fit or something I can duck out quietly, use the restroom, and make my way back in without disturbing other people in the service.

        Well I did that at a new church, and they didn’t want to let me back in. I would’ve just walked out, except *my wife was still in the service*.

        I understand the idea of being respectful of others, but it has to work both ways IMHO.

      • I think some of these comments are correct are some are not.
        Church is:
        A place to worship
        A place for fellowship
        A place to hear the Gospel
        A place of comfort for those hurting
        A place to meet God if you are not his child
        A place of shelter from the World
        A place to grow in His love and Grace
        A place of hope
        Church is not:
        A social club where everyone is catered to.
        A place of community – you go to the gym or community center for that
        A place to worry about if everyone who visits will come back – do we want them to come back sure but do we understand that not all will? YES
        Not every church is right for every person … this is where the Holy Spirit does his work not us as humans. Quit making it like we have so much power to get people to do what we want them to do. Ultimately if a person really wants Jesus they will find a place if they are just being critical of church and why they didn’t stay then I don’t want them in my church. Church is to function as the body of Christ if people don’t really want to be there then it will be like a growth on a body that just sucks out the energy. Church isn’t there to pacify you but everyone working together as Christ’s body. Sometimes people do feel like outsiders because they are – an unsaved person shouldn’t necessarily feel they belong. They are to be drawn to Christ and His love and this can only be done by the preaching of The Word nothing we say or do will change that.
        Should we be nice and welcoming? YES
        Should we worry about those who are offended because they think church should cater to them? No
        I understand the idea that people are searching and if they don’t come back then we haven’t helped them well that is true to a degree but to tell all churches that this or that isn’t the way is putting everyone in one pot and saying we all need to do it the same way. People are different as are churches so let us be different and do what we feel is the right thing for us to reach the lost because that is the ultimate goal.

      • Beth
        You might be missing the point where we started. Maybe some others too? Why are churches dying? Some might say they are just being overwhelmed by the mega-churches. In which case I have to ask, What are they doing that the smaller churches are not? If that’s not the case I have to ask myself if I am doing my part as a deciple of Christ (thereby the Holy Spirit) to bring people to Christ through the Church? So much of what you say is true but you kind of veered off the track for a minute. Not to say that I never have.

      • Joe Graffi says on

        cb; you are right on! OUR job, whether pastor or lay-person is to “Make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit AND instructing them in My teachings.”
        I remember a friend stating it this way, “In Satan’s ‘perfect world’: Everyone goes to church every week and the GOSPEL is NEVER preached. My observation is this; having watched some of these ‘mega’ churches on TV, I wonder if they even know the gospel. You cannot preach the GOSPEL without preaching about our sin and, therefore, our need, daily, for a crucified, risen and soon coming Savior. You cannot preach ‘about’ the Savior, you must preach THE Savior! And you must preach it with the same intensity of love that He did.

      • Misconception #1: CHURCH is NOT a place you go – it is a person, the bride of Christ! #1 purpose of the church: to be the physical expression of Christ to those around us, saved and unsaved. ALL of the discord, discontent and disagreement I read above is originated in this misconception. We get so wrapped up in “doing” all the right things that we forsake “being” in Christ and allowing the Christ “in us” to reveal Himself to those around us – consequently, all the people around us see is our failure or success in our efforts to attract them to our specific “brand” of church – and they are unable to see the love of Christ that He desires to flesh out through us. There is so much more to Christ than what is being presented via most pulpits today. The church has become so culturally relevant that it has become spiritually anorexic.

      • So what is your opinion, Mark, on why the smaller churches especially, are dying? Or do you believe they are thriving and we shouldn’t worry about bringing people in? Lost or not?

      • > on why the smaller churches especially, are dying?

        Money, or more precisely, the lack of money, is the major reason why churches close their doors, and sell the building.

        The second biggest factor, is lack of denominational support. This is seen in things such as:
        * Minimum number of members to remain a denomination affiliate;
        * Imposing requirements that are utterly unrealistic for the catchment area of the congregation;
        * Pushing what works at the denomination’s prize multi-campus megachurch, in an area where the only common denominator is that there are a couple of people that belong to the same denomination;

        The phenomena flying under everybody’s radar, is the growth of the house-church movement. More significantly, the trend of house-churches emerging out of the ashes of the white clapboard church closing its doors and selling the building.

