Confessions of a Church Shopper – Can I make a friend?

We visited one church 6 times over the course of 3 months since our move to our new place in Florida.

It started off pretty good.  They made a really good first impression.

But we dropped out.

We stopped going.

ConfessionsOfAChurchShopperVisit5

They have an awesome Sunday experience.

Their worship service was both exciting and sacred.

The music was of high quality.  The musicians were skilled.  Singing with the worship band was fun and the atmosphere was worshipful.

They led us into music that was both celebratory and deeply sacred.  They had a mix of hymns and choruses.

Their teaching was biblical.

The teaching team is firm on presenting biblical teaching.  The 45 minute expository sermons through the book of the Bible were full of excellent and practical teaching.

The main teacher / pastor is a skilled communicator and teaches very well.  As one who appreciates expository sermons, I enjoyed every single sermon that I heard.  It has been a fresh relief after years of more topical oriented sermons in my last church that I helped to plant.

Their mission was Christ centered.

The leadership was pretty clear in many ways that this church was Christ centered.  They had a generous mission program.  On one of our visits, they shared some of the ways the church blesses the community through service, though we missed that opportunity because of our schedule.

They have awesome Church Hospitality Systems

Their church greeters were well trained, and easy to identify.

Their ushers were efficient at getting us to the seat.

The check-in process at the children’s ministry was a breeze.

The pastor was clear about how to fill out a connection card and what we should do with it.

The volunteers we interacted with were friendly and facilitated our ability to get to our seat.

The welcome center was clearly marked and we could engage people in small talk conversation if we choose.

The papers in the visitor welcome packet thanked us for coming.

During the service, the pastor clearly welcomed first time visitors in a way that wasn’t intimidating.

This church does all the things that make for a wonderful hospitality vision.  I believe they have been good at keeping that visitor welcome vision in front of their volunteers.

We felt honored to be so welcomed.  They are not like this church that had the right systems but no still no welcome.

After the first impressions, what is next?

We are new movers to a new town, relocating from another country (where we lived for 7 years), and have no personal friends.

After a few weeks, we were asking ourselves about how do we go about meeting people, learning more about the church, and even where do we begin to make a friend.

Sunday morning was simply too busy moving people around between services for any friendships to form.

There was no clear directions for us about where to start.

  • Does this church have small groups, life groups, bible studies, or something?
  • Is there a “Getting to know our church” type class?
  • Is there a gathering with the pastor at some point?
  • Is there a meal where I might sit at table with another family?

As a church visitor, our family doesn’t know all the answers to these questions.  We don’t know where to go next.

So we quit going.

We wanted to invest in the life and mission of this church. We tried going several weeks to learn about it’s mission and work.  We visited six times.

We listened for any relevant announcements. We looked for things things in the bulletin.  We never received any literature from the church about next step opportunities.

We tried one Saturday event spending 3-4 hours with church people on a work day. Our children visited the youth group for 6-8 weeks.

And that the end of all that, we still didn’t have a friend.

We couldn’t get in.

What Your Church can do to overcome this

Here is the question to think about.

How easy is it for your repeat visitor to make a new friend?

Follow up questions to this are

  • What programming exists where newcomers can make a friend?
  • How clear are you in communicating that to your newcomers?

Clear next steps are not hard.

One church gave out coupons to their Wednesday night supper.

One church invited visitors to serve with them in the community on the 4th Saturday, plus bring a friend to help serve.

One church invited us to a guest luncheon at the pastor’s house along with other newcomers for the month.

One church we visited followed this step:

  1. Sent us a handwritten thank you note plus a free meal coupon at Chik-Fil-A
  2. Sent us a letter from the pastor inviting us to a homemade breakfast on the 1st Sunday of the month.
  3. Called us to personally invite us to that breakfast.
  4. At that breakfast, the pastor introduced a little about the vision and mission of the church, and clearly pointed us to a 101 type class.

That church has thought through their process and we are finding ourselves naturally making friends with other newcomers as we experience this process together.

Each church clearly communicated to their newcomers about the one simple next step the visitor could take to get to make a friend.

Mark Waltz phrases it this way:

“In short, how does your church move people from visiting to belonging? The answer to that question is a bigger deal than a guest’s first or second visit to your church. Helping people experience the reality of belonging-to God and others-in a way that causes them to live for God and others is kingdom of God-sized stuff. That’s a really big deal.” (Lasting Impressions: From Visiting to Belonging, by Mark Waltz).

