Attracting unchurched people should be the goal of every church. Churches who have contemporary worship and a modern facility typically attract new people on a regular basis; but what's the secret to get them to return next week? The bottom line is, it’s not enough to be attractional. Lights and modern music will attract unchurched people, but it won't bring them back. There's lots of ways to get people to a building (Easter, children's programs, etc); that's the easy part. Getting them to come back is harder.
First time guests are handled in various ways. Most churches hand off a visitor’s card and a gift, like a t-shirt or coffee mug. However, if we take a look at this common strategy, we will quickly learn that t- shirts and coffee mugs aren’t causing people to come back...if they were, churches would be full and t-shirt and coffee mug companies would be making bank. Gifts are nice, but gifts do not create an experience, and that's what is needed...an experience.
Some first time guest experiences can even be a little scary...especially in smaller churches. I have been to churches were guests are publicly recognized, asked to stand and engaged by complete and total strangers, with extended, sometimes sweaty hands. Other times new guests are treated as if they have a horn growing out of the left side of their head...as they walk into the building, they get “the stare” from everyone. And other times, new guests are looked upon as if they’re wearing an invisible suit; people barely even acknowledge they’re there.
While we all have our own ideology about how to engage first time guests, there’s one thing that I know for certain... it takes much more than t-shirts, coffee cups and hand-shakes to make a gospel-impression. It takes something that must be cultivated, developed and celebrated... it takes love. I believe expressing God’s love is the secret to MOVE first time guests to returning guests, especially when the new guests are unchurched people. People outside the church can easily detect or sense love. Whether they realize it or not, it’s what their looking for.....we all are. Love moves people.
Movement matters. Movement equals growth. And moving unchurched and/or first time guests to returning guests requires a simplistic, yet intentional strategy. So if love is the trump card that can cause new guests to move to returning guests, what does love look like? Let me begin by telling you what it doesn’t look like. It doesn’t mean giving every new guest a Jesus hug. For new guests, there is a way to express God’s love without making people feel weird. I call it “Radical Hospitality.”
Radical hospitality is simply being an expression of the gospel. It is intentionally engaging people with God’s love and especially His grace. When people are engaged with God’s love and grace, it helps their heart to become more open to community, truth and God’s Spirit. It can make the difference in how they respond to the worship service. It can even make a difference in how they respond to the sermon and the gospel. It will certainly make a difference about whether or not they come back. Therefore, radical hospitality isn’t something we do because it’s nice, we do it because it’s missional.
When people genuinely love others, it just does something powerful. I have seen first hand how the love of Jesus can literally change the way a person feels about God, church and even their own self. So think of radical hospitality like this; it is the first action to prepare hearts for the seed of God’s word. Therefore, it is the first action to move new guests to returning guest and eventually, on a journey towards discipleship.
As you think about what your hospitality looks like, consider these four things:
1) Does your hospitality team (ushers, greeters, etc) understand the mission behind what they do?
2) Is your hospitality authentic or robotic?
3) What are your touch points from the parking lot to the sanctuary?
4) Who is leading your hospitality teams?
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