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52 Churches

Greeting Well at Church or Not at All

Too often one person made the difference between us feeling welcomed or ignored, forming our perceptions of the church. Greeting well occurs at three times: before, during, and after the service.

Consider these two discussion questions:

1. The pre-service greeting forms a first impression, while a post-service greeting provides the impression people leave with. 

How can you better engage with visitors before and after your service?

2. With interaction during the service it’s critical to address people you don’t know. Then introduce them to your friends. 

How can you interact with visitors more effectively during the service to help them feel welcomed?

[See the prior set of questions or start at the beginning.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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52 Churches

A Favorable Impression

Our destination is a church we’ve heard of often but know little about. Our favorable impression suggests a thriving, dynamic congregation. After the service they invite us back. I want to say yes, but our schedule won’t permit it.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #40

1. As we walk inside, a young man introduces us to his wife, and they invite us to sit with them. We gladly accept his visitor-friendly outreach. 

What can you do to help visitors feel more welcomed and comfortable?

2. Avoiding the often-awkward greeting time, they pass a friendship pad for everyone to sign. It contains a visitor card, which Candy completes, but she doesn’t know what to do with it. They solved one problem but created another. 

How can you make your expectations clearer?

3. Foremost in their church vision is prayer. “There is power in prayer,” states the preacher. “Prayer should be our default inclination.” 

How can you make prayer a more significant part of your church service and your faith?

4. After the service, our seatmates give us a tour of the facility, which left us with a favorable impression. What an inclusive gesture. I feel honored. 

How can you better include, accept, and honor guests?

[See the prior set of questions, the next set, or start at the beginning.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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52 Churches

A Caring Community

Discussing Church 22

This church meets in a newer, contemporary building. It’s most inviting.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #22:

1. Many people introduce themselves. Their genuine interest, without being pushy, refreshes me. They ask our names, which they repeat with care. When they share theirs, they pause, giving us time to hear and remember. 

How important are people’s names to you and your church?

2. The minister is losing his voice. After introducing the topic, he lets the congregation finish the message. He invites them to share their stories of what others have done for them, how they showed love, and provided care. The congregation does this well. 

How well does your church do at sharing during a service? How can you do it better?

3. This congregation is a genuine community. They prove it in the quiet ways they help each other. “Caring for community is a witness,” says the pastor. 

What is your church’s witness? What is its reputation?

4. After the service, the pastor excuses himself. He fades away, perhaps because he doesn’t feel well, but more likely because he doesn’t need to be there. The congregation envelops us into their community. 

How well can your church function without your minister being present?

[See the prior set of questions, the next set, or start at the beginning.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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52 Churches

How to Be an Engaging Church

How to Be an Engaging Church

The experiences I share in this book More Than 52 Churches are just that: my experiences. Other people will have different observations when visiting a church. I am an introvert, as is a slight majority of the population, but my reactions are not unique to or representative of introverts.

Indeed, everyone, both introvert and extrovert, will share my perspective to varying degrees—some more profoundly and others less so. Regardless, know that I have never talked with anyone who claimed they could visit a new church without some degree of anxiety.

Also know that I had a most supportive wife accompanying me each week (except for the week she was out of town and I went solo: Church #61, “The Wrong Time to Visit”). With her at my side, I stood much braver than I would have on my own.

Even so, I had to fight the urge to make a U-turn in the parking lot at Church #54 (“Emergent Maybe”) and pray earnestly to stave off a bit of a panic attack while walking into Church #58 (“Not So Friendly”).

Visiting a church with a non-supportive spouse would be even harder, as well as showing up by yourself. Given all this, it’s easy to see why someone with even the best intentions of visiting a church will decide not to.

Instead, they’ll maintain their Sunday morning status quo—whether staying home or attending the church they know, even if it’s the wrong one. Sticking with what we’re used to is so much easier than confronting our fears and going someplace unknown.

That’s why it’s so critical for a church to do everything possible to make it less scary for a visitor to show up. Being a welcoming church is a great start, but it’s not enough. Churches need to go beyond welcoming visitors. They need to engage with them. You must be a disarming church, likeable, even irresistible.

There are many factors that make a church engaging. Three recurring themes emerged from our visits to other churches. These stand out as essential skills to master to be an engaging church.

1. Make it Easy for Visitors

Most people today go online to find information. This includes someone thinking about visiting your church. Therefore, having an attractive, up-to-date, and visitor-friendly website is key. This is the first key to be an engaging church.