      • A church is NOT a place of community? are you serious? really? that misses the boat big time! What in the world is a church if it is not a place of community, of support, and of love???

      • I’ve translated this post into Spanish. I feel like our Spanish churches could greatly benefit from being aware of these issues. I’ve pastored Spanish churches for last 10 years. Here’s the link

      • As the wife of a government worker who moves often and usually attends church alone, I want to say that the 10 points are RIGHT ON. And don’t forget that when a woman attends church alone over a period of time, she becomes a 2nd class pack horse to do church work, and is not highly regarded, like those who attend with a husband.

      • L. Whaley says on

        This has to do with why first vistors don’t come back.
        Went to this rural Utah Baptist church for 1st time this A.M. Not ONE person said hello to me. Good salvation message, but sure didn’t seem like any of the members cared if I ever come back.

    • Dan Kreider says on

      This reply, as well as some in the list above, strike me as a consumerist mindset. I am all for making visitors feel welcome in our churches, because that is what believers ought to do. But those coming to church should not be coming as consumers, desiring for their own needs to be met in their itches to be scratched. The kind of people we want to coming to our church are eager to give, eager to serve, and hungry to hear from God’s word. We are not going to bend over backwards to act like a business trying to woo customers.

      Hope that comment doesn’t come off as grumpy, but I just think that, for the most part, American Evangelicalism has very wrong view of church attendance. The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…

      • Brenda Johns says on

        The people coming to your church may not know how to give and serve yet. They may need the “gift” of Jesus first! Maybe that is why they came and hopefully they WILL see Him in you first, as you “bend over backwards” to serve them, then hear about Him from the pulpit. Then may they learn from your example how to be giving and serving.

      • Thom Rainer says on

        Well said, Brenda.

      • Carla Ross says on

        I agree with what Brenda Johns said. We are trying to bring in people who don’t know Jesus or are broken- we SERVE -they learn & grow- THEN they SERVE….and they’ll know we are Christians by our LOVE….

      • scott baker says on

        We should also give some thought to the notion that church today needs to reach out to to the people of today. In the same way that church in the past reached out to its people (Hymms, big churches that were the center of social life, sunday school) we have to reach this culture where it is and that “consumerist” notion is a big part of it. It is not so much that businesses want to cater to people as much as they want to understand why people buy and why they stay with brands. once we understand that we can cater to those reasons. In the same way that a sports team studies their actions (AAR in the army) not to cater to someone but to better understand why certain things don’t work so we can make them better. just a thought.

      • Forget about marketing, packaging or polls and studies about church growth for a moment. Does not the root question boil down to, what is the mission or purpose of the local church? Is it to be seeker-friendly, to attract people to come in from the community? Is it to adopt similar styles of music and surroundings of our culture to help unsaved visitors feel comfortable? Is it to provide a place to hear “feel good,” motivational stories and anecdotes from a central figure who can fill a half hour around a few Bible verses? NO to all of the above! The primary reason a local church exists is to equip believers to grow and mature in their faith to reach unsaved people for Christ in their daily interactions, whether it be co-workers, neighbors or school classmates. This practice used to be called “Lifestyle Evangelism” where people reached out and came alongside one another through natural relationships. The Bible is clear on its many “one-anothers” where we as members of the local church are accountable for using our gifts and helping to recharge each other. Those who are reaching out need to be equipped through interaction with each other and through attending a spiritual learning laboratory that is focused on Biblical precepts and an atmosphere of reverence and worship of God. Hope this makes sense.

      • KATHY BLAIR says on

        My thought exactly Brenda. Many people are searching for God on their first visit. They know nothing of giving or serving. Seek ye the Lost.

      • savingsouls says on

        People have to be very careful, though, when it comes to assuming things. Just because it is the first time someones seen someone come to that church doesnt mean they are lost, etc. There could be a number of reasons why they are coming there. Until Church decides to go outside themselves to genuinely get to know the person, they are just unfairly passing judgment on them, instead of just coming alongside them, and loving them like Jesus. I’m sure there are those who are where u have described, as well. I don’t believe someone has to bend over backwards either, to assist them, if they just take the time to really show interest of wanting to know where they are so they can help Are they also being included in other areas? Are they there to truly bear one another’s burdens and assist like James calls us to, in the moment and not just pass it off as ,I will keep u in prayer alone. Just things to consider.

