Unfortunately, regular church attendance has been declining at a surprising rate over the past several years. Attendance has decreased by 15.9 percent for those considered “active” in a religious congregation (from 69 percent to 58 percent of individuals). Participants were also asked the degree to which not feeling welcomed at a church would affect their participation. Those who very much agreed with the idea that “not feeling welcome” would affect their church participation increased by 63.6 percent. In other words, from 11 percent to 18 percent of the population surveyed.
This should bring attention to the fact that, as a church, we should never be content with focusing on the numbers and current attendance. Instead, we should realize that the people who comprise the church need to be welcomed, loved, and known. Taking a moment to welcome newcomers and loving those in your congregation will build a stronger, more loyal, community. And it will grow your church as Jesus intended.
Below are several ways to be warm and welcoming to newcomers. As well as, how to encourage those already attending to keep coming back.
WARM AND FRIENDLY ENCOUNTERS
Have friendly faces greet newcomers at the door and be available to answer questions or give direction. The same study found that the number one thing people were looking for in a first- time church experience was “warm and friendly encounters.” If you see a new attendee lingering near the front after service, always make an effort to introduce yourself. They may have some questions regarding your church or could be wondering how to become more involved.
During our work with hundreds of churches around the country, we often run into something we now call “friendly backs.” When attending church for the first time, all you see are friendly people… but just their backs. Many in the congregation are having conversations in social circles that are unintentionally closed off. This is out casting to new attendees walking on the campus for the first time.
A staff being approachable, ready with answers to their questions, and welcoming always makes a great first impression. They will be more likely to return next week. If it’s hard to spot new faces, always try to hear from newcomers about their experience. This can be done through surveys or easily accessible email addresses available on your website. Just make sure to respond to inquiries quickly, so they don’t feel ignored!
HIGH QUALITY WEBSITE
Have an up-to-date online presence. One of the first places newcomers will look for information about service times and locations is on your website. It’s a stress-free way for them to find quick answers about your church. If curious, they may look further for information about small groups or other special events. If they’re can readily find what they’re looking for, they will be more likely to have a positive experience. And they will be more open to connecting in the future. These days your website truly is the doorstep to your church. In fact, very few new attendees will come to your church without first checking out your website. Every website and church building tells a story. What story are your website and facility telling your community?
Host events to allow newcomers to experience your church outside Sunday morning. This could be an outdoor worship concert on the lawn in the summer or a seasonal or holiday event that offers family fun for those in your area. They may be curious to learn more about your church but nervous about attending for the first time. These events offer a non-committal way to attend and make new friends.
As we continue to grow the church and attract new followers, we should always strive to love others. Regardless of if they are regularly attending church. By welcoming others with open arms, we can focus on loving and building lasting relationships within our community. And we can build a strong congregation of Christ-followers.
Andrew Esparza is the founder of Kingdom Analytics. This company has served over 300+ organizations doing good in the world by helping better connect them to their community, congregation, or customers using advanced demography research. He also has experience in the church world working for the largest high school ministry in the country at North Point Community Church. Andrew graduated from Arizona State University with degrees in Design Management and Tourism Development and is CITI certified in Social and Behavioral Research.