Why Don't People Come Back?

I think this will make for some great conversations, but right now I just need not to lose it. Of course, if you have a comment, please feel free to share it.

15 Reasons Why First-Time Guests May Not Return
  1. No welcome from the parking lot to the pews.
  2. Finding the right door to sanctuary appeared difficult.
  3. People in the pews held on to their “good seats.”
  4. Too many “churchy insider words” like doxology and introit throughout the worship experience.
  5. No safe, clean nursery for the babies and toddlers.
  6. No sincere greeting extended by pastors or members.
  7. No warmth or hospitality extended.
  8. Missing joy and a spiritual atmosphere.
  9. No sense of family in the church community.
  10. Very limited reaching out to outsiders or strangers.
  11. Very few ministries or activities for youth or children.
  12. Public recognition of guests that left them feeling uncomfortable.
  13. Appears to be no vision or purpose for the congregation.
  14. On Sunday morning, members and ushers seem focused on “member only” conversations.
  15. No one invited them back.

10 thoughts on “Why Don't People Come Back?

  1. I surprised a good impression of the minister isn’t up there. We pride ourselves on hiring professionals. They’re key to the service. If they make a bad impression everything from 1 to 15 becomes irrelevant.

  2. I’m thinking of my little emerging congregation in the wilds of southern Illinois.

    1. & 15. We don’t typically greet in the parking lot, but we usually greet multiply once a newcomer is inside and, if they don’t dash out the door, we usually speak with them again after the service. HOWEVER, if someone arrives after we have started, there usually isn’t someone at the door to greet and seat the new person. We are so small (23 members) that it hasn’t seemed very useful to plan for this. Yet. But I can see how the person arriving 2 minutes late for a first visit might feel less than fully welcome.

    2. Which door to use IS self-evident at my church. But only a few weeks back, I visited one of our venerable churches and was given no assistance with an absolutely not self-evident entry to the sanctuary. It can be an issue.

    4. My congregation’s small size results in whichever volunteer has the service on a particularly Sunday also being the one to compose and print the order of service. We don’t have a lot of jargon making it in the order of service.

    However, I occasionally use headings for various sections of the service. One I’m thinking of has non-jargonesque headings through the body of the service but starts and ends with a (not particularly ecclesiastical) Prologue and Epilogue. I wracked my brain trying to find non-lame non-ecclesiastical headers to replace them but finally left them.

    5. & 11. This one is very difficult for such a small congregation. We have only rarely had visitors with children. (Most of our visitors are retired or nearing retirement.) And if we “build it so they will come,” so to speak, then we take attendance out of the worship service. We have a very committed member who is strongly concerned with CRE issues. But with no expectation of attendance other than from her own children and with no realistic possibility of splitting into age-specific groups, what is she (what are we) to do?

    I realize the emerging congregation has some unique issues here. But any ideas to help would be appreciated.

    By the way, Rev. Sean, I appreciated your participation in GA this year.

  3. Well, I can think of quite a few more possibilities.

    1. They didn’t believe what was being taught.
    2. Their children said Sunday School was boring.
    3. The minister was boring.
    4. The singing was embarassingly lackluster.
    5. The sharing/prayer requests showed uncomfortable lack of boundaries.
    6. They were pounced on and invited back with no real regard to whether this was the right church for them.
    7. They looked around and saw nobody “like them” (race, class, age, dress, parent status, politics, marital status, sexual identity, etc. etc.)
    8. Communion was served but they were not allowed to participate.

  4. I was talking with a friend about this very thing at Social Hour this past Sunday. She suggested that one size does not fit all at Social Hour. Some people are dying to be engaged, while others might prefer to hang back and observe. She thought that reading body language was a key skill for greeters and others providing hospitality…so they understand when it’s time to give a newcomer some space if they need it.

  5. Another possible reason: the newcomer loves the service and feels welcomed in general, but is horrified by the mean/inappropriate things that they overhear some congregants say about their minister during coffee hour.

  6. All fifteen points are important to remember, but there is another major factor which can affect how people perceive the rest…

    Do you make a point of extending welcome to those who are often unwelcome in other churches?

    Think of the queer person who hungers for a spiritual home, and finds one which welcomes her or him as they are, imperfect though it may be. They may not be good at greeting people warmly or frequently, or avoiding overly ecclesiastical language, or offering practical amenities. But when given the choice between a church which practices all fifteen points but only with the “right people” and a church which imperfectly welcomes everyone, where do you think an “outsider” would want to go?

    So perhaps we should consider how to welcome people, but how consistently we do so, being especially mindful of those who have been treated like the proverbial “stranger at the gate.”

  7. Well, it may simply be that the *content* of the service did not make them happy. I understand that most American church-goers are of the Protestant Christian type, and therefore finding a church that does not speak about typical Protestant themes and does not use Christian words may confuse them. Furthermore, if during coffee time they meet first a “witch”, then a “Jewish Buddhist with an interest in yoga” and then a “liberal atheist”, they may feel that they went to the wrong “church” or will look for something more standard.

  8. Hello!
    I have only been there once, but I was warmly greeted, The music first-rate(I am a Musician), and the service that day was particular to General Assembly. The only reason I haven’t been back is I live in New York. If I lived in the area you would be my congregation. Do not be discouraged. U.U. isn’t for everyone.


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