Aug. 27, 2020 | by Bob Whitesel
I am a professional church shopper. That’s right, as part of my job coaching church leaders, I must analyze the fruit of their leadership. And toward that end, I conduct for every client at least three (and sometimes up to eight) secret church visits to analyze Sunday services.
During these visits I bring with me missional coaches in training. We enter the church at multiple entrances and pose as different types of visitors. Then together we write a report for the client on everything we experienced, from the parking lot, to the worship service until the time the visitors leave the church.
The early part of this experience is sometimes called “guest services” or “hospitality ministry.” And every church leader knows this is a critical area.
But here’s a shocker! Almost all church leaders think their church hospitality is much better than it actually is. In fact, I have found the greatest divergence between intention and reality is in the area of hospitality. Even churches that laud their hospitality are often hit-or-miss, if not slipshod, in the execution. I wish this were not the case. But more than any other recurring pattern that works against church health and growth, hospitality is usually the most disappointing for the visitors.
Therefore, I picked up with interest The Come Back Effect: How Hospitality Can Compel Your Church’s Guests to Return by Jason Young, director of guest experience at Northpoint Ministries (a megachurch in Atlanta, Georgia), and Jonathan Malm who coaches churches on guest services. Their book comes highly recommended, with an endorsement by Andy Stanley. And so, I looked forward to jumping into the topic.
The book is divided into 10 chapters. Each chapter deals with an important element of hospitality. I found the following chapters the most helpful.
Chapter 1 deals with the importance of showing love and acceptance to the guest, rather than just going through the motions of a program approach. The lesson here is to help people feel loved and accepted, rather than being pushed through an assimilation program. This was a good way to start the book, and very helpful.
Chapter 4 emphasized the importance of the guest services volunteers being “fully present” rather than distracted by the Sunday morning fellowship or services. This was helpful. Too often I’ve seen hospitality people overly enamored with their job or enthusiastically fellowshipping with other guest services people, so that they often ignore the visitor. This chapter discusses discipling the guest services volunteer in their spiritual, mental, physical and emotional maturity. The result is that they will serve more holistically and with maturity. This to me was the best chapter in the book.
The chapter on “Preparing for recovery” was a surprisingly helpful chapter. It reminds people that when executing programs things will go wrong. It encourages the guest services volunteer to prepare for mishaps. It reminds them of the importance of spiritual peace and overcoming problems, especially when the person wrestling with the problems may be the first person a seeker meets when they visit a church.
There were also a few chapters that had good potential, but for me missed the mark a bit.
Chapter 3 was titled, “Know the guest.” I thought this was going to be about knowing the needs of the guest. Instead it deals mainly with knowing the guests’ reactions and adjusting the program based on the reactions of the guests. Yet, research has shown that guests usually visit a church because of a spiritual/physical need or a question.
Dr. Flavil Yeakley, in his groundbreaking research at the University of Illinois, found that some of the major events that drive people to a church are: death in the family, marital/family problems or financial problems. Therefore, it may be more helpful to place the emphasis upon getting to know the needs of guests and being able to explain to them how Christ presents the answer. Thus, hospitality services should “know the guest” and their needs even more so than their reaction to a program.
The chapter “Think scene by scene” emphasizes that everything communicates. So this chapter focuses on perfecting the assimilation system through attention to detail. I’ve observed many churches try to perfect their assimilation process. However, without the budget of a megachurch, the small to large church often fails in perfecting its execution.
I had also hoped the chapter “Reach for significance” would deal with helping the guest discover their significant place in the body of Christ. Instead it dealt primarily with helping the guest services volunteer become significantly skilled at their duties.
Though a few chapters seemed overly focused on the volunteer instead of the guest, this book has many ideas that are relevant for any church that wishes to train its volunteers and help them connect with guests.
However, there is another book that might make a good companion to this one. It is written by the pastor of guest services at a sister church, The Summit Church. Danny Franks’ book is titled People are the Mission: How Churches Can Welcome Guests Without Compromising the Gospel (Zondervan 2018). In this book, Franks emphasizes that guest services must have an overarching foundation and mission to understand the needs of those they’re reaching out to.
