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How To Discourage Visitors

It’s difficult for a church to see itself through the eyes of a total outsider, someone who shows up for the first time and doesn’t have any friends or family in that church to help them navigate through the facilities, culture, lingo, and expectations… so I’ve compiled a little list of observations based on multiple real churches that I’ve visited over the last 6 years or so. I hope that this tongue-in-cheek “How-(Not)-To” post makes you smile… and maybe even opens your eyes to some things that your church might be doing without even realizing it.

Web Site:

Make sure that your service times and exact address are nowhere to be found on the main page of your site. (As an added bonus, if your church is in a city with a common name like Springfield, boldly proclaim that fact and even provide a street address… but neglect to mention what state you’re in… and don’t give the area code with your phone number.)

Mention your service times at least two other places on your site, at least three clicks away from your homepage… but make sure that you give different times in both places. Gotta keep folks on their toes!

Give written directions that use landmarks like “turn by the old Walmart” (that was torn down years ago). Folks who are new to town need to have enough respect for the community to learn where things used to be, not just where they are.

Devote half a page to your statement of faith, and dedicate at least four pages to a defense of tithing.

While re-designing your site, don’t use “under contruction” pages or other placeholders… instead, direct every incomplete link back to the main page of your site with no explanation.

Parking:

If you have an early service or early Sunday School classes prior to your worship service, make sure that everyone who attends these functions parks in such a way that their vehicles cannot be seen when the visitor first pulls into the parking lot. Maybe the visitor will just turn around and go home…

Avoid having any sort of directional marks or even painting parking stall lines… things always work out so much better when folks are allowed to choose where to park for themselves, free from the legalistic confines of yellow paint.

If you have a parking lot ministry, make sure you station those volunteers inside the foyer.

Signage:

Didn’t Jesus say that a wicked and adulterous generation seeks a sign? Who needs them! Especially if you have a larger campus with multiple buildings, three of which used to be your main sanctuary at some point and still look like they could be from the outside. Anyone who is being led by the Spirit will be able to figure out where to go.

Greeting:

If you want to run people off, there are two opposite but equally effective ways to accomplish this. 1) Don’t talk to them at all. Make them go searching for a bulletin. Make sure that none of the staff are identifiable or available to help in any way. 2) Stalk them. Make sure that at least 6 people greet them with uncomfortably long handshakes, and at least two of those attempt to get the visitor to fill out a multi-page dossier before they even make it to the sanctuary.

For bonus points, slap a nice big “Hello, my name is…” nametag on every visitor… and make every effort to spell their name incorrectly.

Bulletin/Announcements:

Give every ministry, small group, fellowship, and committee a truly unique and uninformative name. Then cheerfully announce that “Cobalt” is meeting tonight, but “Indigo” is postponed until next week. Give no indication of what these are.

When giving an announcement that requires folks to see a specific individual for more information, position that person in a poorly lit back corner of the sanctuary and have them wave briefly when you announce them. Yeah, I’ll remember that hand next time I see it.

Worship:

Use worship music that is popular and familiar to many folks — stuff they might have heard on Christian radio — only change the words just enough and alter the melody just a bit so that any comfortable feelings of familiarity are eliminated. This will effectively squelch any desire on the visitor’s part to sing out and participate in worship for fear of sticking out like a sore thumb.

Another approach: use only music that members of your church have written, and sing them in keys that are unattainable by the general public.

Sermon:

Never let a sermon “stand alone.” Preach in such a way that no one will have any idea what you’re talking about unless they’ve listened to the last 40 sermons leading up to this one…

Follow-Up:

Don’t distinguish between visitors and members in your church database. That way, after they’ve visited the church once, they’ll still get mail five years later pleading with them to contribute to the Pastor Appreciation gift.

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