Four Barriers to Connection
Visitors. First-time attenders. Guests. Here at LowCountry Community Church we’ve seen over 450 of them since the beginning of the year.
Churches know they are there. Most pastors are on the lookout for them. Yet church after church places barriers in front of newcomers that hinder them from connecting into the life, heartbeat, and ministry of the church. Here are just four barriers. Maybe you see these in your own church.
1. Facilities. I recently visited a church and after parking, I headed toward the building. But I had no idea where to go! There was no obvious main entrance. No one was outside for assistance, nor were there any signs to direct me.
Where there are no signs or helpful volunteers to point people to the children's ministry area, the restrooms, and the entrance and exit, huge barriers have been erected. And most churches aren't even aware of it.
2. Existing friendships. I rarely speak to a pastor who says, "My church is an unfriendly church." Most of the time pastors will proudly proclaim how friendly their church really is. "I hear that all the time from my people," they confidently say.
And it's true - but they are primarily friendly toward one another. At a worship service recently, in a church I had never before attended, as I looked around, I could tell how much the people loved one another. They were huddled up in animated conversations and genuinely enjoying being together. Yet the whole time, I watched, without anyone speaking to me.
Now, that was okay for me. I pastor another wonderful group of people in another town. But I wondered how many first-timers were there that day, and if they would ever return.
3. "That's how we do it here." That statement is also a ministry philosophy. If the driving event of the church is the Sunday morning service, where and how do newcomers plug in? They may feel a connection to the pastor, but how do they meet anyone else? A church may have the greatest worship service on the planet, but if there aren't any "side doors" for people to enter into the life and relational aspects of the church, those same people will not stay. They have ploughed right into a poor ministry philosophy - and another barrier.
4. Reputation. There is no neutrality when it comes to a church's reputation. I am constantly taken aback by pastors who have no clue as to how their church is perceived in the community. They view themselves as part of a cloistered holy huddle, never stopping to consider what the church's community reputation may be. (And often, it's better than they might imagine.)
But they have no idea.
Believe me, if there is strife or disunity among the church members, the community picks up on it. And another barrier has been erected. And the church is left clue without a clue wondering where all the visitors have gone.
Do you recognize any of these barriers in your own setting?
What steps can you take to deconstruct them?
What is the general attitude of your church towards newcomers?
What system could you put in place to provide avenues of connection for people new to your church?