I totally agree with Thom! As he did, I would have anticipated several of these as well. To number 7, “Insider Church Language,” I would add that oftentimes a Pastor will speak of stories in the Bible as if everyone sitting in their seat knows exactly what he is referring to. That can be intimidating—especially to a first-time attender.
It’s interesting to read through this list and see where simple awareness together with small modifications could put a first-time guest more at ease. ~David Lyons
Top Ten Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Guests
by Thom Rainer
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- Boring or bad service. My surprise was not the presence of this item. The surprise was that it was not ranked higher.
- Members telling guests that they were in their seat or pew. Yes, this obviously still takes place in some churches.
- 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.