INDIANAPOLIS – Church is not about us, as much it’s about others said Mark Waltz, relational connections leader at Granger (Ind.) Community (United Methodist ) Church to more than 250 United Methodists and others from across the state Jan. 26.
During the six-hour “First Impressions: Because People Matter” hospitality seminar at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, he said the challenge for a church that wants to grow is to have a clear vision of the future.
To be a church noted for its hospitality, the leaders need to pay attention to first impressions, first by being in a guest role to notice the things we don’t see anymore, and secondly, by asking guests about their experience. Waltz said:
- If we are in the church for a few years, we don’t focus on the unfamiliar anymore. We don’t see un-slightly stuff anymore. So what’s wrong with smudges on glass, dirty classroom ways and snags in the carpet? They all leave negative impressions. He advised participants to visit another church for a while and see what first impressions stand out in their minds – look, hear, smell. Watch for kids’ space, signage and make notes of what you experience. “This exercise will help you see your own church with fresh eyes.”
- Ask your guests about their experience in your church with a comment card. “Tell us about your experience…” He also advised having secret (church) shoppers, preferable un-churched people, come and visit and tell you about their experience. “Those who don’t attend church will see your church differently than people who know church.”
He continued by saying research studies show that 45 to 75 percent of Americans are introverted, so don’t overwhelm your guests with welcomes. Watch out for the red carpet treatment which may make introverted guests very uncomfortable.
Waltz said it’s important to understand your guests’ perception of church. He said, “Folks are seeking the divine. People want spirituality. They will sing songs of praise to God… But culture will challenge the way we do church.”
He admitted the way Granger Community does contemporary worship is not for everyone. The leaders there don’t intend it to be, but they do intend to reach un-churched people. For those who don’t like contemporary worship, they guide them to other churches.
He said even members that don’t appreciate contemporary worship continue to stay at Granger because, as one older-adult member he quoted, said, “I want the second chapter of my life to count. Even though I don’t like the method, I will worship here if it makes a difference in the life of younger adults and my grandchildren.”
Waltz said, “We change the style of our music to be in tune with culture (style) music.”
He cautioned participants saying, “guests have a fear of coming to church – money, language, songs, church world. People have all kinds of fears walking through our churches’ doors.”
We went on to point out that Granger tries to break down those fears and engage people with the familiar, like a café. We charge for our coffee – and it’s good coffee – “to help Granger Gus keep his self-esteem.” He said the money Granger makes in its café supports its satellite ministry in Elkhart.
He also talked about “red rules” (absolute) and “blue rules” (bendable) to accommodate both members and guests at Granger which always focus on what the outcome of rules will be for the person experiencing them. Unfortunately, he said in many churches, rules are red and unbendable.
“Acceptance is important,” he said. “It turns bad experiences into good experiences.” He has found people are forgiving by treating others the way you would like to be treated.
Waltz said, “We need to meet people where they are and let people set their own personal space… The goal of good hospitality is to have guests talk about your church to others they come in contact with on Monday.”
Also, “if you meet the needs of your first time guests, you will meet the needs of your congregation’s long-time members.”
He spent much of his workshop time interacting with the participants, outlining principles churches can follow to improve their hospitality and sharing exercises to drive his points home.
Hospitality doesn’t happen all at once. Hospitality is a culture that becomes part of the life of the church.
These principles are outlined in his books: First Impressions: From Visiting to Belonging, Creating Wow Experiences in Your Church, Lasting Impressions and How to Wow Your Church Guests: 101 Ways to Make a Meaningful First Impression. All are available for sale online at cokesbury.com. He blogs at BecausePeopleMatter.com.