      • Brenda, well said. Visitors have made the first step. It is our opportunity to treat them as we woul like to be treated when we visit a new church.

      • Brenda, you’ve made an excellent point. I worked for a church for almost 10 years and saw people come and go. We had greeters at the front doors, but they spent their time visiting with their friends rather than giving a warm handshake to the visitors and letting them know we were happy they came. Since God moved me to another church I have run into several people in and outside of the church that had visited my old church. ALL of them said that was the most unfriendly church we’ve ever been in. They felt like it was just a click of relatives and old friends. Of course they never came back. They finally found a church where they felt welcome and the Word of God was preached. A few were not saved and never been in a church before. If people don’t feel welcome initially they are uncomfortable throughout the church service and those unsaved people never comprehended the Biblical message. If your visitors don’t feel welcome, they will never come back. That’s unfortunate because there are many lost souls out there that need a warm environment and feel the love of Jesus. How else will they ever be saved? We must be an example of Jesus and be warm and friendly to all.

      • 100% agreed !!

        Imagine if a rather large church had to cater for every visitor’s wish.

      • Basic information and cleanliness is not catering to visitors every wish. If that is how your church feels then it doesn’t serve the same God I do and I have no desire to be there.

      • I become offended by people who think there are many Gods. There is only one God, not “your” God.

      • If you go to a hospital, museum, a mall-ever needed to look at the map?- or any public event, the things addressed above are things you’ve probably used, or contributed to your experience. Sloppy nurseries suggest a lack of concern for such things as background checks for volunteers to weed out molesters.
        Should we divorce courtesy from service because it’s church? Anything less, then we’re not seeking and saving those who are lost, we’re ignoring them.
        A discussion could be had on who the actual church service is for: the lost, or for the found to worship the King, and receive specific training and impartation…but even Christians need and want these things.

      • Thom Rainer says on

        Great points, Daniel.

      • Dan Kreider says on

        That’s somewhat of a straw man. As I said, we should do many of these things – but we should be courteous because that’s what Christians do, not because we are primarily concerned with retention of visitors. Should we have sloppy nurseries? Of course not! Should we have poorly kept facilities? Obviously not. Should we conduct thorough background checks? Of course. Should we warmly welcome visitors to our church? Yes, yes, and yes. The point of my initial comment was that it’s easy to drift into a mindset that views church visitors as consumers to be wooed.

        And the crux of the issue here is to point out that church is for believers. This is the first time in the history of the church in 2000 years that churches have begun to think of the “unchurched” as their primary customers. Unsaved people are welcome guests, but they are spectators. The church primarily meets together for the purpose of edification of its members, not evangelism. Again, don’t misconstrue what I am saying. If someone comes to our church and is gloriously saved, that’s wonderful, and we rejoice. And we want to do everything we can to display the love of Christ to them when we come. But the church meets for the edification of believers. That is the point.

      • Chad Wallace says on

        Dan is right is what he is saying. I work in a grocery store and we have a BPTS score, that is a Best Place to Shop score. Suprisingly, most of the top ten list of reasons for people not returning to the church look alot like the criteria for scoring how well we are doing as a grocery store chain. I have been invited to come to someone’s church and the first thing they said was that, “Our church has 800 members attending every Sunday.” This criteria doesn’t necessary prove that it’s a more righteous church, it just proves that they are better at performing in a competitive church market.

        I believe that this list, while reflecting an unbiased poll, shouldn’t be a checklist for improving your church. To quote Dan, “the church meets for the edification of believers.” And also, Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” It is the members of the body of Christ that are to attract the nonbeliever, not the cleanliness of the facilities or adequate signage. Seriously, are you a church or a grocery store?

      • If this attitude is pervasive, it’s no wonder the church is dying across America. I do see your point that the Church is not supposed to simply cater to the whims of every visitor, but it’s ridiculous to argue that for 2000 years churches have primarily been hunker down clique fests to edify the members. The Church is, like everything else, primarily for the Glory of God thanks to the work of Jesus Christ on the cross and through the prodding of the Holy Spirit. Our God is a God of Truth and reconciling the World to the Truth.

