Want to Reach New People? These 10 Habits Set Your Church Back

Today’s post is written by Tony Morgan, Founder of The UnStuck Group.

What is the first-time guest experience really like at your church?

When my team at The Unstuck Group helps a church assess ministry health, one key step we take is to attend and review the church’s weekend experience through the lens of an outsider.

That’s because once you see what an outsider sees, you can’t unsee it.

Serving in 100+ churches each year, we’ve started to notice some patterns.

What are the most common offenses? Here are the Top 10—the biggest issues with the weekend that we see the most often.

Keep in mind, these are only issues for churches that actually want to reach new people…

One last thing before I get to the list: Many of these issues show up in the “secret shopper” reports for large churches just as often as in small churches.

1. The Guest Services area is staffed with people who don’t engage with newcomers.

The church feels like a private club. Guest service team members are more engaged with one another than with newcomers.

Guest services are the “first” in “first impressions.” If this team is off, my visit is off within minutes.

2. The church didn’t welcome me and help me know what to expect.

There’s a general lack of guiding visitors through the worship experience and explaining what to do in the different elements of the services, like singing, offering, etc.

Specifically welcoming new people is frequently missed. Someone yells “welcome” and then all of a sudden people start standing up, and then they sing. The only place I sing is in my car or in my shower. Guide me a little more. Invite me to sing, but give me permission to just take it in.

3. People on stage don’t reflect the church’s target “customer.”

The people on the platform should non-verbally communicate this is a safe place, a normal place, to the people you are trying to reach… just by being who they are.

Many times the platform presence doesn’t reflect that. A lot of churches miss the “75% rule”—having 75% of people on the platform in the same age range (or below) as the people you are trying to reach. (Credit to Lee Kricher in For a New Generation for defining it well).

4. The service order feels like an assembly of separate parts, rather than a cohesive experience.

Stop…start…stop…start… Nothing makes me check my watch more than a herky-jerky service. We sing two songs, there’s a video announcement, there are live announcements, we have a song for offering, message, another song, communion, closing announcement, benediction…

An unchurched person will be thinking, “Get me out. Land the plane.

5. The message is too long.

Especially if there were already a lot of other service elements (see the last point), I’m not gassed up for a 45-50 minute message. Tighten it up, add a story, make it applicable, and send me on my way.

6. Lack of application or next steps in the message.

I’ve given you an hour—give me something specific to take away that applies to my real life today.

7. Lack of security in the children’s area.

If I can walk off the street into your kid’s area, that’s a problem.

My team often finds unlocked, dark, rooms in the same hallway as kids programming, along with unattended external exits.

This is an issue we see far, far too often.

8. The bulletins/programs are too crowded.

It looks like the Cheesecake Factory menu. What on earth am I supposed to choose to pay attention to?

This is a key first impression piece for a new person. It should welcome them, tell them what to expect and provide key info on kids ministry.

Unfortunately, many churches view it as the way to keep all the insiders informed.

9. Too many specific, insider-focused announcements instead of a few church-wide announcements.

I would add that many churches waste announcement time telling me about all the logistics of what their people could be doing instead of leveraging that time to communicate the “why” behind the activity.

They use the time to say, “Small groups will start next week, at 7 pm, in room 202, which is up the steps and down the hall.

What would be more meaningful? Share a personal story about your small group and then challenge people who aren’t connected to get in one.

And really, just stop announcing so many things all together. Point people to your website.

10. The feel of the church—the interior design—feels like nothing else I experience outside the church.

It’s brown. There are bulletin boards, plastic flowers in the restrooms, churchy banners that mean nothing to an outsider, and sometimes worn out carpet, furniture, and funky smells.

The church members and staff have been nose-blind to it all for years, but a new person who steps through your front door will instantly notice all of it.

Your first thought reading that list might be that having an outsider attend your service and point all of these things out would be discouraging.

Oddly enough, the opposite tends to be true. This experience is one of our clients’ favorite phases of the whole planning process.

Why? Because as I said at the beginning, once you SEE what an outsider SEES, you can’t UNSEE it.

If you want to reach new people, start trying to see yourself the way they see you.

And, start looking at them the way Jesus looks at them: with a willingness to leave the 99 for the one.

If you’d like some more insight on this topic, I dug a little deeper in a recent episode of The Unstuck Church Podcast (5 Ways to Impress Your Church’s First Time Guests | Episode 45).

In that episode, I give some suggestions for how to prioritize tackling these issues, where to start, and why.

You can listen (and subscribe) here: The Unstuck Church Podcast

Final thought: This matters. Let’s not make it difficult for those who are taking a step towards God. Let’s do everything we can to meet them where they are.

