I suspect no church intentionally goes about barring their doors to keep new people out, but given the poor first-time visitor numbers in most churches, it sometimes seems like that might be the case. A healthy, growing church should be seeing enough first-time visitors each week that they make up 3 percent or more of the worship service participants.1 That’s three new, never-attended-before visitors each and every week for a church that averages one hundred in worship. But many of the churches that call us asking for help are lucky to have a 1 percent first-time visitor rate – and too many have less than half of that.

It’s as if there was something keeping people out of these churches. And though there are many ways to get people to visit your church, we’ve found four things that effectively shut and lock the church doors in potential visitor’s faces.

1. No One Knows – or Cares – That You Exist

When we do a consultation, part of the work we do is trying to discover what sort of a reputation your church has in the community. Most church members believe their church is pretty well known in the community – and parenthetically, they believe their church is known for its friendliness.  But we’ve found that, in most communities, most churches have virtually no reputation at all. Indeed, far too often we’ve approached a nearby neighbor and asked them about the church we’re working with, only to hear, “Oh… I thought they were closed.” (Another good reason to insist your greeters stand outside the church doors each week!)

If people don’t know you exist, first-time visitors aren’t going to beat a path to your doorway. They’ll show up at the local megachurch or some other notable church in your community.

Although there are plenty of ways to lodge your church into your community’s psyche, we’ve found a couple ways that are especially helpful.

  • Focus on doing ONE thing exceptionally well … in fact, so do it so well that you build your reputation on it. NOTE: Trying to become known by giving money to lots of different local benevolences (missions) is a very expensive way to try and build a reputation – and it rarely works (virtually never).
  • Do something unique in the community that builds your reputation quickly. One church gives away root beer floats in cute branded cups at community events – they give away so many that virtually everyone in town knows about them and knows their church motto.

2. You Have Lousy Hospitality

Poor hospitality is the number one reason first-time visitors don’t return. But lousy hospitality bars the church’s doors as well. Along with getting a bad reputation as an unfriendly church, poor hospitality is equivalent to an invisibility cloak – the church disappears to the community.

Remember, virtually everything the church does is hospitality (or a lack thereof). Things like your sign’s message, greeters who refuse to stand and greet outside of the church doors, full parking lots – or parking lots that have no premium spaces for guests – all can make the church less visible to the community. I visited a church a couple weeks ago that has twenty-two exterior doors, and all but three of them were still locked on Sunday morning.

One additional observation. If your hospitality bites and a guest does visit, not only will they not come back, if they ever bother to mention your church in passing they’ll most likely just lump you in with all the rest of “those churches” that are boring, irrelevant, unwelcoming, and pointless. That’ll just draw your invisibility cloak further in around your church’s public face.

3. You Have Unresolved Conflict

Poor hospitality is the number one reason first-time visitors don’t return, and unresolved conflict is the number one reason churches die. When a spirit of conflict descends on a church and isn’t dealt with in an effective, biblical manner, that spirit will literally haunt the church. Like Casper’s scary brothers, it will pretty much frighten off anyone who finds their way into your presence. But unresolved conflict doesn’t just send people packing, it entangles everything the church is and does, thus barricading the doors from newcomers.

I can’t tell you how many articles, blog posts, and videos we have (check out ChurchTalk to view more of them) that deal with conflict, but if you think that little unresolved tiff between Mildred and Lorraine isn’t hurting anything, you couldn’t be more wrong.

4. Your Ministries Aren’t Creating Transformed Lives

“Faithful in little things, trusted with bigger things.” That’s not just a fortune cookie saying or a modified Bible verse. It’s a theological truth. Churches that aren’t engaged in serious, life-transforming ministries might as well be invisible.

 Not only are they not fulfilling the Great Commandments; they’re failing in the Great Commission. The spiritual ramifications of faithless ministry are pretty high, but for those who aren’t into that kind of language, here are other reasons that a lack of transformed lives keeps people out of your church:

  • If your current members aren’t being transformed (Romans 12:2), then you’re already likely suffering from at least numbers two and three above.
  • Spiritually seeking people are going to see through the veneer of Christianity that church members are using as a mask. Jesus called people like this hypocrites … and it’s the #1 cited reason why unbelievers want little or nothing to do with the church.
  • Without life transformations, the church is like almost every other club that serves its membership first and foremost. And who needs to belong to another self-serving club?
  • Without life transformations, no one is going to be talking much about your church. The churches that get the most press and word-of-mouth marketing are those where people are seeing and experiencing life transformation and doing lots of conversion (adult) baptisms.

The best show in town only gets people in the door once or twice. Great hospitality will encourage visitors to return for awhile. But if you want to be the church everyone is talking about, you have to spend your resources on eliminating these barriers and facilitating real life transformation. Do that and you can put your invisibility cloak away forever.
1. In addition, healthy, growing churches have about a 1:3 guests:members ratio in a worship service.

Question: What has your church done to remove the barriers that are keeping the unchurched and non-believers out? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.


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