        If the comments were related to preaching hard truths or being more allowing of sin, then you’d be much closer to correct. As it is, clean facilities and friendly faces with quality information sources shouldn’t primarily be about a visitor’s mindset any more than good teaching and music should be primarily about a believer’s edification. It’s all about God Almighty, and it always will be, no matter what we do to mess it up.

      • Glenn Johnson says on

        This isn’t a debatable topic and clearly not open to a fallacies mindset. Guests who visit might be seeking, never having sought before. What would Jesus do? Prepare more wine and bread for the guests, not radicalize your contempt for their way of thinking. Think God.

      • I think you need to read the New Testament. If the church exists to carry out the ministry and mission of Jesus – which is what i read – then the church absolutely exists for the unchurched because Jesus didn’t come for church people – he came for lost people. That whole I’ll leave the 99 to go after the 1 lost “sheep” – I think he meant for us to model that.
        So yeah we should bend over backwards to make guests welcome in our churches.

      • Stephanie Farquhar says on

        I agree with Dan as to what the church is and that is to equip the saints and not only edify but hold each other accountable. We then go out and reach the lost. Those coming to a church that are critical are coming from another church membership looking for a new church home due to whatever reason whether moving or disgruntled.
        As the scriptures say….we are to do and say everything as unto the Lord, so the cleanliness and information needed is of course very necessary for visitors whether they are believers or not. But the most important issue is the attitudes of the members. But Im telling you that we are all disfunctional in one way or another and no matter how genuine you are and how well we mean…they’re are some people who will never be happy! So my next big thing for me is the deliverance of the Truth! I like cleanliness….it speaks volumes to me and I will spare you…..I like children well taken care of and that they are taught truth…..not guilt! I want all the info I can get and the details of the one in charge. I want info about the Pastor and I will go many times to hear him because I think he will set the tone of the whole! I have to say…..the pesrons that have turned me off more than once are the women/men who think they run the church and their attitudes….from the decorations committee to the wedding co-ordinator to the Administrator to the SS Superintendent. Its all in how they carry their attitude in their authority of their job. It may not be the deciding factor in my joining but it sure might determine as to where I might want to serve. These are things I dont think a Pastor is always inclined to know either. And Im not going to tattle but Im just adding to what might be added to the list!!! ATTITUDE of the one serving!

      • Dan,

        Where do you go to church, your description of what a church should do for its members and visitors is exactly what I grew up with in Atlanta and have not been able to find since moving to Fort Worth TX. If anyone knows of a church with a mindset like this, one that is committed to its members and not just another mega church looking to bring in the most people (primarily non believers) in the Fort Worth area please reply and let me know.

        I have visited numerous churches in the area who are more concerned with butts in seats then the individuals in those seats. Church has become for so many a business with a required return rate. I don’t want someone to bend over backwards to make me feel welcome. If you speak the word of God truthfully and in a way that relates to my life than that is the only thing you need to do to recruit me. (Clean facilities are kind of a must though, I don’t want to be more concerned for my health or the health of my family than the word of God while in church…)

        I would love to find a local church with members that genuinely want to know me and are not only concerned with the state of my soul. The state of my soul is between me and God, members of local churches need to be less concerned with converting me to God and no longer assume because I am a visitor I need to be saved. Many friends of mine who visit churches are transplants like me who grew up in the faith, next time you are trying to greet a visitor try asking them what denomination they were raised in before you assume they are a lost sheep.

      • I was waiting for someone to say this! The purpose of the church is to worship God and for a body of believers to be spiritually fed and encouraged. Visitors and unbelievers are welcome and I’m always thrilled that they are there hearing the Word. Of course we should be loving and friendly and hospitable. But ultimately the church is about GOD and his worship and glory.

      • Why should there be anything other than…. parking and handicapped parking? Isn’t that exclusionary to designate “visitors should park here?” And secondly I think the mission of the church is laid out in Ephesians 4:12 –for the perfecting of the saints, work of the ministry (charity and evangelism) and the edifying of the body of Christ. We are commanded to go to all people and share the good news of Christ as well as minister in our communities doing needed service, and to strenghten and visit members of the church.