Putting guests’ needs first has become important to me in my understanding of hospitality ministry. This is because when I coach church leaders, I interview hospitality team members and I also interview newcomers. As I mentioned above, I often find the greatest dichotomy in their responses. The hospitality team usually feels that they are executing the program with excellence and effectiveness. But focus groups of recent guests usually feel that there is a lack of sympathy and connectedness with the needs of the visitor. However together, the two books cited make a comprehensive roadmap for any sized congregation to improve its hospitality ministries by balancing its ministry to its volunteers and to its mission field.
Read the original article here … https://www.biblicalleadership.com/blogs/book-review-the-come-back-effect-how-hospitality-can-compel-your-churchs-guests-to-return/
Commentary by Prof. B: Our “Newcomer Integration Course” is designed by Dr. Charles Arn and includes the following guidelines for analyzing a church’s Sunday celebrations. Used by permission, these guidelines can help you evaluate your Sunday experience. It is best used on a church other than the one in which you serve. If you desire to evaluate your own service, then ask a colleague to undertake this exercise for you (and perhaps offer to return the favor for their congregation).
“Visit a Church” by Charles Arn, Ed.D, n.d.
One of the best ways to understand how a person feels when visiting a church for the first time…is to be one! This assignment involves visiting a church in your area that you have never previously attended, and then writing a report on your experiences. As a result of this assignment, you will hopefully be more sensitized to the experiences that visitors have when they attend your church.
When should your visit occur? Plan to visit a church in your community on the first, second, or third Sunday of this course.
What kind of church should you visit? Try to visit a church that is approximately the same size as yours…but a different denomination and liturgical style. DO NOT visit a church of your own denomination.
What are the instructions for your visit? You may attend with a friend, spouse, or family member. In fact, if you bring someone with you, you can debrief and compare notes, which will give you a more comprehensive evaluation of the overall experience. You do not need to attend the educational hour, unless you desire to do so.
Arrive at least ten minutes before the service begins. Do not tell anyone that you are there because of an assignment for a seminary class. Simply indicate that you wanted to visit a church that morning (or some similar response that isn’t exactly a lie, but also doesn’t “blow your cover”…). Play the role of a visitor. If you have children, bring them along as a further way to evaluate the “church visit” experience. If the church has a “coffee hour,” attend that, as well.
What are the contents of the paper? While your paper should be personalized to reflect your own experience and writing style, make an effort to address the seven topics below. A few “starter” questions are included under each topic. (You don’t need to answer every question.)
- INTRODUCTION. At the beginning of your paper, include the following:
- Name of the church you visited
- City and state
- Approximate number of people in the service the day of your visit
- Your own church’s name, denomination, and average worship attendance
After this, your paper/report should include the following categories:
- BEFORE Your VISIT. Check out the church the week before your visit in the same manner that a visitor might do so. Include drive-by impressions of the church building and facilities. Does the church have any yellow pages or newspaper advertising? If so, what are your impressions? Does the church have a website? What impressions do you have of the church based on its website?
Call the church office during the week before your visit and ask for more information about the service; adult and children’s classes, service time, style, dress, and other information of interest to a visitor. What impressions of the church did you get from the phone call?
- Before The service. What were your impressions driving into the parking lot or walking onto campus? Was the parking adequate? Was there parking for visitors? Handicapped? What did the outer appearance say to you about the church? Did you have any formal or informal contact with anyone before entering the building? Were there greeters before you entered the building? Were your initial impressions of the church confirmed or contradicted by your subsequent experience?
Once you were inside, what happened? Did anyone speak to you? Was there any indication that the church was expecting visitors/guests? Was there a Guest Center? If you had (or would have had) children, would you know where to take them? Would you feel comfortable leaving your children? Does the church appear to have considered children’s safety? What were your impressions of the Nursery (facilities and staff)? Restrooms? Signage? Classrooms? What priority does the church seem to place on their children’s ministry, and why do you think so?
