As churches begin to regather for in-person services, some areas of guest friendliness will change at least for the short-term. For example, for precautionary reasons, we likely will not be giving guests physical gifts.
As I have consulted with churches over the years, I have assembled data on what I called genuinely friendly churches, or GFCs. I set certain parameters for GFCs, and then I attempted to measure the guest return rates for those churches. A guest return rate is simply the percentage of guests who will return to the church for at least a second visit.
Here is the simple but profound difference I found in GFCs and all other churches: A genuinely friendly church has a guest return rate six times greater than other churches.
Did you get that? If a church meets the guidelines to be a GFC, the probability of a guest returning is six times higher than all other churches! Sadly, only about 1 in 20 churches meets the criteria necessary to be a GFC.
When I began as a consultant, I had 10 criteria, and the church had to meet at least eight of those criteria to be a GFC. I have since expanded the list to 15 and require churches to meet 12 of the 15 to be a GFC. Here are the 15 characteristics of genuinely friendly churches:
1. They are intentional about being friendly. Warmth and friendliness are clear values of these churches. They are articulated regularly. All organizations, including churches, naturally drift toward an inward focus unless they are otherwise intentional.
2. The leaders model warmth, humility and friendliness. The friendliness is not contrived or phony. These leaders have prayerfully become genuinely friendly people.
3. The leaders are clear that genuine friendliness is more than a brief stand and greet time in a worship service. The efficacy of a stand and greet time has been debated extensively in a previously published article. Regardless of a church's decision in this practice, leaders in GFCs were adamant that true hospitality and friendliness extends beyond a two-minute welcome time.
4. GFCs utilize a secret guest at least twice a year. One small church of which I am aware budgets $100 a year for a secret guest. They pay the guest with a $50 gift card to come to the church and provide feedback on their experience. I call this process "looking in the mirror" because it gives the church a real opportunity to see itself as others do.
5. GFCs had a guest friendly website. The website typically set the tone for a guest. If it did not have obvious information for a guest such as worship times and addresses, the guest came to the church with a more negative disposition.
6. The church has clear signage. Far too many churches lack this signage. They assume that everyone knows where everything is. First-time guests know nothing about the church or its different facilities.
7. GFCs have a well-organized greeters' ministry. They have greeters in the parking lot, greeters in the entrances and greeters in other strategic locations inside. Many GFCs utilize newer members in this ministry.
8. These churches have clear information places. It may be something as simple as a well-marked table manned by a member of the church. The signage points clearly to the information table, booth or kiosk.
9. GFCs have clean and neat buildings. It is amazing how much a clean facility adds to the positive mood of a guest. It is equally amazing how few churches pay attention to this issue.
10. They have a guest feedback process. To the best of their ability, GFCs follow up with guests to get feedback on their experiences. They also encourage the guests to be open and frank in the feedback.
11. The children's area is clearly safe and sanitary. Don't expect young parents to return if the church does not give clear attention to this matter.
12. The majority of church members in GFCs are involved in the community. They thus exude genuine friendliness in the worship services because they are regularly connecting with non-church members other days of the week.
13. Small groups are highly intentional about reaching people beyond their own groups. Thus, when these group members are in a worship service, they are already accustomed to reaching out beyond those with whom they already have relationships.
14. GFCs have new member classes that emphasize the responsibilities and expectations of church members. Members are thus more apt to look beyond their own preferences to serve others. That attitude translates to the worship services.
15. GFCs demonstrate an awareness of and sensitivity to COVID-19 concerns. This issue will likely be around for a while.
Give your church an honest evaluation of these 15 items. See if you can give an emphatic yes to at least 12 of them. If not, what should your church change?
Note: This post originally appeared in November 2014. It has been updated to reflect changes related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thom S. Rainer is the founder and CEO of Church Answers, an online community and resource for church leaders. Prior to founding Church Answers, Rainer served as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Before coming to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for 12 years, where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism.
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