If someone were to ask you if the church you attend is friendly, I imagine that you as most others would answer, Sure! I mean, were friendly, arent we? We shake hands, we know folks, we pray for each other, we give the visitors special parking and a little sticker to put on their lapel. Doesnt that qualify as friendly?
As a transplant to true Southern culture (not to be confused with the culture of South Florida where I previously lived), I have found that we often confuse being friendly with being a friend.
In our minds, perhaps. We aim to be friendly. We feel friendly. We even want to be friendly. But probably, in too many churches, guests feel like outsiders in spite of our intentions.
When you consider how much effort is spent trying to get people to come into the church, youd think that wed be a little more mindful of how we treat them once they do drop in for a visit. We advertise, promote, invite and even bribe people to come visit our church, yet there is growing evidence that we are putting our attention in the wrong place.
Studies have shown that the single most important factor in predicting whether a church will grow is not the number of visitors that come through the doors; it is the percentage of them that stick around. It is the Velcro Factor; not the Magnet Factor.
Research indicates that there is very little difference between growing churches and churches that are at a plateau with respect to the Magnet Factor. Both growing churches and stagnant churches have visitors. Both have around 3% - 5% visiting. This is plenty of visitors to meet, evangelize, disciple and get to know. The big difference between growing churches and flat-lined churches is that in growing churches, the visitors stick around. Growing churches are sticky. This is the single most important factor in predicting the growth of a church The Velcro Factor.
The single most important factor in predicting the Velcro factor is the Attention Factor - how much personal attention we pay to visitors. The single best way to pay attention to visitors is to see that someone - and hopefully several someones - invite visitors to lunch, pizza or an evening of fellowship. The single most important factor in predicting whether people invite visitors to lunch is the example of the leadership (pastor, staff, deacons, teachers, disciplers, class officers, …).
Now keep in mind that in many cases we might even be dealing with folks who do not have a relationship with Christ. Perhaps they came as a result of a special invitation from someone, maybe they are going through a crisis in their life, maybe there was a special speaker or even that drew them into your church. In these cases, building a relationship wherein we can communicate the Gospel of Christ is of utmost importance.
Few people will stumble into a church, hear a gospel sermon and find themselves at an altar repenting of their sins and accepting Gods grace for eternal life. In todays culture, people are often cynical or at least inquisitive. The idea of quickie conversions that largely consist of an emotional response to a manipulative message and crowned with a repeat-after-me prayer is as ludicrous as it is unscriptural. Indeed, some conversions are faster than others we must not take shortcuts to teaching the full message of the gospel to those being called by the Holy Spirit to salvation.
Part of communicating the gospel is establishing a relationship, ascertaining ones spiritual need and patiently answering questions and explaining Truth. This means we need people skills and a spirit of hospitality. Thats why Paul reminded us that we are Ambassadors of Christ Jesus our demeanor, our attitude, our love for people are all used by the Lord as He draws people to Himself.
Perhaps this is why Paul noted that hospitality is to be a qualification for leadership in the Christian church: Church leaders must “be given to hospitality.” Titus 1:7-8
We must not only have guests in our home or take them to lunch or invite them to an event with us, but we should enjoy it. It is the most important thing. If we do that, we can lead others to do so. If we do that, we can enjoy a healthy Velcro Factor and see plenty of visitors join, many of them accepting God’s love for them for the first time.
Since beginning to think about this, Ive watched the behavior in my own church not just our members, but my own. Often, it is easy to spot a new face and go up and welcome them warmly, shake their hand and ask them how they are doing. But then, we tend to move quickly on to more familiar territory where conversations are conducted and continued. Hugs are exchanged. Plans are made.
As a pastor, Ive rarely experienced what it is like to attend a church as an outsider for the first time. Im either in my role as a pastor or Im an invited guest to speak. I recall visiting in a large church in Greenville, South Carolina a few years ago with a black friend and noting the underlying racial tension that existed in what was an all-white congregation. I can remember wanting to bolt from the door feeling out of place and uncomfortable.
Im committing to becoming more hospitable to those around me. Whether it is toward the waitress at the restaurant that waits on me regularly or the family thats just moved to town and are looking for a church (and a doctor and a barber and the right grocery store), I want to go beyond being friendly and genuinely be a friend. Somehow I think if I change my focus on what is really friendly behavior Ill be able to point them to Christ and His family with greater ease and success.