A few churches try to skip this step by establishing their online home base on various social media sites. This, however, is shortsighted. Social media platforms can change their rules of engagement at any time, restrict who sees your information, and even summarily shut you down without notice.

Yes, a church can still have social media pages, but these should direct visitors to the church website, which the church owns and controls.

As mentioned, the website must be attractive. It should look current and be easy to navigate. It must follow best practices. This means your website needs a makeover every couple of years, or else it will look dated, which will cause visitors to dismiss your church as out of touch.

Next, your website needs current information. Remove obsolete content and add new info as soon as changes occur. Nothing will cause website visitors to bounce from your site faster—and dismiss your church quicker—than when it includes information that’s no longer relevant.

A third key is accuracy. Some church websites are as misleading as dating profiles. (Not that I have any firsthand experience with dating websites, but I’ve heard that embellished claims abound).

Some church websites paint a picture of what the church once was but no longer is, while other sites present an image of what they want to become. Both are lies and seriously mislead visitors, which results in disappointment. This causes first-time church visitors to become one-time visitors.

As far as the specific information a website should have, clear and easy to find service times are critical. Don’t make people search for this or wonder if what they find is accurate.

Just as important is your street address. Unless your location is well known and highly visible, assume visitors will use their GPS to get there. Make it easy for them to do so.

Next, people will wonder what they should wear to feel comfortable at your church. And even if you don’t care what they wear, they will. They’ll want to fit in, so let them know how most people dress. Is your church come-as-you-are, business casual, or Sunday best? Somewhere in between?

If you have multiple services, note the times. Highlight any differences, such as in format, music content, and sermon style. Also note any other Sunday programming you may offer.

Do you have Sunday school? Is it concurrent to the service or at a different time? Do you have something separate for teens? What about college students or young singles? These are two demographics that many churches overlook.

Let newcomers know what to expect. Beyond explaining a typical service, tell them what they can encounter before and after. Let them know how long the service typically lasts. And please, tell them the offering is just for members and regular attendees.

You should also explain your communion practices, since these vary a lot from one church to another. At most of the churches we visited that included communion, my desire to understand and fit in with their practices so distracted me that I failed to focus on the reason why I was taking communion. This was an epic fail for me—and for them.

Lastly, make it easy for prospective visitors to contact your church with questions. This includes listing your phone number and email address.

Just make sure you respond quickly to both. Most churches don’t, with a few delaying their response to visitor communication for days, weeks, and, in one case, even months. And some don’t respond at all.

What I’ve not included on this list of website information is a doctrinal statement. I don’t think most people care, and those who read it may seek one hot-button word or phrase, using it to eliminate your church from further consideration. The reality is that at most churches, the people who go there don’t know what their church’s core beliefs are, and those who do know, often disagree with an element or two.

2. Create a Great Impression

Okay, so your website did a good enough job to entice someone to visit your church. Now you need to make a great impression when they arrive, knowing that their first perception of your church began with your website. This is the second key to be an engaging church.

You’ve given them your street address, so their GPS will get them to your facility. If you only have one entrance to your parking lot, they’ll know where to go, but if you have multiple entrances, be sure to have signs, banners, or flags directing them to the right one.

Some large churches have parking lot attendants to direct traffic to open spaces, but even some forward-thinking mid-sized churches have greeters in their parking lot to welcome visitors and be available to answer questions.

You must have someone greet them at your building entrance to give them a smile, welcome them well, and open the door. This person should focus on people they don’t recognize and not their friends. This greeter should look for signs of apprehension or confusion, doing whatever they can to ease a visitor’s concerns or fears.

A positive welcome, however, extends inside the building too. Larger churches have visible and attractive information centers, staffed by approachable and outgoing people to assist visitors in any way possible. At smaller churches, or those lacking the space for a visitor center, station people inside to assist those who look lost or confused.

In all this, the goal is to make a great impression, welcoming visitors well and helping them enjoy their experience.

3. Greet Well

As I mentioned in 52 Churches, there are three opportunities to greet visitors: before the service, during the service, and after the service. Few churches do all three well. And too many fail at each one. Greeting well is the third key to be an engaging church.

As already mentioned, the pre-service greeting occurs in the parking lot, at the front door, and inside your facility. But that’s not enough. These people serve as official greeters because they’re outgoing, engaging, and have a knack at helping people feel comfortable. However, this doesn’t mean the other 99 percent of your church shouldn’t also greet visitors.

