By JB Brayfindley
Contributor to Instant Connection
“Get away from seeing new people as “visitors”; visitors are unexpected, but … guests are prepared for,” explained presenter Jason Moore during a May 4 workshop hosted by the Healthy Church Initiative of the California-Nevada Annual Conference Office of Congregational Development.
Moore, from Midnight Oil Productions (and formerly animator/illustrator and member of the worship design team at Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church), led a series of workshops across the conference in late April and early May that centered on Creative Worship and Guest Readiness.
“You must be poised for guests before they show up, and come up with a plan to interact with them,” he said.
Some 105 people attended the events in Redding, Clovis, and Sacramento, with roughly another two dozen participating through an online webinar.
Pastors and laity teams gave Moore high marks for his strategies toward launching an intentional plan for welcoming new people into their congregations.
“I got a lot of practical and usable suggestions for welcoming visitors and making our worship service more inspirational,” said Peggy Bosch, pastor at Escalon and Farmington United Methodist Churches.
“Informative and thought provoking!” commented Doug Treadwell, chair of the Welcoming Team at First UMC in Sacramento.
Romeo and Lolita Gunzon of Stockton’s St. Marks UMC and St. Paul’s UMC said they got a lot of strategies and good ideas.
Wayne Womack of Holy Cross UMC in Stockton liked the presentation because it was “very applicable.”
Moore is known for his pioneering work in collaborative worship design, media production, and secret worshiper consultations. He has designed worship alongside such leaders as Adam Hamilton, Brian McLaren, Michael Slaughter, Tony Campolo, and Leonard Sweet, and has worked as a media specialist for the Ohio River Valley District of The UMC. His current ministry is with Miami Valley District in Ohio and involves coaching, personal one-on-one training, vision casting, and a variety of other work related to worship, hospitality, and creativity. Moore has written several books on worship and design, including The Art of Communicating the Gospel in Worship.
During a Guest Readiness workshop segment titled, “5 Things Visitors Are Thinking but Won’t Ask,” Moore emphasized the need for churches to make contact and connection with new individuals by taking a new look at five questions: Where Am I? Who Are We? When Do We? What’s Been? I Am Supposed To?
Moore summed up his emphasis by stating, “this is about relationships, not transactions.”
The following paragraphs are snippets from the workshop. I’ve also included a list of resources for all pastors and congregations to access.
Where Am I?
Moore opened one discussion in his workshop by posing the question: “Why aren’t we growing?” Then he simply answered: “Maybe no one can find you!” He illustrated his point by showing various slides in which churches have poor, misplaced, or no signage at their site – and few directions and explanations on their website (or none at all).
“Less is more,” he said as he discussed online access, or “The New Front Door.” He talked about how to make web pages more effective by adding intentional information – including quick access to worship times and descriptions, location, staff, and the church vision statement. He also discussed ways to use Facebook effectively – not only for newcomers but also for current church members, to motivate participation and increase communication. But he cautioned against advertising a Facebook link or Twitter on the church home page if those are not going to be used and kept updated.
Moore also pointed out that United Methodist Church congregations have access to the UMC website as a source for content for their local church websites. It is chockfull of resources and news, he relayed.
He encouraged workshop attendees to use their cell phones to try to locate their church on line, and report their findings.
“I found a picture of an old car and a man who passed away five years ago,” said one participant.
On another topic – “The building you have today: There was no master plan for how your building looks today. It’s not long before your building becomes a maze,” Moore noted. “I think we have to be mindful of our space; if you are not comfortable navigating the space to worship, it will affect your worship experience.” He introduced workshop participants to the concept of “Way Finding,” information systems that guide people through a physical environment and enhance their understanding and experience of a space.
Moore went on to explain best practices to consider for signage, including keeping it simple, consistent, accurate, and intentional.
He also explained that it is important to leave out insider language. “I feel like we need to have a discussion about the word 'narthex' – it sounds like it might be contagious, or similar to anthrax or something,” he noted.
