“Dear fellow churches, if you leave the guest book open right by the front door, there may be someone who feels like they need to sign in – that is, with a working pen.”
My wife and I were looking for a place to have a Christmas recital for her piano students and stumbled into one of the sweetest churches. In our search we came along some things that made us question whether or not some of these churches were open to the public. To be fair, I oversee guest services at a large church outside of Kansas City Missouri, which has conditioned me to pick up on such things with eagle-eye sensitivity.
This is not a rant about other churches. There are churches that are doing the absolute best with what they have. I’m for them and want them to be successful in sharing the good news, but what we saw in our search communicated how some churches really feel about having guests. My pastor wisely says that people “believe what they see long before they believe what we say.” A church can say they really care about reaching their communities but what they communicate non-verbally leaves a far greater impact.
The picture above was of a guest book placed right inside the lobby of a church we visited. It was lying open for people to sign in upon visiting placed on a small stand with a pen on a chain next to it. When I picked it up to mark my visit, there wasn’t a drop of ink in it. Judging on the date of the last visit, I had to assume it had been empty for well over a decade.
I’m passionate about hospitality and evangelism and want to help you make your church as welcoming and compelling as it can be. I hope this list will serve you and your church well!
This material is originally from a post from Will Mancini, who is a “pastor turned vision coach.” He is passionate about helping the Church to create and sustain excellent guest services and hospitality. There are few other voices as clear as he, on the subject of guest services in the church. He wrote “10 Mind Blowing Facts to Fuel Your Hospitality Ministry”. You can see the full article here.
- You will have more guests in one year than you think. Churches on average will have 5% – 8% of attendees identify as guests. This doesn’t mean that these are the only guests in attendance. Some guests will be secret shoppers for an average of 4-6 weeks before they identify themselves. Do you have a way to stay in touch with those who visit? I’m not talking about being creepy by stalking them on social media or pummeling them with unwanted emails, but do they know you care enough about them to follow-up?
- Many of your guests are going through situations that make them more responsive to God.These are the folks that are most likely to be moving, changing jobs, getting divorced, having kids, etc. Seven years ago I was one year into a church plant in Ashland Ohio. We’d started with 6 adults, a handful of teens, and the Holman’s. I’d heard a statistic from another pastor that claimed the hardest people to reach were men ages 18 – 34, which set me on the edge of my seat. I was 34 at the time and it had been a few months since we’d seen anyone come to faith in Christ.
Our church met in a high school on the weekends and I felt the nudge to go to the library in search of my generation. I found a few yearbooks from the early 90’s and started thumbing though them. My family and I had no family or ties in Ashland and both my wife and I had grown up as pastor’s kids, which meant we’d seen our fair share of the country growing up. I’m in my 31st dwelling as we speak. I thought that if guys my age were coming to Christ for the first time in 17 years, I wanted God to send me a few of them. I simply asked God to send me a couple of people who He’d been working on.
That Sunday my grandfather Frank Holman gave the message and the Lord really spoke through because two 30 something dudes came to the service that day and gave their lives to Christ! The point is that you never know who God is working on, who’s going to show up, and what they’ve been through that led them to your church.
- Guests assess very quickly whether or not they’re coming back.This happens much faster than you think. What do you think is the average time it takes for a guest to assess whether or not they’re coming back – an hour? 30 minutes? 15?? Guests on average make up their minds whether or not to return in 7-11 minutes, but the clock starts ticking when the wheels hit the pavement!
E-Harmony has developed an algorithm to match people, which is based on personality, values, upbringing, hobbies, and so forth. Many people coming from other churches use this method. They take their time performing archaeological digs on the churches website, denominational affiliation, Bible studies, the pastor’s seminary education, etc.
Tinder is another dating site that has an easier user interface that asks subscribers one question about faces of other who’ve uploaded their mug – “Hot or Not?” Swipe left for “Not” and right for “Hot.” Sounds simple, right? This is how most people coming from no-churched, re-churched, and de-churched access your church. This may seem like a crude assessment of this group but is not meant to be degrading. These people have either had limited or negative experiences with other churches that make their assessments rushed or hasty. I can’t say I’d be any different if I were in their shoes.
- Your guests represent STEP ONE in accomplishing the Great Commission.Churches spend millions on global missions while tragically overlooking their own communities already ripe for harvest. Don’t think this is an appeal to stop supporting global efforts. Just don’t forget the people who God is currently working on right in your neighborhood.
- A guest in attendance may be the answer to a 10 – 20 year prayer. Christmas and Mother’s Day are the two biggest days for guests like this. This person represents years of prayer, service, and invitation by a church member.
My dad Mike Holman is a pastor in southern Indiana and has been at the same church since 2000, which is quite a long time compared to the average tenure of a pastor being just over 4 years. He and my mom live in the parsonage on the church property and “Andy” lives nearby. He wasn’t a church member or anything but he liked talking to my dad and my dad liked Andy. Dad wasn’t pushy or anything but faithfully bought him biscuits and gravy once a month for 17 years. I’m glad that he didn’t quit, seeing that Andy got baptized this last Spring. You never know how long it will take to see someone come to faith in Jesus so don’t stop investing!This photo below shows Andy getting into the baptistry. I get choked up every time I look at it… Dang it dad!
- Studies show that guests will talk about their initial experiences 8-15 times with other people, whether good, or bad. Serve guests well, and multiply your message.
- A welcoming ministry is a great “shallow end of the pool” to get people involved in service for the first time. Yes, you have plenty of intimidating places to serve like worship, small groups and children’s ministry. So why not leverage an easy place to start? Guest Services in churches today are like the choirs were a few years back. Choir was a great place to start serving for people barring that you could sing in tune, or at least make it look like you could. It was a shallow end of the pool in serving. Guest services does require commitment but you don’t have to have a long resume of difficult ministry experience to get involved.
If you are passionate about the church and its witness of God’s love to the world like I am you see the critical importance of a church’s hospitality ministry. I hope this list has been motivating to you as I know it was to me when I read it for the first time last year.