After all of your advertising efforts, you finally begin to see visitors coming through the door. Nice right? But then it happens, those same visitors don't come back the next week, or they slowly fizzle out and stop attending your weekend service. Frustrating right?
Well, let me tell you first and foremost - every church experiences this. Yes, even the larger ones. Every church experiences highs and lows - good weeks and not so good weeks - it's just a part of growth. The reason why it feels harder to smaller churches is that your size amplifies the circumstance exponentially.
If there are already 500 members attending every weekend, and the 20 visitors that attended this month didn't return or stopped coming, you don't really seem to feel it as much. Sure, you're noticing it in your monthly retention numbers - but it's less impactful from Sunday to Sunday.
However if your weekly attendance is, say 20, you're going to notice the new faces that visit but don't come back. And unfortunately, you usually don't get a reason why. I know it's frustrating but hang in there.
I don't want to oversimplify things here, but fundamentally every Sunday, churches exist to do three things:
1) Get people in the door
2) Share the gospel (love) of Jesus Christ with them
3) Help them in making a decision on discipleship
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That's the core of every weekend service. And I know that #2 "Sharing the gospel" is a pretty broad statement and includes things like worship, preaching, and all of the other activities that go into your worship experience.
That being said if people make the decision to attend one of your services, but don't return excited within the following weeks - unfortunately, something didn't connect with them - at least not immediately. Even if they enjoyed themselves, and thought that the service was "good" - if they don't come back, there's usually a reason why.
So here are 5 things that you may want to analyze within your service that could be turning people off (and away).
Message wasn't good/understandable/relatable
I'm not a pastor, so on this topic - I'll tread lightly. It could have been the content. Or it could have been the delivery. If visitors attend your service but don't clearly understand what you're saying - then how will you connect with them? Remember, people expect to hear a sermon when they attend church. It's one of the "main attractions" of every visit. As a speaker, your primary role is to deliver a message that's clear, understandable, and ultimately connects with your audience. It may be time to revisit your delivery and style; to make sure that the people you're trying to reach - clearly understand what you're trying to say.
It wasn't a good fit. (Music wasn't good/style didn't fit)
Let's be honest - every church doesn't fit every person. That's just a reality. People's taste are different, and what each person desires and expects from a church is different. Maybe the music style wasn't their cup of tea. Or maybe the visitor was looking for a church with a shorter service time. Perhaps the style of service just didn't match what they were looking for. You can't always take it personally when a person decides that what you have isn't for them. There are other churches out there! Our prayer should be that people find a church that they enjoy attending, and is growing them as disciples. God has a harvest with your name on it! If you haven't already done it, do an analysis of who you're best equipped to reach. Then go after that group, and win them for Christ!
People weren't very friendly
Here's a tip: everyone wants to feel special. And like it or not, people want (actually they expect) to feel like they matter when they visit your church. Notice what I just said. They don't want to just hear that they matter - they want to feel like they matter. And if they leave with the feeling that the church wasn't very friendly and inviting - they won't be back. Put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel walking into a building where you - may or may not - know anyone? You walk through the door and suddenly everyone's looking at you. Sometimes a visitor's uncertainty in an unfamiliar surrounding makes them feel like people aren't very friendly. And I know that it's not intentional - believe me, I do. But take a look around before, during, and after your service. Who's talking to who? Who's sitting next to who? It's imperative that you make each visitor that attends your service a certified VIP - and develop awesome systems that help them feel that way.
Facilities and experience were blah
It may seem like a small thing, but your environment matters. Now, let me clarify something up front. I'm not suggesting that you need some type of grand cathedral just to give people a wonderful experience - because that's just not the case. But in whatever building, school, theater, or church that you're in - be excellent.
I remember hearing about a woman who complained about her tights getting ripped - during her visit - on a piece of wood sticking out of a pew. Now it may not seem like a big deal to you, but I can tell you that the woman never came back to that church. It's not fair, right? I mean, you do everything else right by having an awesome worship service and an anointed message, but all the guest remembers is that one bad thing that happened. It may not seem fair - but its reality.
People remember the way the church made them feel. Was it bright and airy, or was it dull and run down. Take a look at things like signage, seating, parking, general areas, kid's areas, landscaping, and bathrooms. These are all the areas that guest come in contact with that help form their opinion about their visit to your church.
I once visited a church that was meeting in a school every week. However, each week the volunteers would add things like mouthwash, mints, lotion, and hand sanitizer to the bathrooms, in order to give members and guest and awesome experience. Remember, the details matter.
Some people like/dislike crowds
Finally, there are people who are just looking for something "specific" - which has nothing to do with you. Some people like smaller churches, and after visiting a large church, may feel a bit overwhelmed. They may dislike crowds of people and can't ever imagine themselves "fitting in". And some people are just the opposite. They like large churches and love that various ministries and programs available for them and their family.
This has less to do with you and your church as it does with them and their personal preference. Either way, you're not likely to change them so there's no sense beating yourself up about it. If you're currently small, and someone wants to worship at a larger church, then this is their preference. It's got nothing to do with you - you'll get there. And consequently if they want a smaller church, then they'll need to find something that makes them feel more comfortable, but you're a big church, that's probably only getting bigger.
Even if they enjoyed themselves, and thought that the service was "good" - if they don't come back, there's usually a reason why.
At the end of the day, you're looking to give people an experience that will turn them into excited repeat guest; and eventually regular attendees. To do that, you must take the time to carefully and honestly scrutinize the experience that you provide guest each week, and ensure that you're not one of the reasons why guest don't return.