Here is something that I’ve realized in my recent church shopping experience: most of us who are visiting your church aren’t coming because your pastor is a stunning communicator, we’re not coming because your worship leader looks like Keith Urban and leads like Matt Redman, we’re not even here because Disney takes cues from your children’s ministry. Most of us are here because we want relationships. We want to know and be known. We are walking through a lonely, difficult time in life and we “want to go where everyone knows your name.” And churches (not yours of course) can make that really hard.
After visiting several churches and not really cracking the code on how to connect (other than attending the pancake breakfast), my wife decided she was going to solve the riddle. After service on a recent weekend she waited in line at the table designated “Connect” to ask how we could get into a small group. When she reached the front of the line the volunteer explained that we were at the wrong table and walked her over to the correct line. When her turn finally came she asked again how we might join a small group. The very sweet volunteer was very well versed in the process:
“Our small groups don’t start until the middle of next month, so if you come back in two or three weeks you can fill out an interest form. The form will go to the Small Groups Coordinator, who will give it to several group leaders based on your interests. Those group leaders will then contact you and you will then be invited to attend their small group.”
This was a well thought out system, which was explained by well-trained volunteers who were warm, friendly and helpful. The challenge is that we left knowing that we were at least a month from actually connecting with someone. In the meantime if something comes up in our lives where we really need a friend to lean into we can always drop by the pancake breakfast.
Churches should be more like car lots. I could never walk away from a car lot wondering how to buy a car, or be told to come back in a few days, or have to give my phone number so someone can call later and talk about car ownership. I’m not suggesting churches should be pushy or over-bearing, but we should adopt the motto of car salesmen, “How can I put you in this car today?" If the main reason people are showing up at church is to find relationships there has to be a way to help them connect today. Not next month, not at the pancake breakfast on Saturday, but today.
How can you create an obvious and easy opportunity for people who want to meet people every weekend at your church? If it’s a reception with the pastor then make sure you have friendly connectors there as well. If it’s a box lunch in the basement make sure it isn’t awkward for people who don’t know where the basement is, when it starts or what they are supposed to do when they first get there. And for the love of all that is good don’t let the members clump up in little circles laughing and talking to one another at your connection opportunity. Newcomers don’t need yet another chance to feel left out.
This isn’t about consumer Christianity or church growth; this is about people going through life alone desperate for a friend. This is the central theme of discipleship, that we love one another. People want to connect, you want people to connect, let’s put significant time and energy into making this happen.