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.


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 store to add it to your cart.


What you can learn from our church shopping experience

In the summer of 2014, our family moved to central Florida due to an expansion of our ministry’s vision and reach.

  • We are new movers into the community.
  • We have no friends yet.
  • We are a blank slate looking for a church.
  • We are the first time visitor.
  • We are the church shopper.

I wrote up our experience of the first church we visited.

A church greeter volunteer joyfully passed out the morning bulletin.  However, our question to her created a chain reaction of clumsy service.  Regular training of your volunteers would fix that awkward church hospitality experience

Last week, we visited a second church as a first time visitor.

Church Shopper Confession

We are church shopping

We are new movers to this area, so we are shopping for a church.

As a family, we have over 22 years invested in churches were we have lived, so we bring an informed experience to our church shopping experience.

Since we don’t know anybody in this town to get a person to invite us church, we have to rely on publicity that a church puts out.

That would include newspaper ads, and of course a really good church website.

Because we are a bi-lingual family, we wanted to visit a Spanish language church.

What you can learn: 

  • Your visitor may be church shopping and brings a mental list of what they want.
  • Your churched visitor will make comparisons to prior experiences.

How we found the church

We started our search with Google, trying to locate a church with Spanish services.   We tried search terms in English and in Spanish and didn’t find satisfactory results quickly.

Shopping at the local Hispanic market, we found a newspaper that had two full pages of advertisements for churches.

Some forgot to state where they were (address), or website, or service times.  If we couldn’t find out more information, that ad cost was entirely wasted.

If the newspaper ad had a website, we spent the morning looking at church websites.  I could talk about all the church website problems I found, but that would be a 6000 word article all by itself.

For the church we chose, the church website had service times easily located, as well as  the directions on how to get there (for me, these two facts are the most important feature of a church website).

Remember these church website facts:

  • 75% of first-time guests have already formed an impression of your church based on your website.
  • Your “greeters” are no longer your first contact with your guests.  According to one poll, 80% of people who visit your church visit your website first.

What you can learn:

  • A working church website is your best “front door.”
  • Do a SEO review of your church website to make sure it shows up in results.
  • Newspaper ads have a place for churched new movers like us.

Our Visit

We made it to the 11am service without much of a problem.  Other than finding the right door to get in, we didn’t have much awkwardness to getting to our seat.

It’s a small enough fellowship that our presence as first time church visitors was obvious.

We were quickly greeted by the founding pastor and his wife before we entered sanctuary.

After filling out a visitor card with our contact information, we found our seat.

Another usher checked with us to make sure we had filled out a visitor contact card.

Just before the passing of the peace, our names were read out from the visitor card and we were made to stand and we received a round of applause.  While this practice didn’t bother me personally, I know that being singled out as a visitor can make your visitor feel awkward and uncomfortable.  I don’t recommend it as a practice.

What you can learn:

  • Friendliness rules the day.
  • Friendliness is measured by the initiative taken by members.
  • Singling out your visits may cause embarrassment, rather than blessing.

Quality Matters

Every slide used had a bilingual setup.

A worship verse in Spanish, with an English equivalent underneath.

This lead to very word dense slides.  Sometimes the font size got so small that we had to squint to read it.

A few times, the English verse would be an entirely different verse from the hymn.  The Spanish would be stanza 3, the English was stanza 4.

When it came time for the Scripture reading, the passage displayed was entirely in English, but the reader read from a Spanish translation.

The slide confusion leads to cognitive dissonance – reading one thing in one language, and hearing it spoken aloud in another.

What you can learn:

  • Readability counts.

The relational factor overcomes everything.

What charmed us about this church was its friendliness.  That is the best tool to getting your church visitor to come back.

A few people took the initiative to talk with us.  We were personally greeted by the founding pastor.

We were greeted by a few other people as well.

The preaching pastor took some time as we walked out the door to visit with us and tell us a little more.

He even went the extra mile and called us on Monday to invite us to a follow up gathering of visitors.  That was a neat touch.

The relational warmth of genuine people easily overcame logistical issues like size of fonts and filing out a visitor card.

The personal phone call from this small church pastor has been the highlight of our church shopping experience so far.

