Becoming a Welcoming Church

Becoming a Welcoming Church
(B&H Books, 2018)

WHO: Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.

HE SAYS: “This book is for those—whether church leaders, pastors, or members—who are willing ‘to look in the mirror.’ This book is for those who are willing to face reality. This book is for those who are tired of the same, tame, and lame church life represented by too many congregations.”

THE BIG IDEA: Church members think their churches are friendly toward visitors, but recent research shows that many times first-time guests are turned off. This book explains the main problem areas and how to fix them.

THE PROGRESSION:
In this quick read, Thom begins by introducing the 10 main ways churches come across as unfriendly and the surprising results of recent research into how visitors perceive the church—and Christianity. The trend of churches being inward focused is unintentionally turning away two of the largest generations churches hope to reach: millennials and Generation X.
Next, he devotes chapters to signage, websites, church safety and cleanliness, and greeters and welcome centers. The book concludes by helping churches plan a path to becoming more welcoming and includes a church facility audit and a guest survey.

“The welcoming church is more of an attitude or disposition. It represents the mindset of an outward focus rather than an inward focus. It is about serving rather than being served.”

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A Discussion With the Author

How do you envision both church leaders and members alike using Becoming a Welcoming Church?
Readers will find a wake-up call. And wake-up calls can stink. Reality can hurt. But many churches need them. I know. I have worked with hundreds of them on-site, and thousands via phone, e-mail, and videoconferences.
Many church leaders and members think their churches are healthier than they really are. Many leaders and members think their churches have better ministries than they really do. And many leaders think their churches are friendlier than they really are.
This book is for those—whether church leaders, pastors, or members—who are willing “to look in the mirror.” This book is for those who are willing to face reality. This book is for those who are tired of the same, tame, and lame church life represented by too many congregations.

What prompted you to write on this topic?
We church members are often clueless about what our guests are thinking and experiencing. We think we know because we know how we feel and think. But the perspectives of church members and guests are often vastly different. The purpose of this book is. . . to give church members awareness that the vast majority of guests feel like they are intruding on a party to which they were not invited.
We learned not to ask church members if their church is friendly to find out if their church really is friendly. Most church members have forgotten what it’s like to be a first-time guest. They now have established relationships in the church. They love their church. Their biases tell them their church is great.
But many church members and leaders are wrong. When we asked hundreds of guests about their experiences visiting churches, it was not a pretty picture.

Is there a difference between what millennials want when they visit a church and other generations?
Over 78 million younger adults could be in our churches, but fewer than one out of five actually do attend church. But our research indicates a growing receptivity to the gospel and church. The Millennials are hardly antagonistic. They may be more apathetic about our congregations and our message, but most of them are not resistant. And now that many of the Millennials are parents, they are reconsidering their priorities.
Their children are the next big generation. They are Generation Z or iGen or some other name that has yet to stick. These two generations represent massive waves of opportunities for our church.

What message do you hope will resonate most with readers?
A welcoming church is a going church. The members realize that church is not a place confined to walls, but a people determined to go. They demonstrate caring and the love of Christ in their workplaces, in their neighborhoods, in the places they shop, and in all the places where they encounter people in their communities. Those people in the community see Christ in the welcoming church members. They decide to visit the church. And when they come to the church, they are welcomed, truly welcomed. That’s what the Great Commission is all about. That’s what welcoming churches are all about. Is your church truly a welcoming church? The answer to that question has eternal implications.