Most Sunday’s in the life of the Church I lead we are blessed to have guests join us for worship. On any given Sunday we can have between one and five guest individuals or families. Through the years I have literally spoken with thousands of people who came as first-time guests to the Church where I serve as pastor. I have discovered several things from these encounters that might help you to understand all guests, including the friends and family who attend with you.
1. Beware of people from other Churches. I know some of you are immediately angry about me saying this, but it is the truth. There are two things I have consistently encountered with this group. First, they want this Church to have the best parts of their last Church. They want a high-powered small group ministry, or teen ministry or whatever. Usually, they are more interested in what is provided for them rather than leading anything. Second, is the opposite group of people. These people despise their last Church. Their feelings were hurt, and they are distancing themselves in every way. A wise old elder one time told me, “Anyone who comes here badmouthing their last Church, will eventually leave here badmouthing this Church.” Both groups have made me leery of people who come from other Churches to join us. There have been a few wonderful who come from other Churches, but these are the exception to the rule.
2. Don’t get excited about people who get excited. Occasionally someone will attend, and they are super excited about everything at the Church. They love the worship, the sermon, and the people. They pick up information, ask about classes and guarantee they will return. Usually, that is the last time I see them. Their excitement is fleeting and forgotten by the next Sunday. If they do return, they often only last a short time. Something else more exciting comes along, and they are on to the next activity.
3. Those who show little excitement are the most likely to return. Guests who attend and stand off to the side are frequently the most interested in what is happening. They were not expecting to like it or for people to be nice and they are pleasantly surprised. They stand back waiting to see if people will continue their hospitality or if it is a momentary show. They observe quietly while deciding if they will return. Many times, they will return for weeks before sharing any information with the office on a guest card and sometimes it takes two or three weeks before they pick up a guest bag. The whole time they like the Church but remain silent.
4. People who don’t immediately return are not gone forever. Most people attend Church with no plans ever to return. They are just there to make someone happy. As a result, the next four Sundays are already booked full. More than once I have seen it take a year before someone is able to join us for worship with any regularity. Gone this week does not mean forever.
Here is the harsh reality. Somewhere between fifty to eighty percent of guests will not return. They will not like the Church’s music, the preacher, the way people dress or whatever. Others will like what they experience and want to return. I usually lump them into one of the four groups above. Maybe this is you or someone you know. I hope you do not see these words as the ranting of a bitter old preacher; instead, these are the way my encounters have gone through the years. I love guests who come to worship with us, but those who stick are not usually the ones you would think.