Is Freshwater a friendly church? My immediate thought is “of course it is.” But what if my immediate reaction is wrong? According to one source I read, 85% of church people think their church is friendly to new people, but according to new people who attended those churches 85% of them indicated that churches were unfriendly toward them. Why the disparity? There is a disparity because most people at church are friendly; they are just friendly with their friends. Since they have relationships in the church they have others to talk with, but guests who come do not have preexisting relationships, thus see the church from a different perspective. According to church consultant and pollster Tom Rainer most guests who thought a church was unfriendly never let anyone know. They simply left and never returned. This breaks my heart and stirred me to reexamine the friendliness of Freshwater. So when asked if we are a friendly church, my reply is “we can be.” Here are ten strategies how. Some of these strategies apply to everyone; some only pertains to church leaders. I think all of it is helpful to understand
1. Be intentional about being friendly. We value relationships, therefore we value friendliness. It is our desire that all regular attenders intentionally reach out to people they don’t know in order to greet them and welcome them. We do this by greeting others in gathering spaces and in the seats next to us.
2. Model warmth, humility, and friendliness. This is not a fabricated or phony friendliness, Jesus is our model and because he loved people, we should to. Genuinely care about people because people matter to God. Churches need to develop a culture of friendliness and they do that by being authentic and intentional. We need everyone to be “all in” when it comes to being friendly.
3. Recognize that authentic friendliness goes beyond the typical “hello.” We don’t take time in the service to “greet someone next to you” because it doesn’t give enough time to actually “greet someone next to you.” Take the time before or after the service to connect. This gives you more time to connect.
4. Understand that the first visit takes place online. Most people who come to Freshwater have already taken a tour online. Maybe they viewed a message, watched the intro video, or checked out the staff page. Almost everyone who steps through the doors has already checked us out online. We try our best to have a current, friendly web presence.
5. Have clear signage. We never assume everyone knows where everything is. I don’t know where everything is, so I can’t expect guests to know either. That is why we try to post clear signage to guide people to the right place. Nobody likes asking for help navigating the church, especially men.
6. Intentionally greet people at strategic locations. We have greeters in our parking lot at the St. Boni Campus, greeters at the front door and ushers at the sanctuary doors. We do this because we want to make sure everyone is greeted with a warm smile (and a handshake if the guest extends their hand). The parking attendants and the greeters are the first connections guests have so we want to make them count.
7. Have a visible and functional place to gather information. People who want more information about the church should not have to hunt for it, which is why we like to have friendly people serving at the Connections Center. They help guests connect with ministries and services.
8. Ensure the facility and grounds are neat and clean. Someone once said that if the church doesn’t care about their grounds and facility, then why would they care about someone’s soul? This is especially true of our kid’s areas. Parents hate dirty rooms and broken toys. We want to fix things that are broken and are constantly trying to make our facilities better. We also try to keep our facilities neat and clean because we want to send the right message.
9. Follow up after guests visit. We have a solid follow up plan to help connect with guests and get them information or answer questions. We follow up with kids, students, and adults because we care about people. When we follow up we also let them know that they can take the next step by attending the membership class to meet myself and other staff.
10. Provide opportunities to join a small group. Small groups are where relationships are established and grown. We want to have excellent small group leaders who care about people. We try and launch new groups all the time so that new people have a place to belong.
Will you join me in welcoming new guests to Freshwater? Will you be intentional about greeting others who you know are new or others you have not yet met? By working together, we can make sure that Freshwater is a friendly church. Ultimately we want to be friendly because it will help people to connect with Christ and grow in their faith. Being friendly to others is part of being an authentic disciple of Christ.