A Church’s “To DON’T” List for Welcoming Visitors

Last week I shared Thom Rainer’s six commitments that we can make to make Burns the best that it can be. Can I share something that is basically the opposite?

Here are the top nine ways that churches discourage first-time guests from returning. Rainer compiled this list by surveying people who visited a church once, but didn’t come back. These are their thoughts, I’ve tried to clarify and adjust them to our context. So let’s learn from them an add these things to the “DON’T DO” list!

  1. Unfriendly church members. We must be genuinely kind and interested in those who visit with us. Not curt, not ignoring, not fake. Go read Proverbs 18:24. It’s an uncomfortable thing to visit a church and be ignored.
  2. Unsafe and unclean children’s area. Visitors won’t trust their kids to an untrustworthy looking Sunday School. I wouldn’t!
  3. No place to get information. Most people don’t get past the first page of the paper, the first minutes of the news, and the first seconds of a first impression. We need to make it easy for our guests to find out about us. (That’s why we have door greeters, signs, and the foyer TV.) We need to communicate simply, succinctly, and clearly.
  4. Bad church website. It’s hard to come up with a concrete number, but the vast majority of visitors visit us online first. What do they learn about us?
  5. Poor signage. Signs are invisible to members at Burns, because we don’t need them, but for the guest who really really really needs the bathroom two minutes ago—they’re very important.
  6. Insider language. Sometimes we talk in code. Does a visitor know where the “Media Room” is? Would they understand our bulletin without explanation?
  7. Lousy preaching. Quality in our worship hour is very important. If they look around and see everyone sleeping, they’ll go back to sleeping at home.
  8. “You’re in my pew.” Visitors will never feel welcome if we tell them to get up and move. This simply is not an acceptable way for a church member to treat a visitor.
  9. Dirty and disorganized buildings. Disorder communicates that we don’t care.

Think about this list for a few minutes. Is it superficial? Yes. But here is the truth: we don’t get a second chance at a first impression. The gospel is so important that we should do whatever we can, in the bounds of scripture, to help people come in and not drive them out.

No single person is responsible for all 9 of these—not even the elders—but each one of us can do our part to make sure Burns is a place where new guests want to return. What