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

Bill Ellenberger is founding president for the ministry Faithful Path in Tyrone. He was born and raised in Tyrone. Faithful Path is a ministry to support church lay-leaders without pastors to assist in the process of finding their next pastor. Bill, who is ordained, also speaks to final year seminary, Bible College & Bible institute students as to what to expect as a new pastoral
candidate. He is known by his peers as a visionary leader. You can reach him via email at Bill@FaithfulPath.com or visit their website at: www.FaithfulPath.com.

Many church members, lay-leaders, and pastors inquire about 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 a being friendly church?
As we all know and have heard, those first impressions are key. They are never more important than our church’s 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.
“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.
Being a healthy, growing front-door church requires:
1. Effective ways to invite people to church
2. A worship service that is well presented
3. A pastor who is an above-average preacher
4. Workable systems for welcoming newcomers
5. Clear pathways for becoming involved in membership and/or ministry
Only about 10 percent of churches in the United States are side-door churches. In a side-door church, most of the new people who connect with the church make first contact through a ministry other than the worship service, for example, through small groups, adult classes, and other types of ministries.
Being a healthy side-door church requires:
1. A high value on evangelism and meeting people’s needs
2. Effective ways to invite newcomers to the various groups and classes offered by the church
3. A well-designed and functional small-group ministry
4. A pastor who has an above-average ability to delegate responsibilities
5. Laypeople committed to caring for those outside the church
A few churches combine both front-door and side-door ministries effectively. Often such churches explode in growth (numerical and spiritual) due to the numerous ways people are invited, welcomed, and involved in church ministry.
Rates of Retention
Welcoming people is a never-ending process. Research completed in the late 1980s found that a church must keep about 16 percent of its first-time guests to experience a minimal growth rate of 5 percent a year. Rapidly growing churches keep between 25 and 30 percent of their first-time guests. Declining churches keep only about 5 to 8 percent of their first-time guests. By using the average of 16 percent, we can calculate the number of guests our church needs to grow. As an example, a church that wants to add 50 new members this year will need to have a minimum of 300 guests attend its worship services during the year.
The same research revealed the crucial importance of getting guests to return for a second visit. A church keeps about 85 percent of its guests who come back for a second visit the week after their first visit. This points out the importance of being gracious hosts the first time, so that our guests will feel encouraged to return.
The Importance of Relationships
When people make friends, become involved in a group, and find a place to serve, they will remain in a church. People stay in churches primarily because of relationships. Research has demonstrated that newcomers who remain in a church more than six months have an average of seven friends in their church, while people who drop out of a church average only two friends.
As new people come into a church, new small groups must be formed. Friendships develop when people gather together in groups, particularly when the group is working toward a common purpose. Groups normally close quickly to the addition of new people, making it crucial that churches keep starting new groups.
Not only do great hosts help their guests feel welcome, but also they introduce new people to new friends and help them find a place of involvement in group settings.
A Science and an Art
Welcoming people is a science and an art. While there are principles and practices that can be followed to help churches be better hosts, welcoming guests so that they stay is more than applying scientific methods.
The healthiest churches are intentional about welcoming people, but becoming members of a church is not the same as fitting in or belonging. At the root of being a great host is the faith that God will welcome the newcomer into our midst as we put into practice well-designed strategies and plans.”
I pray this has been insightful for you and your church. Sometimes, it is the simple things that can impact people the most. “We are Christ’s ambassadors and God is using us to speak to you. We urge you, as though Christ himself were here pleading with you, Be reconciled to God.!” 2 Corinthians 5: 19-20 NLTB
Stay focused on the King, Bill

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