by Dan Reiland
The most common reason people check out your church is someone invited them.
The most common reason people leave your church is they don’t feel connected.
But what are the most common reasons people return to your church after their first visit or two?
There’s lots of conversation about church attendance patterns these days, and that affects how we measure guest retention rate, and the length of time it takes for guests to connect with your church.
Here’s a new reality, new people connect more slowly than in the past and disconnect more quickly than we’ve previously experienced. It’s a double-edged sword. It takes longer for new people to connect because they don’t necessarily attend every week. And, they disconnect faster because the best “connection factors” are relationally based and therefore depend on attendance!
We can’t change current culture, or can we?
Here are three big reasons why people attend church less frequently (not in order):
- Online church is provided 24/7 on demand, so, simply put, there is a less perceived need to physically attend a church.
- Families are busier now than ever. From demands in their jobs (travel, etc.) to sports for their kids on weekends, people are on the go nearly seven days a week.
- People get bored faster than lightening. If guests attend your church and it gives off even a hint of being out of date, not fresh, “seen this before,” or in some way behind or irrelevant, they are gone!
That’s difficult to compete with, so perhaps competing is not the answer. We might be wise to focus just a little less on why people don’t come, and invest more energy into why people do come. Focusing on what church does best is a smarter approach. Doing it the way your church does it best is smarter still.
That takes us back to the top reasons guests return to your church. Put your energy here.
Top Seven Reasons Guests Return:
1) The presence of God is felt.
There is an unmistakable awareness of the presence and power of God at work. It may be inspirational and filled with emotion, or a more quiet and peaceful stirring within, but however it’s experienced, the presence of God is felt.
2) The key leaders are perceived as trustworthy.
Guests come to your church at varying levels of “readiness” to trust the leaders they encounter. But it’s surprising how quickly they can discern if they trust you or not. Even from only a message or two, or brief connections in the lobby, they intuitively have decided if they can trust you. Your level of authenticity and clarity of communication make a huge difference in this process.
3) The worship service is positive, relevant, biblically sound and executed with heart and excellence.
You don’t have to compete with the other churches near you. The important thing is to be the very best that you can. For example, if the worship team isn’t strong, select less challenging music, and do it with excellence. If the preaching isn’t strong, make the message shorter. In all cases, keep practicing, so you get better. Make sure the service is positive, clearly biblical, upbeat and communicates faith in an atmosphere of grace.
4) The volunteers and congregation express authentic love and care.
Genuine love and attention is unmistakable and irresistible. When people encounter it, it’s truly transforming. The source is God’s love, but the expression and experience come from the people in your congregation, both from your volunteer leaders and regular attenders.
5) They hear current stories of life change.
Connected to brief and creative communication of your purpose or mission/vision are stories of life change every week. These stories need to be communicated in a variety of creative ways. That is hugely compelling and draws people back. Life change is inspiring, and it gives hope that they too can experience positive and spiritually oriented change.
6) There are no “glaring” shortcomings.
There are no perfect churches, we all have flaws. But there should be nothing that is an immediate turn-off, or so grossly out of line that it makes people feel awkward and uncomfortable. For example, I’ve seen nurseries that were unclean and unsafe. I’ve listened to worship sets that were painfully unrehearsed. Or it may be something as simple as the building is in desperate need of a fresh coat of paint or signage that is clear and helpful. If you are not sure, invite a church consultant to come in for one Sunday—that’s all it takes!
7) The children’s ministry is outstanding.
Each of your ministries matter, but children’s ministry is the one that receives the least grace from your guests. Parents are justifiably protective and want the best for their kids. They don’t yet know you or what happens when they drop off their children. Candidly, guests will give an “average” service another shot, but if their child has a bad experience, they will not likely return. Invest great effort and energy in your children’s ministry.
These are the elements that inspire guests to return. This gives you the opportunity to make the “deeper connections.”
The most common paths to deeper connection—(longer term, greater commitment and ownership of the vision) are:
- Small groups
- Serving opportunities
- Deeper friendships
Make your next steps simple and clear.
Leading a local church is complicated. But sometimes breaking it down like this helps you become more intentional and know where to invest your energy best.
Dr. Dan Reiland serves as Executive Pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as Executive Pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as Vice President of Leadership and Church Development at INJOY. He and Dr. Maxwell still enjoy partnering on a number of church related projects together.