      • Coleman Brown says on

        Who are we trying to attract? Believers or non believers? I do not remember where I heard this quote but I think it is a good one: “The church is the only establishment for those who are not a part of it yet”. (Referring to non believers)

        We as believers should have the most attractive, cleanest, friendliest, etc of any establishment in our communities.

        Also, we have to remember that non believers and immature believers are going to be consumeristic. That is a heart issue not a church issue.

        This is why church teaching and discipleship is essential to combatting those thoughts. What kind of culture has been set up within our individual churches? How well trained are our leaders to combat the consumeristic thinking? How are we disciplining these individuals once they are in our churches?

        Dan it sounds like you are very passionate about people and Jesus. Keep up the great work where you are and keep Jesus first always!

      • Brannon Hancock says on

        Sure, dismiss the consumerist mindset if you’re only interested in reaching churchy people. But if truly unchurched people, far from God and the things of God, are the “guest” you have in mind, you’ve gotta deal with and relate to the consumerist mindset. Plain and simple.

      • Mrs. Niles R. Clark says on

        This is so true. BY all means greet visitors. Make them feel that they are at home. THIS is how I found the church I am now attending. I was treated as a member from the first visit and that did not stop at the church but anywhere I was seen in our small town. I was told, Hello. Asked how I was doing. Last but the most importantly, was asked to come back.

      • Dan:

        You said, “Hope that comment doesn’t come off as grumpy, but I just think that, for the most part, American Evangelicalism has very wrong view of church attendance. The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…”

        It came across as grumpy. I have no way of proving this scientifically but I bet another Twitter poll of those who visited a church once never to return would agree. The Son of Man also came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).

        Most of Thom’s list deals with rude people or neglected facilities in one way or another. That anything related to how we behave toward guests AND how we maintain our facilities would show up on a list like this should be of great concern. Worse still is thought that someone would not feel our children’s areas are safe. Heaven forbid! As for boring or bad services, if our guests think the service is lousy, many of the saints in attendance do too. I think that is a problem and would hope that you , as a music guy, would too.

      • I agree with Brenda. Also, it’s not about the “retention of visitors”, it’s about seeing lives changed through Jesus and making disciples. And removing the barriers to that for our friends, family, neighbors and coworkers, as well as those we don’t know yet (“strangers.”)
        I think that was the original intent of the article.
        You said it best, Jesus came to serve. We’re to imitate Christ. That means serving. Or bending over backwards, like Jesus did. He went way out of his way to reach people. The people the religious elite of the day ignored. That’s who Jesus reached out to. Zaccheus, the woman at the well, lepers. The outcasts, the despised, those far from God.
        Jesus fed “the 5000” right? Why did he cater to their needs? Probably for a few reasons, but one among them certainly, because at that moment, their hunger was a barrier to them finding Christ. He removed that barrier.
        And quite a few we saved. .
        I don’t think words like “customer” or “spectator” capture what these people are. They are souls. Lost souls, who are loved by God. People who have been led through our doors by no coincidence but, rather, the hand of God.
        God help us, if we don’t love and serve them as Jesus made clear we should.
        If we do anything to push them away from God, and they spend eternity separated from Him…shame on us.

      • Consumerist?

        It’s not an issue of “I need to cater to these people so they come back.” It’s a matter of “as the church, we should be welcoming and hospitable.” It’s not an issue of being a Christian or not, it’s an issue of being new. You said the church is for believers. Irrelevant to this article. I believe, and the points in these articles ring very true to me.

        You don’t need to bend over backwards. You need to pretend that Jesus walks through your door each week. He’s never been there before – welcome Him. Make sure somebody talks to Him and makes some kind of connection. Don’t make Him wander around for 10 minutes to find the sanctuary. And if you’re going to tell Him you’re glad He’s there, let your actions match your words.

        It’s fine if you don’t want to focus on these things, but it makes a big difference in other issues church people love to talk about. For example, have you ever had a conversation about why young people leave the church? Probably because I moved across the country after college and looking for a church is emotionally exhausting.

      • So what about winning the lost ??? That’s the “consumers” you are pushing out . Sounds like your focus has been lost.