Moore also discussed ways local congregations can explain their weekly worship experiences to first time attendees. “The words ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’ are not descriptions [of worship services],” he explained.
“Define what you mean, like – ‘we offer a spirited, casual worship; come in casual clothes and expect to sing songs from the local Christian radio station’ … or, ‘we offer a high church experience where you will hear hymns in a context of [historical liturgy in a more formal setting] … however you explain it, own whatever you are going to do,” he said.
Who Are We?
For safety as well as information and making connections, Moore said that simple introductions are an important part of Guest Readiness because it moves the church from simple transactions to building relationships.
“If you want young families to come to your church you need to be poised for them,” Moore stated. He emphasized that every church should have an easily accessible child check-in. Several reasons for this include gaining information on food allergies, broken families (even whether or not they attend the same church), custody issues, emergency situations, and follow-up opportunities.
He asked the group to think about how vulnerable we are asking new people to be. “Ease people into our community before expecting them to connect that way with the church community.”
“A lot of what we do leaves outsiders on the outside,” Moore commented. “Train your church in how to become a hospitable church.” One tip for greeters is to “never say, 'Are you new here?' Say, 'I don’t think we’ve met yet.’”
When Do We?
Moore also discussed ways that we make new people feel uncomfortable by asking them to get involved beyond their comfort level. Some ways in which we do this are by asking them to divulge information, and forcing them to interact with others and participate in ways that are new to them.
He polled the room and found that most pastors and team members present that day were uncomfortable during the “passing of the peace” portion of their worship service.
“What do visitors want? To remain anonymous and to come at the last minute,” he added. He noted that one idea to help them is to provide parking spaces close to the door that are reserved for guests who may arrive late and want to leave early.
Moore introduced ways for keeping newcomers in the loop of information. It is a misstep to assume that everybody knows what is going on, simply because it is familiar to most people in the congregation.
I’m Supposed To?
Last, Moore discussed rituals most regular churchgoers take for granted and forget to teach newcomers. He relayed a personal story about attending a service and not knowing that he was expected to fill out the visitor card, pass it to a neighbor, and have it passed back to be read, followed by each person greeting the other by name – a ritual that left him confused and not able to participate in the worship service for several long minutes.
Suggestions and Resources
Moore encouraged pastors and teams to hold repeatable training sessions for their greeters. Such trainings could include sharing an “ah-ha!” moment, the vision of the church, an orientation to the building and the church’s programs/activities, role playing how to greet, and Q & A time with the pastor(s) and worship team.
He also asked participants to act as secret worshipers for each other’s churches. His suggested Secret Worshiper checklist includes taking note of the following:
- What do I experience in the parking lot?
- Am I greeted as I enter the building?
- Is the signage clear?
- What does the children’s ministry space look like?
- How efficient is the childcare check-in process?
- What does the worship environment look like?
- Does the artwork on/in the bulletin add to or detract from the themes present on the screen?
- Is the music excellent (regardless of style)?
- Does the music thematically relate to the whole service?
- Does the welcome/introduction hook me/lead well into the service?
- Is the media on the screen well designed and congruent with service?
- Is it clear who all of the leaders up front are?
- Does the sermon relate to the rest of the services?
- How was creativity used/not used?
- Was the service participatory, and it not, how could it have been?
- Was there a clear goal for the service?
- Can I summarize the main idea of the service?
Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, by Robert Schnase
Clip in: Risking Hospitality in Your Church, by Jim Ozier & Fiona Haworth
Get Their Name, by Bob Farr, Doug Anderson & Kay Kotan
Secrets of A Secret Shopper, by Greg Atkinson
The Comeback Effect, by Jason Young and Jonathan Malm
For more information on this and other educational opportunities through the conference’s Healthy Church Initiative, contact Craig Brown, executive director of Congregational Development, at email@example.com or 916-374-1532.