14 Comments

  1. […] Pastor Carey Nieuwhof, founding and teaching pastor of Connexus Church outside Toronto, Canada, has provided some tips that could help that he and his team at The Unstuck Group came up with after going to different […]

  2. […] Pastor Carey Nieuwhof, founding and teaching pastor of Connexus Church outside Toronto, Canada, has provided some tips that could help that he and his team at The Unstuck Group came up with after going to different […]

  3. […] Pastor Carey Nieuwhof, founding and teaching pastor of Connexus Church outside Toronto, Canada, has provided some tips that could help that he and his team at The Unstuck Group came up with after going to different […]

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  6. Aran on July 10, 2018 at 4:35 am

    I know this comes from feedback but I think this list is old fashioned, I feel that with much on it you end up spending the entire time explaining the basics for newcomers and missing the sustenance of the whole congregation. Notices don’t have room to explain everything ‘again;/all the time. The list of what we dos and what everyone here knows is endless … maybe a newcomers sheet.
    I think a sincere “hello, You appear new to this, what would you like to know? do not be afraid to ask. ” would be the main point to start with. Of course you risk upsetting a seasoned traveller who worships often in new places … (we are in a very visited city) Some churches have so many welcomes it can be overwhelming for some people to feel comfortable. Being aware of people as they arrive is so important, everyone is different there is no standard welcome.
    I am uncomfortable having a ‘target’ or ‘trying to reach’ idea as you end up forcing one’s congregation out of shape. It is important not for ‘target’ but for everyone to be prepared to try different tack for finding out where our bad habits might be but that is for all not just for new people. Being aware of how we are as a service for us all not just the new people. I believe in doing what you do well well, what sustains and encourages those who worship there regularly should, as someone has commented, be honest and draw people to you by that enthusiasm for Christ in oneself and amongst ourselves with a willingness to share. If someone is interested enough to cross the threshold they should see, be drawn by our own love of God in our worship, us enjoying what we love. If they don’t see it is not, perhaps, our welcome that they miss but our own reason for being there.

  7. Roberta on July 9, 2018 at 9:55 am

    I so wanted to get established in my ELCA church when I moved to my new location. I was very active in the church I had left behind. So, I thought I would get the same warmth that I had given to our new visitors and members. Not one person looked at me, greeted me, said,” join us for coffee”, or anything. I had to ask how to get out of the the building and all I got was a pointed finger. The service had no emotion, just going through the actions. The person I had made contact with online didn’t have the time to talk with me. Have not been back.

  8. Mark on July 6, 2018 at 6:09 pm

    Consumer mentality focussed. Please please study the book of Acts and tell me where anything you said points to that.

    Saddened by this post on so so many levels.

  9. Tony on July 6, 2018 at 2:39 pm

    While I see some of the reasons helpful , others tend to point to the fact that the new comers are not serious to seek God. When every effort is made to please them and keep them at ease, what is their contribution to seeking God?

  10. Rev. Beth Mattinson on July 6, 2018 at 12:34 pm

    Good article… Wish we could afford to have you come and help our two really small rural churches!

  11. Silas Ntia on July 5, 2018 at 11:31 pm

    This is very timely .

  12. Sheila Beers on July 5, 2018 at 1:03 pm

    I agree with Len and Femi that this is a great article. I do not favor too many “Madison Avenue” tactics some churches use in dealing with people, but this article points out things that are necessary for a pleasant experience in church and for safety, especially the safety of children. When the new Baptist church in my community was built some years ago, the designer put a children’s restroom in the children’s Sunday school wing of the building for convenience. To promote safety, the children’s wing was divided from the main front and side entrances by double doors with tempered glass inserts so that the adult supervisors could see anyone coming into the church and specifically into the children’s area. The hallways also were very well lighted. I am mentioning this as an idea some of your readers might use in their own church buildings.

  13. Len on July 5, 2018 at 11:32 am

    Great post! Thank you. The age on the stage is an ongoing debate. Smaller churches often do not have the stable, especially twenty-somthings, to play every week and yet they do want to reach out to the community for Christ. Identifying this as a hinderance can be discouraging. A few years ago, churches in my area were actually aging people out of their service in their bands. If you were not looking like the desired “brand name” you were either not scheduled or told you couldn’t play because of your age. I mean, really? Because of this, I picked up a couple of 40s/50s people who could really play and had a mature heart for worship and the Lord, and the band sounded great.

    When talking with the younger generation, it seems that they do not care how old you are, they want authenticity and preparation. This is a hard subject and will continue to be a debate as the ones claiming ownership of the platform today will one day age out of their own parameters. May the Lord continue to call people to His service in His timing and grace. Thanks for all you do! Your posts are so helpful.

    And for those wondering, yes I am a 25 year veteran worship pastor, with a desire to train up the younger generations AND retain faithful, talented servants that God has called to ministry. For me, it’s a “Both-And” not an “Either-Or.” I tend to hold to multi-generational worship, but that’s just me. Thanks for listening folks. Blessings.

  14. Femi Imevbore on July 5, 2018 at 10:20 am

    This is really insightful. Things we normally take for granted because that how it been done for ages. Looking forward to having an outside “see’ us the way we really are. God bless you.

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