The Friendliness Factor
Being a preacher's kid, I have seen my share of churches, especially rural churches. I have a lot of great memories from those experiences. I still remember the guys who stood at the front door, ready to shake my hand every Sunday. I also remember the infamous homecomings (which included a lot of fried chicken and casseroles) where church people talked, laughed and committed acts of gluttony. There are many churches (especially those 500 and less) that define friendliness by social church gatherings and greeters at the door. However, engaging outsiders (or the unchurched) requires more than comfort food and handshakes.
While working with rural churches, I have noticed many are quick to claim their friendliness level as high. They believe the warm and fuzzy family feel is inviting to everyone. However, the family feel is often a big part of the problem, because the family typically doesn't include outsiders. There's nothing more unfriendly than awkward stares and internal conversations.
Being a friendly church to outsiders must become a part of the mission, meaning the why becomes more important than the what. Why be friendly? Because friendly churches get talked about. They're like a good restaurant; you don't need a billboard, because you can't hide a good restaurant. In Gary McIntosh's book, What Every Pastor Should Know there were a number of interviews conducted with people who visited a church for the first time. They were asked, "What made the biggest impression? What effected your decision to return the following week?" It wasn't the eloquent preaching, excellent worship or the fun-filled kid's ministry; it was the friendliness factor. They based their decision to return on how they were treated. The interview proved that the number one answer by far was the friendliness of the people. Gary goes on to say, they determined the level of friendliness by the number of people who talked with them. Many conversations equaled friendliness.
Three myths churches of 500 or less believe
MYTH #1: We're a friendly church because we're friendly with each other
Many churches believe because they are friendly with each other, they are automatically friendly to others. As a secret shopper, I can't tell you how many times I have seen churches talk and laugh with one another, while completely neglecting the new guy in the room. Engaging new guest with friendliness requires planning and intentionality. It can't be something we hope happens; it must be something we make happen...because it can determine if they come back. Creating the right first impressions team can amplify friendliness.
MYTH #2: We're a friendly church because we have door greeters
In my experience, I have seen door greeters who serve people well...and those who don't serve so well. There is nothing worse than a greeter having a conversation with another member, who pauses long enough to say hello to a new guest, and then quickly return to the conversation. This is no different than a Walmart greeter. They have a job to do and saying hello to people is simply part of the job. Guests hate this. Asking door greeters to make eye contact, share their name and always open doors (as guests approach) can be a real game changer when it comes to friendliness.
MYTH #3: We're a friendly church because everyone is welcome
I have never yet found a church who didn't say, "We welcome everyone!" Yet, what I have discovered is this: Most churches love the idea of being a welcoming church; but not all churches welcome everyone. The reality is, many churches have their own version of the no shirts, no shoes, no service sign. While there isn't a physical sign posted, it's communicated by the unwritten standard expressed in dress codes, internal language and complex next steps. Creating a casual environment and building easy next steps fosters a friendliness that can help new guests build relationships with other people and with Jesus.