The pre-church greeting extends into the sanctuary or worship space. This secondary form of greeting could be as simple as making eye contact, smiling, and waving or saying hello. Anyone should be able to do that.

Beyond that, everyone should look for people standing by themselves with no one to talk to or who look lost. Talking with friends should always take second place to interacting with visitors. And remember, most visitors won’t care if someone’s approach may be a bit awkward. They’ll just be thrilled that someone cared enough to try.

For stoic churches, a nod of acknowledgment may be all you can do, while for more outgoing churches, the time before the service is a great opportunity to get to know someone. You can even offer to sit with them during the service to help them feel more comfortable and better navigate the service. This is extremely important for churches with liturgical services, which are hard for most visitors to follow.

Next is the greeting during the service. From a visitor perspective, most churches do this so poorly they might be better off skipping it. Seriously.

If you do have a greeting time during the service, train your people to be visitor-focused, not friend-focused. Give visitors the bulk of your attention. Make eye contact, smile, and offer a handshake. Share your name. Ask theirs. Now introduce them to someone else. And whatever you do, don’t allow visitors to squirm in silence while everyone else is talking with others.

Don’t call out visitors by having them raise their hand, or worse, stand up. This is most embarrassing. Instead, invite them to go to the back of the sanctuary or visitor center after the service.

The final greeting occurs after the service ends. It’s true that some visitors scoot out as quickly as possible—especially if they had a bad experience—but other visitors may be open to tarry. Reward them for their bravery by talking to them. At the same time, don’t overwhelm or interrogate them, just be friendly.

Seek to establish a connection. If there’s any after-church activity, invite them to stay for it. This may be coffee and refreshments. Or it could be a potluck. Assure them there will be plenty of food and that they’re welcome to stay. Ask them if they have any questions. If you don’t know the answer, take them to someone else who will be able to help.

Though not as common as it once was, you can invite them to have lunch with you.

Even if your church failed at the pre-church greeting and the mid-service greeting, a good post-church greeting can still salvage the situation, serving as a final and positive impression for them to take home.

Good worship music and engaging preaching may draw visitors, but it’s the human connection that keeps them coming back. This starts with greeting visitors well.

If you want your church to grow—and every church should—strive to engage with visitors. Click To Tweet

Engaging Church Summary

If you want your church to grow—and every church should—strive to engage with visitors; you must be an engaging church. This starts with the information you provide online, which should make it easy for them to decide to visit. It continues by making multiple good impressions when they arrive at your facility. Then it culminates with greeting them well before, during, and after the service.

You won’t succeed in each of these areas every time, but you should work to succeed in as many of them as possible, as often as possible.

The Next Step

To do your part in being an engaging church, turn your focus from yourself and your friends to visitors and those you don’t know.

[This is an excerpt from Peter’s book More Than 52 Churches.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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52 Churches

A New Church

Discussing Church 7

I suspect this church is only a couple years old. I later learn they’re an outgrowth of a small group.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #7:

1. Their meeting space looks abandoned. We approach with uncertainty. I hesitate to walk inside. It wouldn’t take much to make the entrance more inviting.

What simple things can you do to make your facility say “welcome” instead of “go away”?

2. Inside, people mingle. Several introduce themselves in a friendly, unassuming way. They’re great at pre-meeting interaction with people they don’t know.

How can you best connect with visitors before church? How can you encourage others to follow your example?

3. Their leader is a tentmaker pastor. Like Paul in the Bible, he works for a living to share Jesus for free. Without him drawing a salary, there is more money for outreach and ministry.

How might your congregation move away from depending on paid staff and tap the skills of capable volunteers?

4. As is often the case, it’s new churches—not established ones—where people are most apt to discover God and grow into a vibrant faith.

What can you do to promote a new-church excitement where you worship?

[See the prior set of questions, the next set, or start at the beginning.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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52 Churches

A Caring Church: It Only Hurts When You Care

Discussing Church 3

The third church is more established like Church #1 but more midsized like Church #2. It is a caring church.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #3:

1. Many pages on their website are “under construction” or “coming soon.” The sections for members have information, while the pages for visitors are incomplete.

What can you do to keep your website up-to-date and relevant for visitors?

2. Finding the church is a person’s first challenge. Knowing which door to enter is next. This facility has several doors, all unmarked. We don’t know which one to use.

How can you better guide people to the correct entrance?