I’ve learned from my church shopping experiences than friendliness overcomes any negative impacts on first impressions.  I visited a Spanish language church for a season of my life.  In spite of all their bad first impressions, I stayed and became part of that church.  Read how I became assimilated into their church.

What you can learn:

  • Friendliness can overcome any negative impacts on awkward first impressions.

Would we go back?

This is a one of the proof-tests of your hospitality experience.

Would we make a return visit?

Yes, this one would be worthy of a return visit simply because of their friendliness.

Ultimately, we know already this church wouldn’t fit all our criteria as a church shopper, so it won’t be our permanent home.

But it is a church that we could recommend to others who are looking for a bi-lingual experience in a particular denominational tradition.

Coaching Call

Do you want to discuss your where your hospitality system is stuck?

I offer a coaching call where I spend time on the phone with you or your committee, up to 90 minutes, where I help you trouble shoot and develop some action plans.  I’ve visited lots of churches as that first time visitor and you can learn from my experiences.

I can help you review your systems through a step by step flow chart that I’ve developed.  Read more about that hospitality coaching here.

photo credit: *PaysImaginaire* via cc

Should unbelievers be invited to church?

A year ago, I posted this question to the Facebook page.

“Should we invite unsaved friends to church?” Give a Yes or No, and then give a reason.

The answers were pretty divided between Yes and No, with some strong opinions:

  • Yes, the church is on an evangelistic mission.
  • No, the church is for believers only to train believers to go into the world, get them saved, and then bring them in.

It’s not my point here to drift into a full theology of the nature of the church, but to focus on the vocabulary of the question: what do I mean when I use the word church in this question?

I mean the gathered assembly, whether it meets in a high school gym, music hall, or a beautiful church building with stain glass windows and movable chairs.

I worked through the book of Acts to see if I could draw principles about the early gatherings of Christians before the church was more organized.

Invite Unbeliever Friends to Church

Should unbelievers be invited to attend our church?

Since many of you are new subscribers to our weekly newsletter, you may not know these exist in the archives.  Dig around and check out the evidence yourself.

I’m in the Yes camp.

I invite my unsaved friends.

I’ve been inviting my unsaved friends to church for so long that it is part of my teaching.  I teach on

Many of our church hospitality practices are based on the assumption that unsaved persons will be in our church, no matter how that visitor got there.  I’ve never questioned it.

I know many people who came to Christ because a friend invited them to church.   Here is one story.   After a few weeks of hearing the preaching of the word, my friend surrendered his life to Christ.  It is possible that without that invitation, he may have remained lost.  It is possible that God could have brought him salvation by some other method.  My friend was invited to church and came to faith in Christ.

If the church is responsible for evangelism, then it seems that some of it’s meetings will be intentionally evangelistic.

It also seems to me that the church would teach and train church members for evangelism where they live.

The Corinthian Church

We see Paul’s concern for the unbeliever in the midst of the assembly.

First Corinthians 14:23 Paul wants the assembly of the church to be sensitive to the unbeliever in their midst:

Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers.  So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?

But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all,  as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” – 1 Corinthians 14:22-25

Paul assumes that there exists a possibility of unbelievers in the midst of the assembly.

There is no indication of how that unbeliever got there, nor is that the point of text.

But what is clear is a concern for the visitor.  That reflects a strong ethic that should reflect in your church hospitality practices.

Start the discussion:

Answer this question in the comments below.

For what reasons should we invite the unsaved to our church?

3 Ways Church Management Software Can Help Your Church Visitors Become Members

One consistent question I receive is how to follow up on your first time church visitors.  Questions like:

Another question I’ve received is related to the data management side of handling visitor contact information.

How can church management software help our visitors become new members?

Today’s guest post answers that question.

It is from Leah Merrill, Software Analyst for Capterra, where she specializes in helping church administrators find church management software.

Church Management Software

3 Ways Church Management Software Can Help

Getting guests to stick around is a big deal.

If you’re like most churches, you have a few guests each week who come to your church looking for something new, somewhere closer to home or, sometimes, an entirely new life.

It’s always exciting to see a new face return for the next two weeks or maybe three.

