By Rev. Leigh Ann Raynor
I start this article with a statement that I hope applies only to the “things” in your life, not to your relationships. The statement is, “The longer we are around something, the less we notice it.” Let me give you an example. Since 1981 I have lived in six parsonages, two of which I truly disliked. The one I disliked most had a different color combination of orange carpet in every room. Orange and red shag in the bedrooms, orange and green shag in the living room, orange and yellow shag on the stairs. But the worst was the kitchen, which had indoor/outdoor carpet with a pattern consisting of orange, black and green.
I truly hated every carpet in that house, but here is what happened: the more I was around it, the less I noticed it. As loud and hideous as it was, it disappeared to me because I had grown so familiar with it. When I would have guests in the house, however, I would open the kitchen door and they would immediately exclaim some version of, “Oh my gosh! How do you live with this?” It would take me a second to realize they were talking about the carpet since I barely noticed it anymore.
Unfortunately, it can be that way in our churches as well: the more we are around something, the less we notice it. It is important, however, to look at our churches with a visitor’s eyes. What do our guests see that we no longer notice? People who are in our churches every week or multiple times per week can grow so accustomed to the peeling paint or the dirty carpet that they no longer notice it, but your guests will see it right away.
I know that we can’t always afford to fix everything that needs to be updated in a church. At Porterfield we have an entire building of carpet that needs to be replaced, but it just isn’t something we can do right now. But since we can’t afford every repair we need, these are the things we do:
There’s no doubt in my mind that our visitors notice the age of some things at Porterfield, but hopefully they also notice that while the buildings are old, they are clean. It doesn’t cost anything but time to have a Spring and Fall cleaning at your church where as many people as possible come to help.
It is also important that we look at our own behavior through the eyes of a guest to our churches. Most church members would describe themselves as being friendly, but sometimes the reality is that they are friendly to each other. It is important that we train people to be on the lookout for any guests we have on Sunday morning. Help them to feel welcome without feeling overwhelmed. Definitely have a time of greeting or passing the peace on Sunday mornings. Regardless of what individual members think about doing that during a service, a time of greeting will make your guests feel welcome without being singled-out.
And finally, look at your neighborhood with fresh eyes as well. At Porterfield we have a ministry that was an idea we appropriated from Thomasville First. It’s a Welcome Basket/Bag ministry, and it’s the easiest ministry you’ll ever do. We had reusable canvas bags imprinted with our logo and other information. We keep those bags stocked with information about the church, as well as a small gift like a coffee mug with the church’s logo. When one of our members sees that they have a new neighbor, they pick-up one of the welcome bags and then add to it a frozen chicken casserole and frozen pound cake that other members have made specifically for this ministry and that we keep in the freezer at the church. It is an instant welcome basket for your new neighbor, and it gives your members an opportunity to invite that person/family to your church.
My advice for growing the church starts with looking at your facilities, your neighborhood, and even yourself, through the eyes of a guest.
Leigh Ann Raynor is the Senior Pastor at Porterfield Memorial United Methodist Church. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Rev. Leigh Ann Raynor
Sometime last year a friend was repairing something in the parsonage for me and he asked me for a Phillips Head screwdriver. I did know what that was, and I did know I had one. But where? I have a bad habit of not putting things back exactly where I got them, so it was possible that the screwdriver could have been in the junk drawer in the kitchen, in a basket in the laundry room, or in any of several other places. I remember jokingly saying to one of my best friends, “I need a toolkit, but I want a pink one.” She couldn’t find a pink one, but for Christmas I got a purple toolkit.
Here are two things I discovered:
Institutions, including churches, sometimes get so stuck in the way they do things that they fail to use all of the tools that are available to them. Web pages, Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, Constant Contact, Worship Planning Center, Instagram, Vine…there are thousands of tools for churches to use in reaching their own communities, and many of them are free. The problem is that some churches don’t use those tools either because they don’t know how to use them, or worse, they think that because they don’t know how to use that tool, or they’ve never used that tool before, it has no usefulness.
Let me give you an example. Survey Monkey is free, and in the past I have used it to survey first-time visitors to a worship service. (To do this, your “check-in” card or sheet at church must include a place for the guest to leave an email address.) I want feedback from our guests just like a retailer wants feedback from customers. I want to give the visitors a way to give honest feedback that they might not give if they were with me face to face. I want to know if they were greeted as they entered the service. I want to know if someone offered to help them find a seat. I want to know if the sermon was relevant to their lives. I want to know if the worship service was meaningful. I want to know if someone offered to help them find a Sunday school class. I want to ask them if they were made to feel welcome, and if not, what we could we do better. In the past I have discovered that some answers were not at all what we wanted to hear, but were exactly what we needed to hear. Remember, perception is reality.
If we, as churches, are not using the tools available to us, it may mean that we are no longer willing to learn, change and grow. Unfortunately, churches that are no longer willing to learn, change, and grow are ready to die.
Just a few days ago I watched a television commercial for a Hyundai, and the feature it was advertising was the ability to lock the car’s doors from your smart watch. As I was watching that commercial I was thinking, “Really? Someone actually needs or even wants that? It’s too hard for you to press a button on the key fob?” And as soon as I caught myself thinking that way I also thought to myself, “That kind of thinking is the way churches die.” We may not always see the usefulness or the even the relevance of the tools that are available to churches, but if we want to attract guests, especially young ones, we still need to be willing to learn.
Leigh Ann Raynor is the Senior Pastor at Porterfield Memorial United Methodist Church. She can be contacted at email@example.com.