Imagine you’ve not been in church for several years, or maybe ever, for one reason or another, but then something changes. An unexpected internal shift compels you to go to church. But you wrestle with this urge because you think “I don’t know where to start…I don’t know anything about what to look for really…I don’t even know what times church services take place anymore.”
Every week, people wrestle with that conundrum in our community. The Holy Spirit is urging them to get into church. But each week their questions and fears weigh them down.
Then they finally decide to take a step forward, if for no other reason than to clear their conscience. They step into a church. Some of them step into Community Bible Church.
What do they experience when they visit Community Bible Church?
This is a question that many of us don’t think about with any regularity. This whole scenario is one that many in our church don’t often consider.
But we should. We should because we have been sent on mission by Jesus himself to make disciples. That starts right here in our own community by welcoming neighbors who become our guests.
We should regularly ask ourselves a couple questions: 1) What do guests experience at Community Bible Church? and 2) What can I do to make their experience as great as possible?
When someone decides to take that big step forward and try Community Bible out for a week, we need to remove every obstacle in their path. That’s why we work every week on our website for ease of navigation, updated information, and accurate visual representation of our church. After all, the new front door of the church is the World Wide Web. Many people decide whether to visit a church based on what they experience on their website.
In addition to our web footprint, we want to put our best foot forward once guests step onto our campus. That’s why we have developed a parking strategy with guests in mind, adding parking lot signage and a parking team. We want our guests to be welcomed by friendly faces and have access to prime parking spots. When you have guests to your house, don’t you practice hospitality by providing the best for them? Even if it means you sacrifice a little? Shouldn’t we do the same?
Soon we will have a new guest welcome tent set up outside the church each week which will not only communicate that our guests are welcome, but that we’re expecting them. This will give our First Impressions Team (FIT) an opportunity to help guide guests to where they need to go. Remember, our guests could have been battling this urge to come to church for a while. We want to make it as easy as possible for them to experience Jesus, and a lot of that happens before they ever hear the first song or sermon.
Our FIT greeters make them feel like they can belong here because of their warm welcome and their helpful attitudes. This is very important. I’ve heard it said that before someone can believe they must feel like they belong. With friendly faces and genuine care for our guests we can communicate that they are welcome, and they can belong here. Our FIT members help them get their kids to the Community:Kids check-in where they can feel assured that their children are in good hands. Everyone who serves in our C:Kids ministry is background-checked and has gone through an intensive interview process to ensure the safety and well-being of their kids. I mean if we’re talking about removing obstacles, isn’t care for our children going to be one of the greatest obstacles for us if we’re in a new space with all new faces? You better believe I need to feel good about the care of my kids if I’m going to feel good about a church!
Then we finally get them into the auditorium to join us for our corporate worship service. If all the other obstacles have been removed, this is where they are likely to experience the meat of their visit. But what if they’ve had a hard time parking? Or if they saw an incorrect service time on the website and arrived late? Or if they couldn’t find signage (much less a friendly FIT member) to help them find the children’s ministry area? These obstacles could stand in the way of them being able to enjoy their worship experience, and in all likelihood, a return visit.
But let’s say they’ve had a good experience during their Sunday morning visit. While they’re on our campus, hopefully they will agree to provide their contact information so we can follow up with them. Additionally, our gift bag are a small “thank you” for spending their morning with us. During the next few days they will then receive two phone calls (one from a pastor and one from a lay person) and a letter from the senior pastor. We leverage those conversations to answer questions they may have and talk to them about the next step for them, which is Starting Point.
Starting Point is a multi-week Sunday morning group experience that serves as guests’ introduction to Community Bible Church. We aim to help these newcomers get to know a bit about the church and get to know some other people here, including the pastoral staff. From Starting Point these folks then become involved in serving and deepen their sense of belonging by joining a Community Group. From there, the next step is covenant membership where they are regularly and increasingly contributing to the body of Christ.
The longer people are around, the more opportunity they have to grow as a disciple of Christ and the more beautifully the collective body of Christ works together.
And just think…all this started with a person checking us out on the internet because they were being compelled internally to get into church. Or, perhaps they invited by another person in the Community Bible family who took seriously our mission of making disciples and advancing the mission of God. Wow.
So, let me circle back to the two questions I asked earlier. What do guests experience at Community Bible Church each week? Do they experience the friendly faces and warm welcomes that I mentioned above? Do they experience helpful FIT members who are eager to make them feel a sense of belonging and who are able to help anticipate their needs?
This leads me to the second question: what can you do to make these guest experiences as great as possible? Here are a few suggestions.
• Pray. Pray that the Lord would compel neighbors to visit Community Bible Church. Pray that we would have wisdom to anticipate obstacles and do our best to remove them. Pray that they would humble themselves to the Lord Jesus if they are not yet proclaiming him as Lord.
• Serve. Serve on the First Impressions Team as a greeter, parking team partner, usher, or guest services member at the Information Desk. Even if you only have the margin to serve once a month in one of these roles, serve. If you’d like to help lead one of our Starting Point groups or serve on the hospitality team to provide great coffee for our guests and church family, let’s talk.
• Give. Your financial gifts help us create a more guest friendly environment, such as parking signs, reflective vests, umbrellas, and T-shirts to help guests identify people who can assist them. It helps us invest in our landscaping and facilities so that we may put our best foot forward each week to help make our guests feel welcome, cared for, and comfortable.
• Invite. Invite people who are in your sphere of influence but who aren’t currently in church. Don’t just invite them once, but regularly, gently, and genuinely invite them to magnify Jesus with you as a disciple of Christ.
• Welcome. Even if you aren’t serving on the First Impressions Team, welcome people who you don’t know. If someone makes the decision to come to Community Bible on a Sunday morning but doesn’t want to identify themselves as a guest by using guest parking or completing a Connection Card, they should still feel welcome because unfamiliar faces took the time to say “Good morning, my name is ____________…I don’t believe we’ve met. What’s your name? I’m so glad you’re here.”
Guys, it was nearly 14 years ago that I was one of those guests that came to Community Bible for the first time. I was welcomed, gained a sense of belonging, and have grown a whole lot in that time. I consider my own assimilation into the body and trace my steps back to serving on a ministry team, belonging to a Community Group, becoming a covenant member, serving as a deacon, serving on part-time staff, and now serving as a full-time pastor. I’m grateful for how the Lord has used the church to make this disciple and to advance His mission among all people. It is my prayer that we would be winsome and strategic as we anticipate guests and do all we can to remove obstacles for them. And I pray that the Lord would help us move people from first time guests to covenant members for His glory and for the good of the Bride of Christ. Will you join me in that?