But with so much to take care of in the church office, guests are often forgotten.

How can you get visitors to become active members?

Software may sound like an odd answer, but it can be more helpful than you think.

Though church management software (ChMS) can’t provide a smiling face to greet your guest on Sunday morning, it can go a long way in helping you convert guests into members.

1) Easily Post Your Services Schedule and Calendar Online

Studies from Grey Matter showed that 1.6 million American non-churchgoers visited a church’s website in the past 30 days, and almost half of them visited to check service schedules (likely to plan a visit). With numbers like these, you can’t afford not to display your church’s services in a clear and helpful way on your site.

Many Church Management Software products come with the ability to create and edit websites, which are often integrated with a member database and schedule. Because of this integration, it’s easy to sync the church calendar with the church website and make sure the service announcements are always up-to-date. And if the web-visitor is there to stream a sermon or download podcasts, ChMS can provide those things too, since that type of content can also draw visitors to your church.

2) Follow-up…Automatically

The visit happens and they’re delighted with your church. Perfect! This guest is great congregant material. However, the guest needs to feel like they belong if they’re going to come back, and it’s hard to find time to contact them personally when you’ve got a lot on your plate. ChMS can help with:

  • Phone calls:

An easy way to let this guest know they haven’t been forgotten is to send an automated phone call. If you already had them fill out a simple contact information card when they visited, you can then enter them into your member database as “guest,” which will automatically place them in the queue to receive a follow-up call thanking them and inviting them to come back. Also, since they’re marked as “guest”, if they don’t come back, they won’t be lumped in with the rest of your congregation in the database.

  • Email or Text:

Maybe phone calls weren’t enough, or maybe that’s just not your style. There are other ways to keep up. Automated emails are one of the most common functions of ChMS, and one of the most helpful. With an email, you can link to the church’s site, provide a way for the guest to get in touch, and send customized messages to different groups, like “guests.” Automated text messages sent straight to their phones can also keep them updated on upcoming services and events.

3) Enable Online Sign-ups

Speaking of emails, why not try linking to a new member’s class sign-up page? Many ChMS programs that provide websites also provide a way to put sign-ups on your church’s web page, so your guest can follow up on their experience immediately and start learning what your church is really about.You could also include a link to a small group sign-up page. As you probably know, joining a small group is one of the first big steps toward becoming a lasting part of the church, and it makes it that much easier if you provide sign-ups online.

So there you go. Using a bunch of great ChMS features, you’ve made contact and followed up with your guests, giving them an easy path into the church community.

Are you ready to start remembering every guest and welcoming more of them as permanent members of your community? Start looking for ChMS software today.

About Leah Merrill

Leah MerrillLeah Merrill is a Software Analyst for Capterra, where she specializes in helping church administrators find church management software. When she’s not helping churches and non-profit organizations find the right software on the Capterra Church Management Blog, you’ll find her reading, writing, and spending time with her family and friends. Follow Capterra for church management news on Twitter @CapterraChMS.

Your Turn

My current church is likely too small for such a software investment.  Most of our communications are email blasts, text blasts, and a chat group on WhatsApp.

But as your church grows, a software system could help you manage your assimilation process, to help your visitors develop that come back habit and make new friends (2 critical steps to keep more of your church visitors)

In fact, a using sequential follow up system based on a church management software is the main point of Nelson Searcy’s book, Fusion, one of my favorite books on church visitor assimilation.

I talk a lot about visitor follow up in my recorded class on visitor assimilation (available for purchase)

Regarding church management software, my question for you:

If your church uses a Church Management Software, what is the best feature you like about it.

Describe the feature and how it helps you.

Answer in the comments below.

Why your small church should have a reception after your service

I was an associate pastor in a small church.  We had to carefully manage every dime received through the offering plate.

During lean seasons, we had to question every expense in the budget.

Sometimes we’d question the value of spending money on coffee and snacks after the morning service.  Our pastor prided himself on his thrifty Scottish heritage and often looked for ways to not spend money if there was no value received.

Should our church have spent precious gifts from our members on little food items to have  a small fellowship time after church?

Was it worth the effort to buy napkins, cups, plates?

Did making coffee make any difference?

