How much time does it take for a visitor to decide whether or not they will return to your church? Experts pose differing numbers on this. Some say as quickly as 90 seconds. Others say three minutes. Still others say they take as long as 12 minutes to decide. Whoever is right, making a good first impression is imperative if you are going to retain first time visitors. Doing this well will change as your church grows.
Churches with attendance under 150 can make a friendly first impression by stationing two or three outgoing volunteers at their front doors. In this size church, newcomers are able to look around the crowd and find the “people like me” pretty quickly. “People like me,” is key to assimilating newcomers in smaller churches.
Once you get to 200 or more, the number of names and faces is large enough that you’ll an exceptionally committed volunteer to be at the door at least 45 weekends a year. Since the average Sunday school teacher only attends church 39 weeks a year, you probably won’t find such a person. Hence, a staff member needs to assume this responsibility. When our church was under 400, my associate pastor met every first time visitor and introduced them to others. If you ask anyone who came during that era, “Who did you meet first?” there answer was always, “Scott Evans.”
Above 400, first impressions must be everyone’s responsibility. The average church welcomes three visitors per week for every 100 attendees. So at 400, you’ll have 12 or more brand new guests each weekend. No one person can meet and introduce them all to someone like them. Welcoming becomes a family affair.
At New Song, I ask our Core to “LINE-UP” every weekend.
L = Look for someone you don’t know.
I = Introduce yourself.
N = Never sit alone.
E = Engage in conversation after the service.
U = Use the RU New Café (our monthly lunch for newcomers).
P = Practice the 3/10 Rule (talk to 3 people you don’t know during the first 10 minutes after the service).
LINE-UP has made us one of the friendliest churches in the world. And it’s scalable, so it ought to work for yours too. Embed the process in your people by teaching it at leadership meetings, new members’ classes, and at least annually in church.
Hal Seed is the founding and Lead Pastor of New Song Community Church in Oceanside, CA. Hal mentors pastors to lead healthy, growing churches. He offers resources to help church leaders at www.pastormentor.com.
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