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.

  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.