Book Reviews

Beyond the First Visit: The Complete Guide to Connecting Guests to Your Church

beyond-the-first-visitLately, 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

Book Reviews

Essential Church? Reclaiming a Generation of Dropouts

essential-churchIn this follow-up to Simple Church, Thom Rainer and his eldest son, Sam, write about their research – and the implications – of people who drop out of church between the ages of 18 and 22. In most churches, that tends to be the “missing link”. Those who are completing high school and are in their undergraduate years are the people who tend to fall away from the church. In many cases, it’s not an intentional act – it’s something that happens almost by accident. Changing circumstances, changing friend circles, changing pressures – these all contribute.

But so does the church.

The Rainers spend much of the first half of the book sharing the bad news – that young people are leaving the church in droves. But they don’t leave it there: they then offer encouragement to the church on how to work intentionally to keep youth and young adults engaged. One of the key players in each church, according to the book, is the lead pastor. The lead pastor needs to be able to relate to this age group if they’re to be kept. That doesn’t mean that she or he needs to be the youth leader; but it does mean being sensitive to that age group’s peculiar place in life.

One paragraph, near the end of the book, sums up what constitutes an essential church: “Essential churches have simple structures that can be understood and embraced. Essential churches strive to take their members into deeper biblical truths. Essential churches have an environment of high expectations of members. And essential churches seek to multiply, to reach beyond their own fellowship” (p. 222).

The worship life of the church should, of course, engage the youth and young adults and unapologetically make them sense that God is relevant to them. But relationships are the real key. According to the authors, when a congregation is caring, welcoming, authentic and inspirational, many more 18-22 year-olds stay in church than drop out (p. 38).

This was my greatest learning point in this book. I think three of those four characteristics are relatively easily attained by the church. I’m less convinced about one other.

A church can, through effort, become caring, welcoming and inspirational. It takes much more work – and the breaking of many habits – in order for a church to be authentic. Most congregations are not known for being authentic.

 What does that mean?

Lots of people, when they go to church, get dressed up and put on their best ‘game face’. When people ask about them, they say, “Fine!” When they ask about other people, the response is, “Fine!” If someone ever chose to respond by saying, “My life is a shambles and I feel terrible”, folks wouldn’t know how to respond – if they even listened for the response!

To be an authentic church means being real with God, and real with each other. It means being vulnerable. Why should we do this? Simply put, we should be authentic because God knows how we all feel anyway. Furthermore, youth and young adults can see right through our well-intentioned fakery. Let’s be authentic as the church! This will make us even more open to deeper biblical teaching and to high expectations. And then, reaching beyond our walls will become that much easier.

May yours be an essential church!

Essential Church: Reclaiming a Generation of Dropouts by Thom S. Rainer and Sam S. Rainer III (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2008); ISBN 978-0-8054-4392-9.