In a recent conversation with a pastor I admire greatly, he commented, “We love seeing first-time guests, but we really love seeing second-time guests. We know those folks are serious about connecting with our church.”
The conversation leads to an obvious question. How do we get first-time guests to return? Have the answers to this question changed since the COVID pandemic? In our conversations with people visiting churches, the reasons guests don’t return remain the same. Here are the top ten reasons from guests before the pandemic. While a lot has changed, some things stay the same.
1. “I will not return to a church that has a stand-and-greet time.” We heard from over 1,000 guests, and 90 percent of them gave us this response. If you are thinking about bringing back this activity to your worship service, think again.
2. “The people are unfriendly.” Most church members think their church is friendly because the members are friendly to each other. Many guests felt like they were treated like unwanted outsiders.
3. “I could not leave my child in the children’s area. It was filthy and unsafe.” This concern has grown since the pandemic.
4. “I could not find any information on the church.” Even though most of these guests visited the website, they were still looking for an information center or persons to give them more information.
5. “The church website was terrible (or did not exist).” This issue is more of a first-time guest issue than a second-time guest issue, especially in the post-pandemic world. For most guests, if you have an inadequate website, your church does not exist.
6. “The signage was terrible.” The primary complaints were about inadequate parking signage and directions to the entry of the church.
7. “I heard a lot of insider language in the worship service.” Please avoid acronyms.
8. “The service was boring, and I did not understand what was happening.” Guests have choices. They will not choose a boring church. The first-time guest will not become the second-time guest.
9. “Someone told me I was in their seat.” Yes, it still happens.
10. “The church facilities were messy and dirty.” A lack of attention to the facilities communicates loudly that the church does not care.
Though the rankings of the reasons may have changed slightly since the pandemic, the reasons have not. And any church should be able to find ways to overcome these challenges.
Let me hear from you. What do you think about these ten reasons?