When was the last time you visited a church for the first time? If you had to identify the most important three minutes of the service what would you say?
I read an interesting article earlier this week in which the author suggested that, for a visitor, maybe the most crucial three minutes of the service were the three minutes immediately after the service has finished.
Now don’t misunderstand me – of course the singing, prayers, reading, and preaching are all arguably much more important. But if you’re a visitor, maybe not a Christian, or been away from church awhile, what (in addition to the quality of the aforementioned) might make the difference between a return visit and trying somewhere else (or nowhere else!).
We tend to think the few minutes before the service, or at the start of the service are key (and they are). But if you’re a visitor you’re most focused on finding somewhere to park, finding the right door to go in, picking up the bits of paper, finding a seat, getting your bearings, perhaps flicking through the notice-sheet or watching the screen, and generally getting yourself ready for the start of the service. But what happens as soon as the closing prayer is done?
I watched it happen recently. I was playing in the music team and I noticed a first-time visitor near the back. The two people next to her both turned away from her to talk to someone else. She sat there. Looked around a little, fidgeted in her seat – 30 seconds. She looked in her bag, fidgeted some more – another 30 seconds. She looked around again, to either side, at the screen, back into the bag – another 30 seconds. Then she picked up her things, put on her coat, slowly stood up, and slid past the people next to her – another 30 seconds. She’s now making her way to the door and cool air of a dark night. Will we ever see her again? Thankfully, at this moment someone moved over toward her and spoke with her just as she was reaching the door. They bought her back in and got her a coffee. She had three or four conversations with different folk. I’m hopeful we may see her again. Can you see how crucial that first couple of minutes are? If she’d left without being acknowledged by anyone around her I suspect she wouldn’t have felt too inclined to return.
It’s happened to me on a couple of different occasions. I’ve visited another church and at the end of the service no-one spoke to me. I smiled politely at a couple of people, said a quiet hello. They smiled politely back and nodded at me, then carried on with their conversation. After sitting for a couple of minutes and feeling like a complete nugget I got up and left. I wouldn’t go back.
We encourage the folk at Grace to ‘take five’ after every service to look out for and speak to someone they haven’t met before. As you can see it doesn’t always work, and we have to keep working on it. But it strikes me as something that’s perhaps more important than we realise, and something that we could improve relatively quickly and easily. I’d encourage you, in your church to be intentional about improving in this area, and to work on something similar. Encourage your folk to ‘take five’ – look for someone new, and just say ‘hi’. It could make all the difference.