Read more:  The best church visitor assimilation tool.

Now is a good time for church visitor assimilation training.

Since the Christmas season and New Year’s are coming soon, your church will have lots of first time visitors coming.   It is time to review your assimilation strategies and think of intentional ways to utilize the season to impact the life of your local visitor who is looking for a church family.

It is time to refresh your vision for church visitor welcoming and integration strategies.

Are you ready to receive these visitors?

Download this webinar class ($10), you will learn:

  • How Personal Invitations Impact Assimilation
  • How to Open the Front Door of Welcome
  • 5 Must Have Tools for Effective Assimilation
  • How to Close the Back Door and Keep them Coming
  • Some of the specific questions generated by the audience:
    • How do you get this vision into the congregation.
    • What do I do with a chronic hugger?
    • How often should you train volunteers?
    • How do you get your church leaders on board with this?
    • What are key elements to a action plan for a church that has none?
    • DO you have a book list you recommend?
    • Do you have anything that addresses specifically the subject of assimilation of new members into the church family?
    • We have an old lady that insists on hugging all the new people who come to church. Is this good/bad. How to address this? Some members thinks this repels new people. Help!
    • Is the gathering only for new visitors, or any congregants? Specific members turn to stay?
    • What’s the best way to identify a new guest (besides visual observation)?

I want to share insights I’ve gained over the last 15 years to help you plan to help some of your visitors move towards regular attendance.

Order Now:

Click on the big button below and you’ll be taken to the page in the EvangelismCoach.org store to add it to your cart.

OrderNow

The fear of the E-word

In the November issue of Presbyterians Today, I share an article that gives 3 basic steps to overcome your personal fear of evangelism.

Sometimes called “the e-word,” as if evangelism is an unspeakable curse word, personal evangelism is generally not a regular discipline among believers in mainline churches because of associations with pushy street preachers.

Here is a snippet from the article:

Street Preacher EvangelismWhen it comes to personal evangelism, the street preacher is the negative go-to stereotype. The common reaction is “I don’t want to do that.”

Though a few are indeed gifted to be effective street preachers (and I’ve done it myself in parks and city streets), the rest of us want a more natural way to share our faith.

Easier done than said

The problem for many people is that talking about faith is difficult.

In the final hours of my mother’s life, she whispered, “I’ve always believed in Jesus; I just didn’t talk about it.” Others have told me that they hope that their good behavior is enough of a sermon that they don’t need to say anything. Ernest L. Gardner III, interim pastor at Philadelphia Presbyterian Church in Mint Hill, North Carolina, says, “I have found that cradle Presbyterians are more accustomed to having their church doors open to visitors than [they are] to engaging others directly about what it means to be a follower of Christ.”

There are many reasons we choose not to talk about our faith. We don’t want to participate in high-pressure tactics or in the kinds of emotional manipulation seen on television. We don’t want our friends to think we’re foolish or simple-minded. Nor do we want to be perceived as combative or disrespectful of others’ deeply held religious beliefs. Laura Long, pastor of Clinchfield Presbyterian Church in Marion, North Carolina, says, “People don’t want to be perceived as nosy about another person’s beliefs.”

We may feel that we lack the skills or knowledge to effectively discuss being a follower of Jesus. I remember hearing an evangelist compare, point by point, the beliefs of Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. I began to panic because I knew I couldn’t give a presentation like that. When we’re challenged about the existence of God, or about why we believe that God is love and that God sent Jesus to die for our sins, we may feel as if we can’t give a reasonable defense of our belief.

In a way, we sometimes undermine ourselves. If we aren’t nurturing our relationship with Christ, we’ll miss out on God’s work in our life; we won’t recognize how God is transforming us, leading us, using us, or teaching us. And that can affect how we witness to others. According to pastor Geoff McLean of Christ Presbyterian Church in Fairfax, Virginia, “If we don’t appreciate the changes that God works in our life, we have little to say . . . about the relevance of following Jesus.”

Finally, we may feel uncomfortable about sharing our faith because we haven’t thought about how to explain the gospel in a simple way. A friend once asked me, “Chris, what is the gospel?” My obtuse, 10-minute, directionless explanation taught me that, even though I had two seminary degrees, I couldn’t explain the gospel in simple terms. I was not prepared.

