Our family checked out a nearby church when we lived in the San Antonio area.  One of the privileges of this season of our lives (searching for a pastoral position) is being able to visit a lot of churches.  Through our experience as church planters, pastors and in associate pastoral roles over the past 25+ years we know churches inside and out.  But because of what we have learned in secular (unchurched) Europe we view every church through the lens of outsiders, especially Millennials and others that are far from God.

In visiting this church on Sunday we saw some things that were really good and things that would cause an unchurched person to never come back.  When all was said and done, they missed a big opportunity.

When we walked into the church we were greeted by four different people, all of whom were genuinely friendly.  That was a HUGE thing.  The usher at the back of the main room asked us, “Where do you want to sit?” instead of telling us where to sit.

When the service started, the music leader was good, but her drummer was bad.  I don’t mean not good… I mean bad.  He slowed down every song DRASTICALLY.  Robin mentioned at one point that she wanted to rush the stage, steal his drumsticks and just keep on running 🙂

Let me add here that you need to work with whoever you have.  If you don’t have studio quality musicians, that’s okay. Give them enough vision that they WANT to improve.  If they are unable to improve on their own, help them find a teacher and lessons. If they are unwilling, they either don’t understand the why or they don’t care.  Whatever you do, understand that since the music is at the beginning of the service your band/singers are the face of your church.  Don’t put bad musician/singers onstage if you can at all help it.

Moving right along… the pastor began his message by stating that it would really only apply to a few people in the room.  He asked for a show of hands, and there was only one person that it applied to, besides himself.  Beyond that, there was no invitation to get involved emotionally.  There was no connection point (capturing our attention).  He tried to impress us with his theological knowledge. Unfortunately he lost us in the first two minutes and never worked to get us plugged in.

And worst of all, if we had been unchurched visitors we would have walked out and never looked back.  His message didn’t apply to our lives at all!  He did have some good things to say in his message.  But Robin and I both felt as if he was teaching through his seminary notes.  I’m assuming they prayed for unchurched visitors, but they weren’t prepared for them. Most pastors and church members have been INSIDE the church so long that they’ve totally forgotten what it’s like to be OUTSIDE of it.

If your goal is to reach the unchurched, read on.  If not, you can stop here and focus on discipling the people God has given you.

So what SHOULD have happened?  The welcoming factor was great at first… Keep it up!

Next, I would say you need to help your church members think through what a visitor experiences when they walk onto your campus. Help them see your weekend experience through an unchurched person’s fears, hangups and everyday life.  If you honestly don’t know what an unchurched person feels when they come to your church, you should invite one and then take them out to lunch afterward.  Ask them to be honest with you and ask them for honest feedback.  Don’t avoid the uncomfortable questions.  Ask open ended questions, “What did you think/feel when…” rather than, “Did you like it?”  Be sure to ask if they can tell what your church values and if clear next steps were presented.

You could also hire a “mystery church shopper” – someone who is unknown at your church that will provide honest feedback on how well your church does in different areas such as embodying the mission/vision/values, your welcome factor, facilities, stage presentation, etc.

In my experience, you can’t put a price tag on HONEST feedback! A leader’s first job is to define reality, not just what you wish it was.  If you are truly concerned with reaching the unchurched, you need to know the reality on the ground.  You can’t take steps toward your dream without first determining where you are now.

Let me add that my family are willing to be “mystery church shoppers” for your church until I step into a permanent pastoral position.  Robin and I will evaluate the overall ministry, while my girls can give insight into your youth program. Just a thought…

Your thoughts? Join the conversation below…