10 ways churches over-promise and under-deliver on guest-friendliness

May 2, 2017 | by Gerry Lewis

So, you think your church is guest-friendly? Maybe it is, but maybe you’re just trying to be friendly to guests. It’s not the same thing. 

I would love for every person who ever told me, “We are the friendliest church in town,” to be telling the truth. Most of them think they are, but the truth is that they are friendly to each other. What they don’t understand is that guest-friendly should be thought of more regarding user-friendly than warm fuzzies.

We are big on making promises. We are not always big on keeping them.  Not that we don’t intend to keep them. We just have a habit of over-promising and under-delivering. There may not be a better example in churches than the concept of guest-friendliness. 

Examples of how churches over-promise andunder-deliveron guest-friendliness

    1. A “Welcome Center” that is unmanned and disorganized. I visited a church recently that had a table with a sign that said “Welcome Center.” No one was there.  It was scattered with bulletins from the previous week. I did not feel welcomed.

    2. A stand and greet time, but no friendship space.  Full disclosure requires that I admit my introversion.  I have two terms for the “stand and greet time.” The first is “faux-lowship" because it usually falls short of real fellowship. The second is the “let’s make all the guests and introverts feel uncomfortable while we pretend we are friendly” time. Guests tend to be either ignored or mobbed during this time. Neither of those is helpful.

    3. A website that doesn’t give guests necessary information and is out of date. It is amazing how many churches don’t have the church address and service times on their home page. Even worse is when online visitors have to create a login to access basic information.

    4. Greeters inside the main entrance doors. When a guest has to come inside the building to find a greeter, they are already at a disadvantage (and may already be frustrated).

    5. No designated guest parking. Nothing says, “You are welcome here,” like distant parking. Guests are not likely to show up early to get the best parking spots (especially if the website doesn’t give the service times).

    6. Poor directional signage. A guest should never have to navigate the church facilities alone, but there should be enough signs that it could be done.  

    7. Poor handicap accessibility. Lack of ramps and wheelchair accessible restrooms sends a clear message to the handicapped and elderly: we don’t want you here.

    8. Inconvenient and messy restrooms.  It is not just handicap accessibility that makes a bad impression. I’ve been in church restrooms that were nearly impossible to find, had poor lighting, smelled bad, and looked like the trash hadn’t been emptied in weeks.

    9. Unprioritized nursery. I know a small church pastor who has been trying for several years to get his church to build a nursery. Their answer?  We don’t have any babies. Could there possibly be a connection?

    10. A complicated and invasive guest card. The guest card is a great opportunity to start a conversation. It should not be seen as a way to build a database.  I’ve been involved in church for over 50 years and in ministry for almost 40, and I still don’t like giving all that personal information on a guest card at church.

One big idea

Let guest-friendliness be an area of constant growth and development. Focus on one area at a time and give it all the support it needs for sustainability and excellence before you move to the next. Prioritize by considering which areas can make the biggest impact at the earliest date. It is better to under-promise and over-deliver by making fewer promises, but exceeding expectations with excellence.


Topics: Consulting, Evangelism & Outreach, Leadership, Ministry


Gerry Lewis / Gerry Lewis serves as Executive Director of the Harvest Baptist Association in Decatur, Texas. He is also a Church Consultant and Leadership Coach. His weekly blog and podcasts can be found at drgerrylewis.com.
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