I interviewed a couple of Presbyterian pastors, some of whom are using the Engage curriculum on personal evangelism.  That resource is one that I can recommend.  It uses some of the same principles that I teach in my own evangelism seminars about watching for spiritual thirst and engaging people in intentional conversation.

To read the 3 basic steps I share, click through to read the whole article, or read this snippet:

These basic steps can help:

1. Talk about your own experiences with Jesus, not just your church.

Talking about your church is easy, but talking about your own experiences is more meaningful. You might describe how the wisdom of Scripture is helping you in some difficult season in your life. You might talk about how you see the Lord answering particular prayers. Or you might describe how the Lord has used you in some ministry.

2. Talk about how you became a follower of Jesus, not just a member of your church.

I’ve found that many Presbyterians have difficulty answering the question “When did Jesus become real to you?” It’s not that they don’t have faith but that they lack words to express that faith. Think back to some season in your life when it was clear that you had an encounter with Jesus. Try to describe that experience without using overly religious words.

3. Talk about the gospel of Christ, not just your church’s weekend message.

You may find it easy to talk about Sunday’s sermon or even why you were moved by the anthem the choir sang. While those are good to talk about, we need to know the core content of the gospel of Jesus Christ and be able to explain it in a meaningful way to people who may have never read the Bible.

Due to space requirements, I didn’t put a fourth one in there, but here is one that I would add:

4.  Talk about the difference Jesus has made in your life, not just your church programs that do good.

You may find it easy to share how you give to the food pantry, tutor a child, or repair the car of a single mom.  But how has becoming a follower of Christ changed you?  Could you share your hope filled testimony story in two phrases?

TAKE THE NEXT STEP

As you ponder how you and your congregation might grow as evangelists, know that you are not alone in this sometimes difficult journey.

The Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Evangelism and Church Growth ministry area is here to support you.

  • To watch the Engage video series, download related resources, and order the three-part printed curriculum: pcusa.org/engage
  • To partner with New Beginnings as you envision a new future for your congregation and come up with a strategy to make it happen: whatisourfuturestory.com
  • To connect with staff, find more resources, and get information on the next Evangelism and Church Growth Conference: pcusa.org/ecg

photo credit: nan palmero via cc

Conference: Personal Evangelism for Ordinary People October 25, 2014

Personal_Evangelism_Conference_Mint_Hill_NCImagine:

  • You confidently answer a question about why you follow Jesus.
  • Your friend asks you how you became a Christian and you give a clear story.
  • You share the gospel story without being tongue-tied.

Just this week, I met a church member who felt that evangelism was not doable because he felt he had

  • no talent,
  • no skill,
  • nor verbally eloquent like his pastor.

My friend lacked any confidence that he could witness to anyone.

Maybe you feel the same way. You find personal evangelism intimidating. You would rather clean a pig sty instead of talking about Jesus to your friends.

I was.

Learn how Personal Evangelism can be Natural

Speaking at Your Evangelism EventThe Personal Evangelism for Ordinary People seminar will help you overcome those natural fears and find fresh freedom in sharing your faith.

As you go through the seminar with Chris Walker, you’ll

  • Learn to recognize God given moments to talk about your faith
  • Discover evangelism can be as normal and natural as breathing.
  • Find and develop the four core evangelism skills you need, even if you don’t know your Bible.

Discover a compassion for the lost and learn how to share your faith.

This seminar is designed to give you a clear understanding of personal evangelism which results in a compassion that swallows fear and equips you to be effective in everyday life.

It’s designed to move you from clumsy to confident in just ONE day.

Coming to Mint Hill North Carolina, October 25, 2014

If you live in or near the area, you don’t want to miss this FREE event. . . .

Chris will help you find the same confidence that has helps him talk about his faith in Christ to anyone who asks. He used to be the obnoxious evangelist no one wants to be and has learned core skills to make evangelism.


The seminar dispelled the fears associated with evangelism. Both personal stories and Biblical truth provided a framework from which to proceed in making sharing my faith conversationally more a part of my lifestyle.

I would highly recommend this class to anyone with a heart for becoming more verbal in their witness. — Participant


Come to learn some of the practical ways Chris has discovered to share your faith out of his research, study, and first hand real life experience from serving as a local pastor, planting two churches and doing evangelism work cross culturally in 9 different countries.

