Walking in the Right Direction A column by Bill Ellenberger for The Daily Herald

Creating a Welcoming Congregation Part 1
Much of the work of Faithful Path is answering questions. Many church members, lay-leaders, and pastors inquire about effective ways and procedures to be more effective. They feel their church is friendly, but how does a church reflect this to a visitor with greater impact of being a friendly church?
Since 1989, I have been in over two hundred and thirty churches serving with a ministry organization. As we all know and have heard, that first impressions are key. They are never more important than our churches’ first impression to a first time visitor.
Gary McIntosh has written a report/book, Adapted with permission from Beyond the First Visit, BakerBooks, 2006, about his finding. I have recognized some of these things firsthand. Here is what he has to share with us.
“There was a Welcoming – guests do not happen by accident or even naturally. Churches that sit back and expect new people to find their way into the church’s networks of friendships and participants are going to be disappointed.
In most churches the social and service networks are closed to the natural addition of new people—so new people simply cannot find their way in.
Of course, there are some people who work their way into the life and ministry of a church. For example, if you do not invite highly gregarious (friendly or sociable) people out for dinner, they invite you. If you do not shake their hand, they shake yours. Unfortunately, very few newcomers are highly gregarious. The average guest simply does not have the desire or personality to fight his or her way into the social networks of the church.
Growing churches do not expect guests to find their way alone through the maze of relationships and expectations of their church.
In today’s world only 30 percent of our guests will come from a sister church or one of a similar background. That means that 70 percent come with little or no understanding of our church. When nearly three-fourths of our guests arrive either with no church background or from a church that is quite different, there is a corresponding lack of knowledge about our church.
Many guests will not be familiar with our worship format. They will not know when to stand, sit, or kneel. Others will not know our songs, language, and religious jargon. They will not know how to fit in or get involved in ministry. Therefore, we must be intentional in developing effective ways to move guests beyond the first visit if our churches are to thrive.
It may help you first to analyze how your visitors arrive in your church:
Front-Door and Side-Door Churches
Churches have doors through which people enter and exit. Some churches are front-door churches, others are side-door churches, and a very few are multiple-door churches. All churches have back doors — ways people leave a church.
About 90 percent of churches in the United States are front-door churches. This means that most of the new people who connect with the church will make first contact through the worship service, rather than through small groups or other ministries. Churches that focus primarily on front-door ministry must put major emphasis on being effective hosts.”
Next time we will look into the impact of Front-Door and Side-Door impact of your church to visitors.
“Be careful how you live among your unbelieving neighbors. Even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will believe and give honor to God when he comes to judge the world.” 1 Peter 3: 20 NLTB
Stay focused on the King, Bill

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