      • I’m not a pastor, just a regular old churchgoer. My family attends services weekly and, after being part of a congregation for a decade, felt called to visit other churches and look for a new church home. Based on my recent experiences, the above list really rang true for me. It’s not about being marketed to or wanting churches to treat us like a commodity. In fact, that’s the exact opposite of what my partner and I want and if we get the vibe that a church is overly slick, we shy away. The truth is when we visit a place that is clean, comfortable, and welcoming, it helps us relax and hear the Word. Same goes for feeling like our children are well cared-for. I like that other commenters have pointed out that it’s a consumer-driven approach we’re talking about here but rather simple hospitality.

      • I think my concern is that we are not focused on the lost. They act like they are lost and they will not be coming to church in the mindset to add anything to “Your Church”. They are at a point of what the church can to for them until they meet Christ and become a new creature. then and only then will they dive in and become invested. You need to be reminded of Paul…”I have become all things so that I might win some”…If Christ said I will allow you to be apart of the redemptive process for a 100 people, but I need you to have purple hair….well, I am going to have purple hair if I can see 100 people become followers of Christ!

      • My pastor has said from the pulpit more than once “if you come for any reason other than to hear God’s word preached” please go somewhere else you will be happy. To the point.

      • I’m sure your pastor is a great guy, but that point sounds very self-serving. He’s saying he is the only reason to come to church and his message is without question the very word of God. It’s attitudes like this that scare away a lot of seekers.

        It’s Biblical that people should come together for fellowship, support and to server others. If it’s only about hearing a message preached, I can that online or play an MP3. Ironically, technology would put your pastor out of a job.

        Going to church about many things and most certainly not just to hear some guy uncork his message.

      • Robert Wall says on

        Klutch, totally agree with you.

        As a *Christian* preaching is important. And if a church doesn’t have good preaching, I’m not inclined to return.

        But people go to a new church for a variety of reasons. Some of them are Christians looking for a new church, and they have criteria they’re evaluating. Some of them might have been invited by a friend (who may or may not be there that week!). Some of them might be in some manner of crisis and looking for a friendly ear.

        And I don’t think any of those are wrong.

        It would be like a car dealer greeting everybody that walks through the door with, “if you’re walking into this dealership, you’d better be interested in purchasing a car today. If you’re not, get out.”

        That’s not wisdom, it’s arrogance. Huge difference. 🙂

      • The purpose of the church is to serve. That means you also. Be understanding that visitors may be looking for help and direction in life. If your heart is to reach the harvest, then you will look to help them first before asking them to serve. Unless of course you only want Christians coming in your door. I desire for the lost to come in and have a experience with the most high God.

      • Robert Wall
        Well said! That’s it in a nutshell I’d say.

      • Dan Sullivan says on


        This is not a consumerist mindset. But a means for people to actually know what your church is and stands for.

        Church is not so much a sanctuary for saints, but a hospital for sinners.

        I guess I’ll be proud to say we violate rule number one. Many have actually joined our church because we genuinely are able to show how much we care and love one another. Something lacking in a lot of lives. We don’t overwhelm the new people, but they know that they are welcome. I can’t tell you how we do the balance, since it seems to be organic in our congregation.

        Our church welcomes those who are hurting, questioning, or even angry. To say the “church is for believers” is to overlook the intention of the Gospel. The intention of The Gospel is to reconcile mankind, in all it’s ugly, messy confusion, to God. To say that it is only for believers is to negate the entire message. How can we reach a hurting world unless we let it into our own sphere of influence? If we can’t serve them in our own sanctuary, how can we even have the chutzpah (unmitigated gall) to “serve” them on their turf?

        The Old Testament, numerous times harangued us about the laws of hospitality, welcoming the stranger. I have no argument to refuse anyone from entering our “holy” doors. In this way, they can see us by our love for each other, and surprisingly enough, if we do this right, we include “them” and they know us for what we are, Followers of The Christ.

        By doing this, we have the chance to fulfill the Great Commission, to create Disciples.

