A Message From Cody Collier:
If people visit your church once or twice but don’t return, you may have a “guest readiness” issue, according to Dr. Kim Pope-Seiberling, professor at Lindsey Wilson College and elder in the West Ohio Conference.
It is not unusual to hear a parishioner say, “We are a friendly church. Why don’t visitors come back?” Many congregations struggle to understand why they get visitors who seem to enjoy their visit and say they are returning soon, but never visit again. This can be extremely frustrating, especially for a congregation seeking to grow. The question is, “Why don’t they come back?”
Many people can relate to the stories that are shared with me by someone seeking to find a church home. They are generally single or married families who have recently moved to a new area, not really knowing anyone and hoping to find a welcoming community of believers. They are looking for a church where they can grow spiritually, where people have fun being in ministry with others, where you find a real sense the church is supportive of people during difficult times. They are seeking ministry settings that are diverse and inclusive and that offer inspiring and life-giving worship. Too often what they experience when visiting a church are greeters who briefly shake their hands with a smile, show them where the coffee is and then leave them to introduce themselves to others. They are handed a bulletin or flyer with announcements of activities that are poorly explained in worship service.
Visitors then go into the sanctuary trying to navigate the safest place to sit where they can feel comfortable in a setting that feels pretty cold. They are then asked during the greeting time to greet the person nearest to them. People are good at saying, “We are glad you are here” and then turn away immediately to enthusiastically hug their friends – often holding longer conversations that are met with laughter as the worship leader says it’s time to sit down. Guests are then invited to fill out a visitor’s card that they don’t have enough time to complete as the ushers come by.
As the guests are leaving, they are greeted by the pastor who shares appreciation for their coming to worship. They then get into their car and say to themselves: The message and service were good overall, but I felt like an uninvited guest at a family reunion.
The truth is, every church believes it is a welcoming and friendly fellowship, but that is not always the case. Because the friendship circles of the members are so strong, guests are isolated and closed to the meaningful relationships spiritual seekers want today. Radical hospitality is at the core of the Gospel, and we believe that God longs to be in relationship with everyone.
There are several factors that suggest hospitality is more than fellowship with one another: