How long have you been in ministry? Or if you’re not leading right now, how long have you been going to or involved in church? Another way of asking the question is: How long has it been since you’ve been the newcomer? Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what someone from the outside thought of our churches? Get some fresh perspective?
I read a book (Jim and Casper Go to Church: Frank Conversation about Faith, Churches, and Well-Meaning Christians) several years ago that gave me a front row seat to these type of insights as two unlikely people visited churches across the US and talked about their experience. As someone that’s grown up in the church and then worked in one, it was nothing short of enlightening. I alternated between grimacing and laughing. Jim Henderson is a self-professed “failed” preacher who hired an atheist, Matt Casper, to help him capture “first impressions” of a non-believer at 10 leading churches.
After each visit, they talked about things like whether the church’s goals seemed to be conversation or conversion—dialogue or debate. What a great question! They evaluated everything—the music, the preacher, the drive up and how the seats were arranged. They even compared greeters to those giving you a cart at Walmart!
If you had to guess, what do you think people visiting church for the first time value most? And which things are most likely to get them to come back a second time?
The five things that are the most important for visitors to return to your church, according to a separate study conducted by George Barna (www.Barna.org) are:
- The care shown to guests
- Culturally relevant message and programs
- Multiple points of entry and ways to be involved
- A place where everyone has an enjoyable experience and an environment that emphasizes relationships
How can you collect honest feedback from newcomers about these things at your church? Where do you put most of your resources (time, money, effort, energy)? Does it pay off from the point of view of the new person in the crowd, do you think?