Because I am not on a church staff for the first time in over 20 years, my family and I have been able to do something over the last few months that we have never done – visit churches. The only previous opportunities to visit other churches was when we were on vacations. It has been fascinating to see how completely different styles of churches are reaching people for Christ all over our city. We have now visited churches in four different denominations, plus a few non-denominational.
One sings only hymns during worship.
A couple have no stage lights.
One has no stage.
Some use expository teaching.
Others are topical.
Although each church we visited was different in methodology, they are all effectively reaching people in their communities. The church with no stage and no theatrical lighting was completely packed out with 18-25 aged adults. It has been a great reminder to me that there is no one model getting it done. It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.
That said, there are few common things that have stood out as potential barriers for new people returning for a second experience. Here are 3 reasons why I might not come back to your church:
1. Your sermon is too long
We have listened to several, potentially great message series taught in single messages. Blame it on Twitter. Blame on our education system. But the reality is, if you want the main point of your message to stick beyond the moment you say it, it has to be short, memorable and applicable. There is a good reason why TED Talks are limited to 18 minutes or less. Our brains start to check out after a certain amount of time. This is especially true if you want the message to have a life online. No one is pulling up a 45 minute message on their iPhone on a Monday afternoon. Good rule of thumb – if your name is not Rick Warren, you should probably not speak longer than 35 minutes.
2. Your first impressions matter
Only one church we have visited had a parking team. Whether you feel like you need people to help direct cars or not, it is an easy way to add an extra layer of greeters around the church building. It also portrays that something exciting is happening inside the building. We automatically equate parking guides with large events like concerts, sporting events, etc. We have also walked past door greeters on their phone or talking with friends, and have hunted down the program/bulletin on our own more than once. All if this gives the first impression that new people don’t matter anymore to the church.
3. I don’t know how to get involved
We have noticed a lot of the churches we have visited are relying on the first-time visitor to comb through the bulletin with 15 announcements to figure out how to get connected at the church. Nothing is said from the stage and there is nothing clearly identifiable in the lobby. Here is another current reality – most people are not going to read the bulletin. If there are more than 3 announcements in it, a tree gave it’s life for nothing. If you want me to connect quickly with the ministry life of the church, make it easy and obvious from the stage and the lobby.