        One of the major problems I have with your position is that you posit a “we” vs. “them” position. Here is a news flash for you. Many a time in the Old Testament it has been stated, “God is no respecter of persons”. Jesus, himself, had a few examples of how this “us vs. them” is a fallacy. Let’s take a deeper look at the “Good Samaritan” story by looking at the character of the Samaritans of the time. The Samaritans were a tribe that were to far in the mountains for the Persians to drive out of the former kingdom of Israel. So, when the people from that time were allowed to come back, the Samaritans did not recognized the prophets from the diaspora . There was a amenity that went very deep. The Samaritans did not even have the courtesy to worship from the “proper” mountaintop. “They” worshiped from the mountaintop of Moses, the Jews, from the threshold of Jesse.

        The enmity from those that staid, and those that came back, in Jesus’s time was enormous and largely ignored by us. The Samaritans would frequently light contradictory fires on the mountains to confound the Jews’ calendar. They were as much , if not more hated by Israel, than we are expected to hate Muslims in our time. And yet, who is the hero in this story? The Sadducees? No. The Scholar of the Law (Pharisee)? No. It was the most despised of the Jewish religion of the time that is the hero of this story. The Samaritan was far more of Christ than his contemporaries.

      • I was really surprised at you comments Dan. People visit churches because they are hurting, or just searching for a friendly and welcome place to attend. You never know what a visitor is feeling or what he/she is going through when they visit your church. They wouldn’t be visiting your church if they were not in need of something.

      • Bill Payne says on

        Dan, the kind of people that Jesus wants are the unchurched. Your church does not exist for itself and the comfort of your people. As you plan to win the lost and make disciples of the saved, you have to balance the two. If your main way of engaging unchurched people is through your morning worship service, you have to make it friendly to the comfort levels of the unchurched. I hope that you did not imply that you only want a specific type of unchurched person, i.e., one that liked what you like. If so, how are you partnering with God to win the people who are not like you?

      • I agree with you, Christopher Sanchez. The fact that many people disagree with you is part of the problem with the American Church. The First Century Church wasn’t about meeting the needs of those coming. In fact, I don’t think the Church should be viewed as a place one goes to get saved. It should be a place people go who are saved. Could you imagine Paul insisting his churches to be more lively because people think it’s boring and not coming back away? Christians shouldn’t invite people who are not Christians to church. Christians should open their eyes to Christ first, then bring them to church.

      • Kate McLaren says on

        Oh Dan. You say “”The kind of people we want to coming to our church are eager to give, eager to serve, and hungry to hear from God’s word”? Indeed, until they start to be a threat, and then those in power get afraid, get jealous and destroy them. That is when they leave and never come back, and you are lucky if you haven’t ensured that they will never set foot in a church again. And yes, I speak from extremely painful experience.

      • Are you the paster?
        I find your comment rather shocking, and offensive. For you to say the people that YOU WANT to attend your church kinda sums up this whole conversation. I don’t believe sir that it’s your choice who God leads to his CHURCH. It’s your job to guide them after God has led them. I wonder if he felt like he was bending over backwards or scratching an itch while his son died for you…. . It is very clear to me why people feel lost when they arrive at your building they are looking for a home and what they found was a cold building with grumpy people who are set in ther ways.

      • Susan
        I love your reference to how God wasn’t bending over backwards etc. when His son died for us! Because when His Son died for us what were we? Sinners! Therefore there would be no Church if not for sinners! There would have been no need for Jesus to die. No deciples to start the Church. But when the deciples DID start the Church-with believers, what was the purpose of the Church? It is what we call the Great Commission. To seek and save the lost. Believers still go to church to be fed, strengthened by the Word of God and to be in fellowship with other Christians as the New Testament tells us to do. But all of this is to help us continue to serve and save the lost so there will be new generations of deciples to bring people to Christ. If we bring the lost through our doors to teach them about Christ, but they can’t find our sanctuary, or feel welcome, or be comfortable leaving their children in our care how will they hear The Word? And the orphaned (those who have somehow been displaced from their church family) how can they keep their commitment to Christ strong and healthy, as we have the privelidge of doing, if they have difficulties in finding a church that will bend over at least sideways to cater to as many different kinds of people as possible by giving them at least the basic human needs and assistance? Even those as obvious as fellowship with other Christians. Does the Church really need to be for us OR them?