When you entered the sanctuary, what first impressions did you have, and why? What about the seats? Lighting? Sound? Visibility?
- DURING The service. What were your impressions of the service, and why? Did the church seem to be expecting visitors in the service? Did you feel comfortable or uncomfortable as a visitor? Why?
How would you evaluate the following elements of the service:
- Opening • Bulletin/program
- Visitor welcome • Announcements
- Music • Flow
- Theme • In-house language
- Bulletin/program • Sermon
- Announcements • Closing
- After the service. Did anyone speak to you in the sanctuary/worship center after the service? In the lobby? Did what happened after the service affect or change your opinion of the church? Was there a time of fellowship or refreshments after the service? Were you personally invited to have refreshments? Did you go? Did anyone ask or invite you to return the following week? If you were an actual church shopper, would you be inclined to return for a second visit? Why or why not?
- After the visit. Were you contacted in any way the week after your visit? By whom? When? If you received a follow-up contact and you would have been an actual church shopper, did the contact affect your inclination to return?
- CONCLUSION. Summarize your visit and experience. Identify any particular experiences which impressed you (positively or negatively) and from which your church might learn. List any experiences or ideas that might be helpful to include in your own church’s welcome. Note any suggested changes in this assignment that might make the experience more beneficial for future classes/students.
(adapted from Dr. Arn’s course on “Newcomer Integration” which can be taken online for 3 credits at WesleySeminary.com)
by Charles “Chip” Arn, Wesley Seminary Connexion Online, 7/22/15.
A few years ago I was part of a research study on the topic of “visitor retention.” We asked participating churches to go back into their records 2 to 3 years and select a continuous six-week period (such as Sept. 1 – October 15 or January 1 – February 15). Then, they were asked to examine their data and identify all those people who had visited the church one time during that six-week period; next, identify those who had visited twice; finally, identify the people who had visited three times during those six weeks. The churches were then asked to jump forward one year and identify which of those visitors had become regular attenders. We divided the churches into two categories: those growing in worship attendance, and those not. Here are the percentages of visitors who were in the church one year later, compared with how many times they had visited in the six-week period…
Percentage of Visitors Who Stayed
|Number of visits in six-weeks||Non-growing Churches||Growing Churches|
There are some important insights from this study:
- The typical declining American church sees 1 in 10 first time visitors (9%) become part of their congregation.
- The typical growing church see 2 of 10 first-time visitors (21%) become active.
KEY QUESTION: “Do you know your church’s visitor retention rate of first-time visitors?”
- But, when visitors return a second time, the retention rate nearly doubles (in both growing and non-growing churches).
- When people visit the same church 3 times in a six-week period, over 1/3 of them stay (36%) in declining churches. And over half (57%) stay in growing churches.
KEY QUESTION: “Do you know your church’s visitor retention rate of second- and third-time visitors?” To put this research, and the apparent facts, into a simple conclusion: The more often people visit, the more likely they will stay.
My Suggestions… Analysis of your weekly worship attendance will provide you with a wealth of insights. Just as the information from a barometer will help you forecast coming weather patterns, information from your worship attendance will help you forecast coming growth patterns. I’m talking about more than just counting heads on Sunday. You need to know that last week Mike and Denise McKay visited your church for the third time in the past two months. (And, as long as you’re tracking attendance, wouldn’t it be helpful to know that Patty Culver, a regular member in your church, has not been in worship for three Sundays now.) Unfortunately, most churches either don’t take regular attendance, or don’t capture the information they need, or don’t glean important patterns of their people flow.* Here are three “to-do’s” that will enhance your stewardship of the people God has put in your trust…
- Obtain attendance information
- Monitor attendance patterns
- Respond to attendance indicators
Obtain Attendance Information How do you know who was at your church last Sunday and who was not? There is not one “right” way. But, here are ideas from other churches…
- A pew pad at the end of each row that is signed and passed from one end to the other. Most people sign a sheet that is handed to them, so it’s usually a good indicator of who’s in the service and who’s not. The downside is that it’s not very private and thus difficult to add more information (i.e., prayer requests, name/address, notes to staff, etc. ).
