Making a Connection
I recently received this great newsletter from Dan Reiland about connecting to the people visiting your church. As we work to help our churches grow, we must always remember the primary function of the church is, “to seek and save the lost”. Our church should be designed to connect with those who are seeking…
When I walk into a new restaurant I can tell within a couple of minutes whether or not I feel a connection. The vibe of the restaurant, from the general atmosphere to the host or hostess, immediately tells me what the experience is likely to be. The actual meal is only part of my connection to a restaurant; the whole experience determines whether or not I’ll come back.
People want that connection, especially when they travel. I know I do. That’s why chain restaurants do so well. Customers have already made a connection, they know they like it, and marketing shows people choose what they are comfortable with, meaning, they choose where they connect. This doesn’t indicate an aversion to risk. As a matter of fact, when I travel, I love to try new places. So I ask the people who are hosting my trip to tell me their favorite place to eat and tell them not to include a chain restaurant. I’m trusting their connection! I recently traveled to LifeChurch.tv in Oklahoma City to meet with some of their key leaders. I traveled with Lance Young, one of the pastors on our team at 12Stone. He lived there for about 3 years while on staff at LifeChurch and so I asked him to drive us to one of his favorite restaurants. We went to The Redrock Canyon Grill. From the moment I walked in, the connection was on. Great service, mixed it up with the server (fun), cool vibe, and the crab cakes were to die for. Here’s the key. I’d go back.
You know where I’m headed, so let’s go there. This idea of connection is the same in your church. Whether you are part of a chain, or mom and pop café, or an independent, people want to connect with your experience or they’re not coming back. And keep in mind, it’s not all about the meal (sermon), it’s the whole experience.
Connection on whose terms?
I think it’s best to set the connection to the environment on their (the guest) terms and set the connection to the church mission on your (church leaders) terms. It’s often done just the opposite in many churches.
Here’s what I mean. When you set the connection based on the new person’s experience, you set the environment to make them feel at home. So we make the space itself feel good, we have a Coffee Shop for the fancy stuff, and free coffee stations too, the aroma is important. The dress is casual, we don’t make visitors stand, we don’t make them were a name tag that says “Hey everybody, look at me, I’m new, I don’t belong here.” They don’t have to do anything, say anything, or commit to anything to come to church. Those are the terms new people love when trying a church. And like a restaurant, they know real fast if they like it or not.
In churches where the environment is set on the church leaders’ terms, the guest is required to embrace any number of things such as dressing a certain way, wear a name badge, sit in a special section, stand up, go to a room, accept a visit, meet the pastor after the service, and the list goes on. All these things can be good, but keep in mind one crucial issue, your guest might not want to!!
Set the guests connection to your church’s mission on your terms. You are not running a cruise ship. It’s not your primary responsibility to create programs to make Christians happy. Regardless of how you say it, your mission is to reach people for Jesus and disciple them in their maturing faith. That’s it. So when people join your church or sign on the dotted line in whatever way you do that, you set the terms. Be bold about the mission and how people connect in.
First Impressions Matter
We know that first impressions make a difference. You can lose people from your church in the parking lot. I don’t mean because it’s so big they literally get lost. If your parking lot is utter chaos and there is no leadership out there, new people, especially people disenfranchised from God and the church are already turned off before then set foot in your door.
At 12Stone Church we have a team of heroes. “Parking Warriors” are the words printed on their shirts. The team is led by amazing men like Jimmy Lastinger, Hector and Louis Morales, Gerald Minor, Dan Shogren, Dan Strader, Jason Frady and others. The whole team is out on the blacktop on all three campuses regardless of whether it’s freezing cold or sweltering hot. They help people get in and out of the lot as easily, safely and quickly as possible. Without them, it doesn’t matter how good the worship experience is!
Perhaps you have plenty of room and easy access in your parking lot. Your ushers, greeters and nursery team complete your first impressions team. Friendly and well trained ushers and greeters who have a heart to serve make a huge difference on whether or not people connect with you and your church.
There is a physical component to first impressions. Buildings, landscaping, and signs make a difference. If a family pulls into your parking lot and the paint on your building is chipped and cracked, the plants are in sad shape and the signage isn’t helpful, you are sending a message. Unfortunately not the message you want to send. You may be a loving church with an incredible vision to reach people for Christ, but they may never give you a chance because you didn’t tend to your first impressions.
Organic or Linear – Which makes for the best connection?
After first impressions, the real connection begins. Once a person has found your church friendly, culturally relevant, and the worship experience has genuine impact in their life, they begin to decide if they will become involved and to what degree. It’s the “What’s next?” question, and the answer must be clear and simple.
You may have a linear approach. Rick Warren launched a brilliant process using a baseball diamond. The people in his church deepen their connection to God and the mission at Saddleback Church around the bases. It’s very linear and very good. Some churches have a linear expression, but with an organic feel like North Point Church led by Andy Stanley. They use their three environments of Foyer, Living Room and Kitchen. With a relational bias they move people toward small groups (the kitchen) where the people grow in their faith. At 12Stone Church, we also have a blend but lean toward a more fluid approach. Our process wraps around the three elements of Inspire, Share, & Give. There are linear pieces such as a “Discover 12Stone” event, and a 4 week class for those who are new in their faith called Day One, but you don’t have to do things in order.
Personally, I think people are more organic in behavior because they like to choose their own path. There must, however, be enough structure to be clear in your answer of the “Next Steps” question. What is most important is that you make your choice of more organic or linear intentionally.
Overall, my advice is to keep it as simple as you can. If your church is smaller, you will likely feel or experience two things. 1. No need for a process of connection. 2. A tendency to over complicate your process. You may not need a formal connection process at your current size, but you will need one. So why not practice now? But keep it simple. If your church is large you will likely feel the pressure of actually making your process work. Don’t give up. There is no perfect process. Just keep working on it and remember that good leadership is more important than which approach you actually choose. Good leadership can make an average system work. Poor leadership can’t make a brilliant process work.
I encourage you to share this article with your team and talk about your process of connection.
Until Next Time,
QUOTES OF THE DAY:
– On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. – Acts 16:13-14