5 Things stopping visitors coming to your church this Sunday
© Lloyd Fudge - Fotolia.com
At the Church of Christ the King in Brighton which I attend, there used to be a time when it was extremely rare for someone to walk in cold to church on a Sunday morning. Usually, visitors came because a church member invited them and brought them. However, for the last few years we've been finding that increasing numbers of visitors are coming, not because they know someone in the church already, but simply because they saw our website.
Let's think for a moment about what potential visitors are looking for: I believe they want the answers to at least five key questions – and right now people could be looking at your website and deciding whether to come along (or not) based on whether you have answers to these – and that's a sobering thought.
I look at a lot of church websites and you’d be surprised how many don’t answer these key questions – why not rate your church’s site while you read.
1. “Where do you meet?
This might seem obvious, but while planning a trip to a wedding at a church in Bournemouth, I found it almost impossible to discover the location of the building on the church’s website. It took me nearly 10 minutes of searching on their site to find it.
Attending church shouldn't involve a treasure hunt (not for the location anyway), so make sure your meeting location is really obvious – ideally with a map – or a link to one – really prominently on your website home page.
2. “When do you meet?”
Again, this should be very clear – and if there's more than one service, make it clear what the difference is between them, if any: A couple of years ago my wife and I took my mother to a lively evangelical Anglican church near her home. We’d been before to their main morning service and found it warm, informal, modern, relaxed and packed with several hundred happy people.
Imagine our surprise when we arrived at the 6.30pm service to find the congregation was the three of us plus half a dozen others, was rather formal, and consisted of a 1662 Prayer Book service – not what we were expecting and we felt very uncomfortable. Thankfully, my mother enjoyed it, but I’m not sure she had an opportunity to hear the good news in the way we’d hoped.
3. “What happens to my kids?”
This is a big one which so many churches miss: Will my children stay in for the whole service or go out from the start, or leave after 10/20/40 mins? What children's activities are available for which age groups? What happens in each of these? Even though you have age-based classes, can a visiting older sibling accompany a younger brother or sister into a class to help them settle and stay with them if necessary?
Why is this so important for visitors? Well, if I can tell my children what's going to happen and what shape the morning's going to take in advance of visiting, they're more much likely to be happy and settle. If they're happy, I will be as a parent and better able to concentrate on what's being said in the main meeting. And that might be life-changing.
4. “Are you weird?”
People don’t actually ask this out loud, but it’s an underlying question which many unchurched (and Christian) visitors have when they’re checking you out before coming along for the first time. Unfortunately, lots of churches aren’t aware how they come across to those outside.
Here are a couple of the things you can do to reassure people about your low rating on the weirdness index. Make sure you have web pages which talk about your vision and values – but avoid jargon at all costs. Have a page which shows good photos of your leadership team and staff. Include biographical information which covers more than churchy stuff – talk about interests outside going to church and studying the Bible – we want to read about real people. Remember, becoming part of a church is not just about turning up regularly at a meeting, but forming a relationship of trust with church leaders and connections with a community.
5. “What are you really like?”
This is related to the last question but is more vague and difficult to define. It encompasses notions of community, love, support – the ambiance of the church – and questions of whether the visitor will really feel at home with you.
This kind of thing can be answered somewhat by what’s on vision & values pages – both content and tone – but it’s much more than this. Good photos can tell so much and go a long way to communicating the kind of relational vibe the church has. See this blog post about the kind of photos to avoid and a couple of examples of churches who've done a great job using compelling, quality images to convey what it's like to be part of their church.
In addition, including as many quotes as possible from real people in the congregation – including photos – get them to talk about what it's really like to be part of the church. This could be the most powerful and convincing thing you put on your website, because it comes from genuine individuals, not some holy spin doctor!
Make sure you score highly on the above and you'll help more people over that first-visit barrier.
Alistair Birch, 19/06/2012