- Registration cards in the seat back in front of the worshipper. A good approach is to ask each attendee to complete a card, not just the visitors. Newcomers don’t like to be publicly identified, so asking them to (awkwardly and obviously) reach forward and fill out a “Visitor Card” lowers the percentage of people who will do so. A Lutheran church of over 5,000 in Houston uses one card with two sides—the blue side for all members and regular attenders, and the green side for those who still consider themselves newcomers. Good idea.
- A perforated flap inside your bulletin or printed program. Each attendee is asked to complete and then tear off the “communication note” and drop it in the offering plate when it comes by. This approach allows for more confidential information to be shared, gives members and visitors an opportunity to all participate, and provides an “easy out” for putting at least something in the offering plate. (Of course, some pastors prefer a different approach for that same reason. )
- A church in southern California prints peel-off labels with the names of each member and regular attender on 4-across computer labels (each is approximately 1” x 2”). The continuous form labels are torn into 5’ lengths and taped to the wall in the lobby. Worshippers enter the building, find their nametag (listed in alphabetical order), peel it off and stick it on their shirt/blouse for the morning. It’s also a handy way to give people a reminder of “what’s his name” who they met last week. And, coincidentally, the nametags that are remaining on the 5’ sheets after the last service indicate who was not there. (Visitors/guests can get a similar nametag printed at the guest center, which also gives the church a record of visitor information. )
- A smaller rural church in Kansas has appointed a woman to be their attendance checker. She sits in the choir at the front of the church and then, during the service, compares her membership roster against the people in the pews. Before you laugh at this idea, the same woman practices her spiritual gift of hospitality by introducing herself to those newcomers after the service.
- Small groups and adult Bible classes can be asked to check worship attendance for the people in their group.
- And, a few examples on the higher tech side…one large church in Atlanta has two video cameras mounted in the worship center that scan and record those in attendance using facial recognition software. (Other churches just use the video to later identify attendees.)
- A church in Las Vegas issues electronically coded ID cards to members and regular attenders that are used for child-care check-in, financial contributions, member voting, etc. Sunday morning a scanner at each door records those who pass by…without even needing to remove the card from their wallet. (Members are aware of this process and think it’s great!)
Monitor Attendance Patterns Here, the computer is your best friend. Whether it’s a bells and whistles church software program, or a home-made spreadsheet, you’ll need a way to enter and evaluate the data. At the beginning of each week print a report that provides you with:
- First-time visitors (names and address, if available).
- Second-time visitors, plus the date of their first visit.
- Third-time visitors, plus the dates of their first and second visits.
- Number and percent of 1st, 2nd, and 3rdtime visitors to total attendance (5% or greater is healthy).
- Members and regular attenders who were absent (totals and percentages).
- Members and regular attenders who have missed three services in a row. (Half of these people will be gone within a year if their absence is ignored. )
- You may want to include additional information in your report, such as a comparison of these same numbers with the report from a year ago.
Respond to Attendance Indicators To get started, I recommend you sit down and compose two follow-up letters, one to 2nd time guests, and one to 3rd time guests (assuming you already have one for 1st timers). Next, invite a group of 4-5 people together (including some new members) who would be willing to help design a system to identify, follow up, and track 2nd and 3rd time guests. The goal is to connect these newcomers with people in the church who share similar interests, marital and family status, age, gender, etc. Then do some “sanctified match-making” with newcomers and regular attenders. Research clearly shows that the more friends a newcomer makes in a church, the more likely he/she will become active and involved. And, of course, for those long-time members who have been gone the last few Sundays, let them know that “We missed you…you’re an important part of our family…we’re looking forward to seeing you next week.” Visitors represent 100% of your church’s growth potential. It’s a wise investment to give them the time, honor, and attention they deserve. “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” (Heb. 13:2)