Into the unknown
BY BISHOP JIMMY NUNN
It is difficult to walk into an unknown place.
The challenge starts with finding a place to park. It is my first time to come. Questions crowd my mind. Where should I park? Are there marked or unmarked spots for people with special needs?
What time does the program start? Is there a sign? What is the real start time, based on the number of cars in the lot? Sometimes there are very few cars and start time is only minutes away. Other times, all the choice spots are full.
Which entry do I use? Which door really is the front? The last thing I want to do is walk in and see everyone looking at me like I’m a fool.
And I’m not sure what to do with my children. Are they welcome in here? Is there a place for them? Where is the sign? How will I know they are safe? What will they be doing while we are here?
Another question quickly follows: What will I be doing while I’m here?
How will I be greeted? I may not know anyone — or perhaps a few people, but certainly not many. As I enter, I am questioning myself. Could I belong to this group?
Greeters may say hello, but later when I see one or more of them out in the community, they may never speak. If you speak to me inside the church but never acknowledge me in other settings, can I really trust your greeting today?
Now, where do I sit? Can I tell whom and where the speaker will be?
Oh no! Before I sit down, I’ve got to find the restroom. Where is the sign?
Churches have 3 to 5 minutes to answer each of these questions when someone new approaches our houses of worship. Within that short period of time — before the person has been sitting for 2 minutes, on average — guests have one of two thoughts.
(1) Why did I bother to come here?
(2) Why didn’t I come here before now?
Here are three steps to increase the positive feelings when someone comes to your church.
• The first step in preparing well to receive new people is to look at the experience through the eyes of a first-time guest. If neither you nor anyone else in your church can do that objectively, hire someone to visit your church and provide feedback on that experience. Ask them to answer the questions I’ve outlined above, and listen to what they have to say.
• The second step is to learn about people. Read your local newspapers and relevant social media, and attend community events, talking to people on a regular basis. Use MissionInsite, a resource that reveals the attitudes and demographics of each community and people group in an area. You can access it for free at
www.okumc.org/mission_insite. It’s offered through the Oklahoma Conference. Plot the households of everyone in your congregation in order to compare and contrast the perceptions of people both in the church and the mission field.
• The third step is to worship God with passion and excellence.
I believe your church can grow.