3. These folks dress up for church. I don’t. My appearance doesn’t bother me, but it might be a problem for others—both visitors and members.

Will visitors who dress differently feel comfortable at your church or out of place?

4. As we walk in, a friend spots me. She says, “This won’t be a typical service.” One of their members died by suicide. The service will address their loss.

If your service will have unexpected content or be difficult to deal with, what can you do to alert guests to help them avoid unpleasant surprises?

A caring church makes the difference when dealing with difficult situations. This church exemplifies this well.

[See the prior set of questions, the next set, or start at the beginning.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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52 Churches

A Friendly Church with a Homey Feel

Discussing Church 1

The church has no online presence, as well as an uninviting exterior. But the people inside are friendly, and we feel at home—mostly. But overall, they are a friendly church.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #1:

1. An unwieldy wheelchair ramp tacked onto the front of the building desperately needs painting. We bypass the ramp, but it remains our focal point and forms our first impression.

What changes should you make to give your church better curb appeal and offer a better first impression?

2. A man lacking in social skills, with possible mental issues, corners us when we arrive. We can’t escape his plodding monologue.

What can you do to protect visitors from regular attendees who may repel or scare them away?

3. There are only seventeen people present. With a smirk, the minister asks first-time visitors to raise their hands. I want to disappear.

What practices should you stop so that people won’t squirm?

4. After the service, everyone lingers to chat. Many thank us for visiting and invite us to come again, but they aren’t pushy.

What can you do to help a person’s first visit not be their last?

This was a friendly church and that goes along way to overcoming their shortcomings, which every church has.

[See the prior set of questions or the next set.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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52 Churches

Church Discussion Questions from 52 Churches

Discussing Church Visits

I’m preparing to go to Church #1. The enemy harasses me. I don’t want to go. I now understand why the non-regular church attender can so easily stay home despite their best intentions. The living room recliner and television remote are much more inviting and much less threatening.

Consider these two church discussion questions:

1. Welcoming visitors starts before they arrive.

What can you do to make it easy for them to show up?

2. A personal invitation is the most effective way to encourage people to visit your church.

What specific things can you do to invite people to visit?

[See the next set of questions.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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52 Churches

Reflecting on Church #50: Best in Class

Should Your Church be Best in Class?

With our journey of visiting fifty-two churches over, I can reflect more on the complete experience. Today, I’ll add to my thoughts about Church #50.

This church holds five services each weekend, and we attended the first one. I was disappointed over the lack of college students present, despite its proximity to campus. I doubt many students would attend the two Sunday morning services either, but I wonder about the two Sunday evening ones.

I suspect a different demographic shows up then. Maybe I’ll make a return visit but on a Sunday evening, hoping to meet some college students. Would those services be different or are all five the same?

Of the three Roman Catholic churches we attended, this one interests me the most. The people were more friendly, the structure less formal, and the message more accessible than my other two experiences. To me they represent the best in class for their stream on Christianity.

Even so, they still have a way to go to match some of the more engaging Protestant churches we’ve attended.

If I wanted a Catholic experience, this would be my go-to church. Yet I also know a steady diet of it wouldn’t be good for me. It’s a nice place to visit, but finding true community there would be a challenge there.

[See my reflections about Church #49 and Church #51 or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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52 Churches

A Worthy Leader: Reflecting on Church #49

Lead Well

With our journey of visiting fifty-two churches over, I can reflect more on the complete experience. Today, I’ll add to my thoughts about Church #49.

Out of several hundred people, only one greeted us before the service. His name was John, and we later learned he was the senior pastor. For an extra-large church, it’s especially commendable for the senior pastor to personally greet people as they arrive. He is a worthy leader.

A better scenario is for members to welcome visitors and not expect paid staff to solely handle that responsibility. Surely in a church this size, some outgoing people could be recruited to handle this important task. Even better would be for the people to just do it without being asked.

Leaders should never expect their followers to do something they don’t or won’t do themselves. I commend John in setting the example for his congregation by being available and greeting visitors. What perplexes me is why we saw no one imitating his example.

Are they unwilling to follow their pastor? He is a worthy leader.

Leaders should never expect their followers to do something they don’t or won’t do themselves. Click To Tweet

There must be an underlying issue at this church, and it makes me uncomfortable. I fear something is seriously wrong with the overall mindset of this congregation.

[See my reflections about Church #48 and Church #50 or start with Church #1.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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