Did the pastry matter?

Church Hospitality Reception

Pastor, I liked your sermon

Our church had a reception in  room right off the sanctuary.  Guests were invited every Sunday to visit with us and maybe even share a prayer request.

One Sunday, an immigrant approached me after the service.  She had grabbed her cup of coffee and sweetened it with sugar.  Then grabbing a fresh pastry, she asked me to join her at the table.

“Pastor, I like your sermon,” she said in accented English.

I felt a nudge of the Holy Spirit that put me on alert that God was wanting to do something.

“Tell me more,” I invited.

She began to tell me about how listening to my sermons answered some of her questions, how easy they were to understand.  She told me how she was learning about God and what it meant to start following Jesus.

As I listened, the nudge of the Holy Spirit felt heavier.  It felt stronger.  Perhaps something like what Phillip might have felt before talking with the Ethiopian Eunuch.

I don’t remember some of the next phases in the conversation, but it eventually moved into me sharing the gospel with her, using the bridge illustration as my default presentation.

We had a napkin handy, so I drew out the illustration there.

When I finished and asked her where she would put herself on that diagram, she indicated that she was ready to trust in Jesus.  With that open door, I led her in a prayer of dedication, offering her life to the Lord and inviting him to come in.

A few months later, she took baptism and got involved in an international student ministry to help other immigrant students discover Jesus.

Did the pastry make the difference?

Church Visitor Reception

Source: Flickr

A fellowship time after our service in a small church provided a context for a life changing conversation to occur. 

This young lady had been listening to sermons, visiting with church members after the service, and developed enough trust to talk about issue on her mind.

The fellowship time provided the context.

Without that context, she might not have stayed.

Without that staying on a regular basis, she might not have surrendered her life that day.

Did the pastry we paid for make the difference?  Of course not.

But the food, fellowship, and the coffee created a relational context for her life to change.

Anecdotal evidence suggests food and beverage gives a person a greater willingness to linger and may help set a comfort level that can create a conversational context.

In my church visitor assimilation seminar (now available for download), one item I focus on why you need some kind of lingering space after the worship service.

A reception helps your small church ministry

A visitor reception like this is one of my top six ways to follow up on a first time church visitor.  Don’t go cheap.  Allow your church hospitality committee to spend the money on this reception.

In my current church, the reception after the service often allows people to stay for another hour (and sometimes 2) after the service is over.

  • Conversations happen.
  • Connections are made.
  • Relationships built.
  • People pray for one another.

Enough relationships are established that second and third visits happen.

If you are leading a small church, you’ll need to create some kind of relational space for newcomers to get to know you.  A reception immediately after the service creates that space.

Your guests can

  • choose to stay and visit,
  • sit with a friendly church member and
  • start a conversation that may lead to that second visit.

Not every guest will take you up on it.  Some will be in a hurry to leave.

But others will choose to linger, to learn more about your church, maybe even to seek out someone to pray with.  Make sure your church greeters are looking for people who might be newcomers.

I have concluded that the funds for a small reception like this are untouchable, and should be increased.

Your reception should have quality beverages, quality snack items, and well made coffee.

Spend the money on table cloths, tables, and chairs to give your guests and members a place to sit.  That’s what one church welcome committee did with their hospitality budget.

I’ve learned that this one small reception can make a big difference in your visitor assimilation.

Outreach to visitors is not a place to be tight on budget.  That is part of your evangelism budget – but that’s my biased opinion.

Check out this church hospitality resource

Church Hospitality BookHow to Welcome Church Visitors is a compilation of several hospitality articles all in one place formatted into one eBook.

It is for church hospitality committees, leaders, and greeters that need to get a fresh vision for welcoming the visitor who comes to your church as well as practical steps to get started.

If you are in a hurry, without enough time to read all the hospitality articles here, get your copy of How To Welcome Church Visitors.

Bonus: Take me up on my offer to provide your church with free coaching.  If you buy my eBook “How To Welcome Church Visitors,” you can get the coaching call free as a bonus, instead of the $97 charge if you did the coaching by itself.  That is an 82% discount off paying for the call itself.

Fellowship Hall photo credit: The World Wants a Real Deal via cc