Date:

Saturday, October 25 2014

9:00a – 4:30p

Registration opens at 8:30am.

Location:

Philadelphia Presbyterian Church, Mint Hill, NC

11501 Bain School Rd, Mint Hill, NC 28227


View Larger Map

Cost:

This personal evangelism seminar is free.

It is sponsored by Philadelphia Presbyterian Church

Other Notes:

  • Registration information will be shared with EvangelismCoach.org.
  • Lunch will be provided for a nominal cost, or you may bring your own. More information as time draws closer.
  • A resource table will be available, where Chris will provide audio CDs and other items from his resources.
  • When you register online, you’ll receive a complimentary subscription to the weekly newsletter by email, every Friday at 2pm. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Register Here:

Register online for free. You’ll receive reminders as the conference draws near.

We encourage you to bring your ministry leadership team to this event.

Event is open to the public and other churches are invited to register and attend.

Who is Chris Walker?

2013ChrisWalkerHeadShot425x287Chris Walker, of http://www.EvangelismCoach.org, is the featured speaker.

He is fittingly known as the Evangelism Coach because of his extensive work with churches in the US and Latin America in the areas of evangelism and church growth. Chris is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

His website has over 1000 articles on personal evangelism, congregational evangelism, and hospitality, as well as a podcast feed, all for free.

He has written:

Chris has also recorded 2 CDs on church hospitality issues, authored 2 DVDs for training greeters, and a 3 DVD set on Breaking Unseen Barriers that keep your visitors from coming back. Plus, he’s recorded additional DVDS and CDs on personal evangelism. All resources will be available at the resource table. Credit Cards will be accepted.


“Fall 2010 has gone well. I believe the First Touch teams have a renewed sense of purpose and others are doing their part to apply the welcoming concepts they learned when you spoke here. I heard from many folks about how helpful and energizing it was to hear you speak.

Your talk helped us see the need to engage people, not just serve them. I think overall it was one of our most successful events ever, and was a real example of how the momentum is shifting in a positive way.” P Strachan, Midlothian VA.


Chris is a highly accessible speaker who brings a passion and energy to his workshops that is contagious.

Geoff McClean, Pastor


I feel rejuvenated in learning to pray after the Salvation Army Quest ministry workshops in Michigan. Chris is very passionate and on fire for what he speaks about. Keep up the good work!

Dean Groendal
Muskegon Corps, Salvation Army

Useful Small Talk at the Church Welcome Center

In our family’s current journey of looking for a church, we empathize anew with Christian families that are new movers and have to find a new church on their own.

I am re-discovering is the value of small talk when engaging your first time visitor.  (Read these 20 Crazy Church Greeter Comments).

Our church visit this past Sunday drew my attention to the value of small talk. [Read more…]

Oops! We used the wrong door – A church visit story

We found our way to the church parking lot, in a round about way.

We drove past the one driveway and found the second driveway was roped off.   We drove around the city block to once again approach the one and only OPEN driveway.

As our family makes a trek to the third church in our church shopping campaign, I’m beginning to empathize in a new way with new movers like ourselves searching for a church to become a part of.

Since we have no churched friends in our new town, no one will invite us to their church that they are proud of.

A church Visit story church shopping

This week, we chose a bi-lingual church for their 11am service, and like the last church shopping visit, we chose it out of the local newspaper.

There was no website in the paper ad, but with a Google search of the church name and city, their website came right up.

On the church website, we quickly found the answers to the two questions we had.

1.  Service Times

2.  Directions.

Both were clearly indicated on the home page.

However, much of the rest of the church website from navigation to more details was broken and not working.  It was hard to learn more about this church from its website ahead of time.   They even chose to use stock photos, rather than photos of their own church community.

We found the front door – oops!

Church Door was lockedAfter successfully parking the car, after our round-the-block trip, we approached the front church doors that faced the parking lot.  The covered front area provided a space for dropping off passengers and framed the beautiful entrance to the church.

Two different groups of teenagers stood in front of each set of doors, wonderfully enjoying each others fellowship, but making this new family (us) walk around them to pull on the front doors handles.

The church doors were locked.

I caught the eye of a few teenagers.  Even though I’m over 40 years old, their stare at our awkwardness created feelings of incompetence in me.

