A Path For the Church--Candyland Part Two

Quincy Brown


Nearly eight months ago, I wrote a blog on the board game Candy Land. Click here to read the blog. You do remember the game, don't you? In the article, I played with the idea of the game as a metaphorical pathway for the church to assess each area of the Sunday morning experience for a new here guest.
Last week, I got a chance to try out the metaphor first hand as I was a "new here" guest at a church. I went to the church because a friend who was going to attend invited me. Frankly, it would have never occurred to me to participate in worship at that church if my friend didn't ask me. It's not that I was opposed to this church; instead, it just was on my radar screen as an option for me.
So early that morning, I "googled" the church on my iPhone. Surprising the church didn't have a responsive website that translated to my phone. It was only when I rotating my phone horizontally that I found the worship times! Using the Waze app to find the quickest way to the church, I arrived a bit early to find a parking spot. I didn't see a place for guest parking, so I just pulled into an adjacent lot of local businesses next to the church where people were leaving. I assumed that they were coming from the church since it was Sunday morning.
As I walked towards the church, with the goal of finding the contemporary service, I noticed the contrast between people who ignored me in passing and those who waved (mostly children) with a brief smile. I continued to walk towards the building. There were small signs along the building that said "Contemporary Worship (with a horizontal arrow)" I followed the signs until locating another sign that read "Contemporary Worship (with a vertical arrow)” on the side of the building. Puzzled by the vertical arrow, I finally asked the on-duty traffic cop at the church about the location of the contemporary worship. To my surprise, just like the signs, he pointed. Unsure where he was pointing, I asked, “Is it in this building?”
Finally locating the place for the service, I asked the greeter if it was okay if I brought my Starbucks Tea in the building. He nodded yes, said welcome and quickly handed me a worship bulletin. As I found my seat, a couple of the people around me smiled but didn't introduce themselves. I smiled back and tried my best not to look like a tourist in a new town. One of the greeters came and shook my hands and immediately quipped, "My, your hands are warm." Taken back by this greeting, I shrugged and suggested that it was the effect of my hot tea. To my surprise, however, the greeter carried on a long conversation with an older couple that sat directly behind me, who were also "new here" guests.
During the welcome of the service, the lead pastor suggested that we signed the attendance register and gave a general welcome to all new here guest. He also sheepishly mentioned that if a new guest wanted, there was a gift for us at the table in the rear. I thought that it was strange that he said that this was optional. When my friend went to get the gift during the greeting of neighbors portion of the worship, I asked him where did he get the guest mug and swag. He said that it was under the table and he asked someone to get one for him.
Unbeknownst to us, like my experience last week, for many "new here" guests, the worship experience isn’t the first impressions of our churches. Instead, the first impression happens from the time that a newcomer drives on the church property. People will observe the parking lot, assess the physical plant, directional signage, and so on.  

Once a guest gets out of his or her car, there needs to be someone to greet them either outside of the church or inside the church narthex or lobby. Guests need to be welcomed at least three times before they are handed off to the ushers, who are responsible for seating people and attending to their needs during worship. After the benediction, I’ve found it to be a good practice to have greeters wish everyone farewell. But the guest experience doesn't end with the goodbye, as soon as a guest leaves, there should be some follow up to a guest's visit within 24-36 hours.
A follow-up is essential. And one of the critical metrics that a church needs to track is the retention rate from the first time to a second-time guest. As a general rule of thumb, an average church can expect 8% retention of its first-time guests. For this retention to occur, the church must invite the same amount of new people as first-time guests as the church has for its average worship attendance (AWA) for the year.
It's been a week and three days since my visit to that church, and I still haven't received an email or a thank you letter for visiting. And while I only went to the church on a friend's request, sadly, chances are good that I probably will not make a return visit from my experience.
On Saturday, February 9 at Mountain Park UMC, we’re offering a training to help our district churches to avoid the missteps of the church that I visited. Below, please find the information. I hope to see you there.

On the Journey,


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