The Friendly Church Parable
A parable: A special guest is invited to your home for a friendly visit. You know in advance to expect him; nevertheless, your guest encounters 6 inches of snow on the sidewalk all the way from the street to the door of your house. The front door has needed some repair and won't open properly (you just haven't gotten to it, yet) so you redirect the guest back through the snow around to the garage door; the guest zig-zags through the cluttered garage to the “back door” entrance into the house. Inside, the dishes from last night’s dinner are piled up in the kitchen sink, the chairs must be quickly brushed down to remove the dog hair, and the television is so loud you can hardly hear your guest when he talks. It is cool inside because the thermostat is set to 60 degrees (so you can save some money on the heating bill.) It is also eerily dark with only one lamp turned on. And just then some political commentary flashes across the TV screen which launches you into your own personal and favorite 20 minute diatribe. It’s a monologue; your guest sits idly by... in the dark and cold.
But at least your friendly!! Right? Right??
I don’t think I have ever encountered a pastor that said to me, “we are not a friendly church!” "We are," most would conclude, “a friendly church.”
And I think they are right, up to a point. As judged by the spirit and demeanor of congregations generally, we are a friendlier than usual bunch. But that friendliness does not always or necessarily translate into the felt experience of welcome for guests that show up on the door step of the church for their very first time.
Here’s why: a friendly spirit must be matched with tangible demonstrations of friendliness. Friendliness, understood like that, is not just attitude but action. Preparation. Accommodation. Polite sensitivity. Courtesy. Hospitality. It is actions such as these that are consistently interpreted by the guest as genuine friendliness.
Learn the lesson of the parable. Snow on the sidewalk, un-cared for facilities, cold temps, and monologue conversations say “unfriendly” despite the good intentions of the host church.
In short, not all “friendly” churches are leaving friendly first impressions upon their guests. The “friendly” church designation can, in fact, be a deceptive moniker that white-washes the lack of friendly attention directed toward guests and that also diminishes the pressing necessity of taking caring, intentional, and practical steps to leave a guest with a positive and favorable first impression.
It would be nice to have a Friendliness Monitor like the heart rate monitor in my running watch; it might shine a rating on the wall at the church to indicate the moment to moment friendliness of the church on a Sunday morning. Maybe it could flash a red Warning! light, as well, to indicate the church had fallen below acceptable friendliness standards.
But no! We have none of that. Instead, we are left to ourselves---to make an honest and fair assessment from the perspective of the guest... one that goes beyond intent and spirit to action and outcomes. For example:
Does the website provide warm and helpful information to the guest before they leave their house?
Does the facility reflect to guests that the church is prepared and glad for their arrival?
Do formal and informal greetings occur naturally and genuinely throughout the guest visit?
Does the church have guest relation systems that demonstrate that the church understands the plight of a first-time guest? E.g., signage, efficient child reception, greeters, hospitality, handouts
Is the guest made to feel at ease with the worship experience, reducing awkwardness?
Does the church communicate verbally and non-verbally that it wants to get to know the guest?
Are timely and effective follow up processes in place with guests after their visit?
Neglect of these and other similar practical considerations important to first-time guests generate an unintended guest assessment: not friendly. Remember this: An ounce of friendly chat is outweighed by a pound of guest service neglect and that is why 85% of first-time guests don't return and stick, even to “friendly” churches.
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