We tentatively pulled on the second set of doors, under the watching eye of the second group of talking teenagers.

Locked again.

Embarrassed again.  

My teenage son even commented – “Dad, this is embarrassing.” – even though he didn’t know any of these teens.

Quick Fix:  Is your entrance clearly marked with signage?  (Take this free church sign audit).

Bingo! We found the side door.

A quick glance around the teenagers helped us to see some people walking around the corner of the building.

We followed them and found a side entrance where an usher or church greeter held the door opened.

Finally – this church visitor found the entrance.

The usher greeted us, made eye contact, and his friendly demeanor began to relieve our sense of embarrassment at trying to open a locked door.  He pointed us down the hallway towards the sanctuary, where additional ushers greeted us and led us to

FRONT ROW SEATS!

To make room for us on the front row, the usher  asked a few people already on that front row to go sit somewhere else.

While I’m not usually bothered by sitting up front, this could be a hospitality error at drawing unnecessary attention to your visitors.  We felt the eye contact of the service leader, and then held the direct gaze of the worship leader welcoming first time visitors.  We somewhat felt forced to raise our hands when asked.  We couldn’t anonomously hide.

Our kids were invited to their own ministry

A friendly children’s ministry leader found us during the worship set and personally invited my children to a class.  That was an awesome step of hospitality.  By now, my kids are used to testing new environments (new schools, 3rd new church, new groups of everything), so they willingly went.

At the end, their commentary was a little disappointing.

My 6th grade daughter didn’t have a class or Bible teaching time.  It was 100% play time.

My 9th grade son’s class had a small teaching lesson, but my son’s take on the class was a shoulder shrug “ok, I guess.”  It didn’t feel like the right place for him as he was the oldest in the class.

My kids felt that their time apart was merely babysitting vs. any kind of Sunday school.  They too are making comparisons to prior church visits.

The worship service itself

The worship service itself was a quality experience.  We enjoyed the congregational singing, the liturgical dancers, and the celebratory mood of the congregation.

The sermon was entertaining and full of general Bible truth, but the preacher would have received a failing grade from my homiletics teacher.  The points were somewhat generic, and not actually connected to the Bible reading for the day.

The preacher was a good communicator, and clearly spoke Biblical truth, but I found myself drifting in and out of attention during his hour long winding road sermon of tangential thoughts that had little to do with the Bible lesson for the day.

The sermon had a gospel presentation built in, and there was an evangelistic call to follow Jesus.  A few people came forward, received prayer, and there was an extended worship and ministry time.

As we left

We left out the side doors of the sanctuary.

The worship leader was there to give us a small visitors packet and quickly gave us more information about the church.

After that, it was all over.  Not another word was said to us, though plenty of fellowship was going on around us.

My review of the church visitor packet

I’ve written some articles on ideas for church visitor packets (here,  here, here, and here).  Since we were the anonymous church visitor, the welcome packet is a great place for us to learn more about the church we just attended.

Of the three churches we have visited so far in our church shopping experience, this is the first church to give us a welcome packet.

The church welcome packet contained:

  • Brochure on the pastors.
  • Brochure of the core beliefs (doctrinal statement)
  • Bookmark
  • Business card
  • Brochure about the church ministries and its leaders.

The quality of the brochures was reasonable.

Would I return?

Because I train other church in hospitality issues, I am extra aware of what is missing and what is done right.  In spite of the criticisms I have, our family would still be willing to return to this church.

This church fits some of our criteria, and we were not really bothered by some of the hospitality practices of locked doors and front row seating.  Our kids are willing to give it another try a little later, thinking that their Sunday school experience might have been a lazy Sunday in August type experience.

We’ll have this church on our list of possible ones to reconsider as we continue our church shopping visits.

Learn from my church visits

How to Welcome Church VisitorsI’ve written lot about the church hospitality lessons I’ve learned.

(Here are 5 hospitality lessons I picked up last year).

I’ve written a download only church hospitality e-book that compiles several lessons I’ve learned from visiting churches over the last 7 years.

This e-book is a practical ‘how-to’ manual on creating a better first impression to welcome visitors to church.   If you are beginning to learn about church hospitality practices, this will help you get started.

Click here to read more detail about my e-book, “How to Welcome Church Visitors.