The “Boring” Basics of Church Revitalization

I have been looking into all the resources out there regarding church revitalization.  These include books, articles, websites and even a conference/training event hosted by our friends in the FMUSA.  There is a lot of good, helpful stuff out there about church revitalization, but there are parts of it that I haven’t known what to do with.  Allow me to explain.

We can agree on the basics of church revitalization.  Churches need to be outward focused, looking for ways to love, serve, and connect with our communities.  Prayer needs to be a vital part of ministry and planning. Having a ministry plan (like LifePlan) is better than not having one.  Discipleship matters. You get the picture.

But there is always some church revitalization stuff that we might be tempted to dismiss as being less important.  I know that was my instinct, but then it just kept popping up. So let’s call it “stuff that matters”, even it may not be considered “vital”, it’s good stuff for boards and leadership groups to think through.  (Spoiler alert – some of these things may overlap).

  1. How we welcome people.  When people show up at our services, do we help them feel welcome?  Are there trained greeters and/ or ushers who will greet them (instead of talking to their friends – things I witness in my travels).  Who will share with them information that they might need (where the nursery is, what to do with their kids, washroom location, etc.)? Along similar lines, is our signage in the building helpful and visible (if it is present at all)?
  2. How we follow up with people.  After service is done, do we have people who are looking out for new people who are hanging around or standing alone?  Do we at least thank people for coming? Go with them to our coffee time and answer their questions? I realize we don’t want to overwhelm people, but we don’t want to ignore them either.  Do we have a way of collecting contact information they might want to share? Some churches give gifts, some send cards. Whatever. Are you doing something to let folks know that you are glad they showed up?
  3. How we act when new folks show up.  This impacts lots of stuff.  Announcements – do we use insider language (first names, acronyms or room names that a newcomer will not know – things I have witnessed in my travels.  “The OGBC meets Saturday. Everyone is welcome – see Bob in the Wesley prayer room for more details”. Newcomers are out at this point.) Service elements – do we explain offering and communion and baptism so newcomers understand what we are doing and aren’t weirded out?  Preaching – do we preach in a way that is helpful for folks who don’t really know all the stories and verses? Is there an application point that doesn’t require 30 years of following Jesus to mean something? Too often in church world we fall into habits that cause us to act like we aren’t expecting anyone new to ever show up.  The problem is that when they do, we aren’t ready to help them feel like we even care that they are there. Too much of that and they may not be back. (By the way, if you want to figure out if you do this or not, get a mystery shopper to come to church and evaluate you).
  4. Our facilities.  Are they clean?  Is there junk stored everywhere?  (Why is there an out of tune upright piano in the youth room?)  Is stuff getting worn and tired? New people notice this and it might keep them from coming back (especially if the nursery and kids areas look dirty or unsafe).  We can call that shallow and say people need to be there for better reasons. But…it does matter. The problem is we can get used to stuff and how it looks. We don’t notice things anymore.  Bring in fresh eyes to help you with this.
  5. Our website.  Is it up to date?  Helpful? Is the front page geared for visitors or church members (hint – it should be for visitors).  This is often the first thing people will check out about your church – and it may keep them from ever showing up.  We need to pay attention to this. (And if you don’t have one you should get one).

See what I mean?  This might not be the first stuff we think of or look at, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore it.  And please don’t simply write all this off as being “attractional” or “unspiritual” or something like that.  We need to do all we can to make sure we honor and value the new people who show up and the people who invite them.  If these types of things are going to keep people from experiencing all that God has for them in and through our church, we need to take care of it.

Marc McAlister

Director of Leadership Development

Free Methodist Church in Canada.