Recently I came across an interesting poll by Thom Rainer (ThomRainer.com) regarding the experience of first time guests at church. More often than not their experience turns them off and sends them away, never to return again. Here are some of the standouts (the order is mine, given my level of irritation with each):
1. Unfriendly church members.
This one just doesn’t go away. Grumpy churchpeople are the biggest obstacle to churchworld, the number one reason people who don’t go to church say they don’t go to church, the most effective turn-off of all. Nobody wants to be around grumpy, sour churchpeople who are just going through the motions or begrudgingly fulfilling their “obligation.” Included here also is the non-genuine fake friendliness of churchpeople who are pretending because they’ve come to realize that welcoming newcomers is critical to the survival of their congregation. But in their hearts they really aren’t happy new comers are coming to their church, they don’t really want them there.
2. Boring, bad services.
This one is mind-numbingly obvious. We just keep on doing what we do, serving up boring and bad church experiences weekend after weekend and watch people walk away. If the music is no good and the message is irrelevant and poorly delivered why would we be surprised when people won’t come back?
3. Lack of information.
This category actually includes a number of related problems. Signage is one, guests rely on signage in order to feel comfortable. Also, if your church does not have a clear and obvious place to get basic information, you have lowered the potential for a return visit from a guest.
4. Dirty facilities.
Nothing will make a guest feel more uncomfortable faster than dirty restrooms, stained and soiled carpets, overflowing trash cans. And if the children’s spaces are dirty they will be considered unsafe too and drive people away.
5. Insider language.
This is not about theological language, it’s the churchspeak churchpeople learn to talk to one another. And it is unknown and incomprehensible to guests, a reminder that they don’t belong, perhaps also illustrating why they don’t want to belong. This includes asides in the homily for insider jokes, or references to staff members and major volunteers guests won’t know. And, believe it or not this still happens, members telling guests that “you’re in my seat.”
Think about it, not one of these issues need cost a parish anything to fix or change. Any of them could be addressed easily and quickly at your next service.