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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  • Precious says on

    Hi there, all this is so true but have noticed that some stop going to church when they see others trying to stand tall as if the own the church of the lord so for people with insight do back off not that the quit but wait for the righteous leader to enter the kingdom of the lord.

  • This article is very real. The points raised are very valid and could make guests really uncomfortable.
    Thanks for sharing this truth
    Joseph Iji

  • Meet n greet has never been my favorite time but I have gone through the motions as it seems to be important for others. Hugging people who are not close friends is really awful for me. My wish would be that the meet n greet not be before communion. We all have been shaking hands with all sorts of people with all sorts of levels of cleanliness and possible colds. We then put our unwashed hands in the communal tray of bread. Not a huge issue. Just wish it were different.
    The point really doesn’t matter as I rarely attend church any more as it is just too deafeningly loud.
    For each church leader who is doing their best or even those who are just trying, I am sorry because I know that for most of you, your heart is in the right place. In order to keep a good relationship going with your fellow members on the platform, you can not say a whole lot about the volume level and you need to be encouraging. From my non-church-attending self, thanks for trying.

  • Thom,
    Thanks for your great work. I’ve read most though not all of the responses and i’m wondering how large your response field was. I know you said it is not scientific, but a staff member sent this to me with a sense that if you said it it must be so. Is there any hard data on the subject? We stopped doing a meet and greet a couple of years ago when church growth experts decided it is a negative, even though i never sensed it to be so. However, there is one aspect that i have not seen addressed. When we did it, especially right before i preach, it had a noticeably positive effect on the overall atmosphere. It seemed to serve as a sweet transition between lofty and great worship and serious listening. Also, i was wondering if it is more likely to receive responses from people with negative feelings than otherwise? Finally, i was on sabbatical this past July and visited many services. The only time i was uncomfortable with meet and greet was when i felt left out, though i would not reach out to others no matter what the pastor said. Thanks again.

  • What is truly indicative here is that #1 amounts to, “You’re too friendly” and #2 amounts to “You’re not friendly enough.”

    These may be helpful because it is always good that the Church does not grow “deaf” to the ones we want to reach and serve. Christ steps out of the boat in Mk. 6 and lays aside his own human needs (i.e. he’s tired) because he has compassion on the people. If we are to emulate Him, then we need to understand that not everyone will respond to our actions the same way – despite the best intentions.

    That said, the Biblical Church is NOT anywhere in the NT focused on what “outsiders” want during the gathering of the Saints. The communal gathering together of the Body is a celebration of the Resurrection for building up the Saints to be sent out. The perspective of the gathering on as the Body as an evangelical outreach event is a result of Finneyism and Revivalism and is a relatively modern (i.e. 200 years) artifact that has produced anemic and false believers who can’t reach the lost because they have not been built up themselves.

    So while there is nothing sinful here, and it may be useful for diagnosing a problem, this information provides no answers for how we become better ambassadors for Christ – except where we corporately discuss how we constantly fail to love others with them first in our mind (genuinely) and then we celebrate the Grace that Christ bought for us to be able to repent of that.

    Nevertheless, this is not intended to be an accusation, but simply an observation that if we spend time trying to be pleasing to the world – who cannot help but contradict themselves (i.e. #1 and #2) – then we will fail to be pleasing to God who wants to build us up to be useful for reaching them. The current state of God’s removal of the chaff from Church seems to be the greatest evidence of this.

    Sola Gratia,

  • Jonathan Hanna says on

    Yes, end the formal greet and meet time. Continue informal meet and greet time.

  • #11. Have to stand through a 30 minute deafening rock concert falsely described as “worship” before the sermon begins.

    #12. The topic of the sermon is “God wants you to give us all your money because we need a new parking lot.”

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