      • Mike Faulkner says on

        I am amazed you telling us about the “kind” of people you would like attending your church. Understanding Maslow’a hierarchy of needs, people must first have their needs met before they are in a position to be able to give. I understand your statement as you are looking for “plug & play” members to benefit your organization. A very provincial thought process as well as an exclusionary attitude.


      • >But those coming to church should not be coming as consumers, desiring for their own needs to be met in their itches to be scratched.

        Like it or not, visitors are coming to your church as consumers. They have a certain set of expectations, needs, desires, and wants. The perception that those expectations, needs, desires, and wants will be satisfied, has everything to do with a repeat visit.

        Theology has virtually nothing to do with repeat visits.

      • Dan, actually we are supposed to woo people. Christ came for his bride, I don’t know about you but a good groom does anything for his bride.
        What is more, Christ did come to serve; he came to serve the downtrodden, the sick and the needy, the widows and the orphans, the lost and forsaken. The church exists to serve, Christ did not demand that everyone come and kiss his feet, he washed theirs.
        The most important function of the church is to spread the gospel, this is the very salvation of souls. That was the commission we were given

      • Was Zacheaus eager to give, eager to serve and hungry for Gods word? Not until after he met Jesus.

      • “Hope that comment doesn’t come off as grumpy, but I just think that, for the most part, American Evangelicalism has very wrong view of church attendance. The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…”

        Oh, it does.

        And I feel like you invalidated your own comment with that last line. This is how it sounds to me: “We’re not going to serve others because Jesus came to serve, not be served.”

    • Let me just add my 2 cents. We have been searching for a church home for years. We fervently have been searching. We live in a small community and have visited virtually all of the churches within our area. Even branching outside of our religion. I wish dirty trash cans or stained pews were the things that drove us away. I dont even notice such things! I look for a genuine love for others and a heart for serving our Lord. For by serving others.. we serve Him. We have been tailgated all the way to church then cursed out in the parking lot by a long standing member because our teenage son was driving under the posted speed limit. I felt my face burn thru that entire church service. We never returned. We have sat in bible study classes week after week with no one speaking so much as a “hello” to us. We have visited churches that had no program of worship. They fly by the seat of their pants. Leaving us visitors in the dark. Wondering is this the sermon? Is this the invitation? Is the service over? Its embarassing. Most of all… most of all.. churches make no effort to visit people anymore. People who are new to a community would love someone (anyone) to show up, give them some cookies and say WE are here for you. Someone cares. You have children? I would love to introduce them to our youth pastor! We have exciting things going on and would love for you to be a part of it. And also.. ask them if there is anything you can pray with them about. I would guess alot of people coming to church may have needs!! They arent coming to examine your pews and garbage cans. They are in pain. They need the love of the Lord shown upon them. And church members…. guess how that happens?! Y-O-U. Church is not a country club. It can be dirty, stained, have small parking spaces, heck.. it can be in a barn. People will be saved because they heard the gospel. And you showed Gods grace and love to them. Keep that in mind. Salvation should be #1 on your priority list. Forget all that other.

      • Seriously – MOVE to a location that the word is being taught – we moved 14 hours to our present location. Have been in the same church for over 19 years. The service continues to improve – are they perfect NO – are the people perfect NO – am I perfect NO. But please find a place where you can worship.

      • Kate McLaren says on

        Spot on, Tina. I couldn’t have put it better myself, and I’m glad I didn’t have to try!

    • I attended a church for the first time years ago and never went back.
      Reason was because members there were very nosy and quite rude!
      Where do you work?
      Do you get paid well?
      Why didn’t your husband come?
      What kind of children do you have?
      I felt terribly offended by these sort of questions.
      What did any of that have to do with why I was there?

    • Julia14325 says on

      I am curious how many of the commenters here are non believers or those who are looking for the Burger King- have it your way or I am out of here folks?

    • I completely agree with the website comment. We move frequently, and I often do a Google search for local churches, and then pull up their website. It never ceases to amaze me how many churches don’t provide address or service times! It’s so frustrating! Most of the time, their phone number is listed, with a recording with service times, but no address. Then I have to start the search all over again. If I’m not from the area, how am I supposed to find the church without the address?

      Another pet peeve of mine is a poor choir. There’s nothing worse than an off key choir during a church service! I can tolerate a lot of other things if there’s a good choir or soloist to listen to.

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