Lately, I’ve become more intentional about welcoming guests at our church, and encouraging others to do the same. To that end, I’ve read Fusion (see my review here), and now, Beyond the First Visit. The two volumes have much in common in terms of encouraging the reader to prioritize the importance of first impressions among guests, and to look at the life of the church, and even the property, from the perspective of someone who has never been there before.
In this book, author Gary L. McIntosh teaches the reader how to think like an outsider, so that the church can do many things – even post signage – in ways that make sense to the first-timer. He also warns congregants against badmouthing the church, noting that while a good reputation can be built with hard work, a bad reputation can be created with just a few words – even if what is said is untrue.
McIntosh encourages significant advertising, at least four times a year, to reach your target audience. When that involves newspapers, he wisely suggests not advertising on the “church page”. After all, who reads the church page? People who go to church! If your target audience is guys who watch football, advertise in the sports section. If it’s people who like movies, advertise in the entertainment section. Sure, it will cost more, but we’re talking about an investment in eternity here!
A good reminder in this book is to give newcomers a task of some sort, so that they get an opportunity to meet other people in the congregation. In order for guests to become regular participants in the life of the church, they need to form relationships within the congregation. Engaging them in some task that gets them connected will accomplish this.
A most helpful learning point in this book came early on (beginning on page 34) where the author writes about “moments of truth” that guests have when they consider the church. Those moments of truth are:
- Receiving an invitation to church
- Driving by the church building
- Walking to the front door
- Entering the front door
- Meeting people
- Experiencing ministries and services
- Entering the sanctuary
- Participating in the worship service
- Leaving the worship service
- Being contacted during the week
- Ongoing contacts in the future
Did you notice that six of those “moments of truth” came before the worship gathering even began? There are many, many factors that can and will influence guests in their decision to return (or not) to a church, and several of them occur before worship starts. The worship must be excellent, because God desires our excellence, but we must also focus on that which surrounds it if we are going to encourage guests to return, and become vital parts of the body of Christ.
Beyond the First Visit: The Complete Guide to Connecting Guests to Your Church by Gary L. McIntosh (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006); ISBN 978-0-8010-9184-1