Nobody tries to alienate people that are visiting church. As ministry leaders, we should be as inclusive as possible without sacrificing the message of the gospel. Even so, churches across the country are accidentally excluding potential attendees by simply forgetting what it's like to be new. We need to be intentional about what we do, what we say, and how we say it.
However, if you wish to ostracize your weekly visitors then, by all means, try these six surefire ways to alienate new people at your church.
Sing Songs That No One Knows
I know that your worship leader has been working on his/her new album and that the congregation loves it. However, the new people don't know those songs and can feel very alienated during the worship service. Even songs that were written and recorded by professional but little-known worship groups can be a challenge for the newcomer.
Solution? Consider playing at least a couple songs that are popular in case someone new shows up.
If you must play an obscure song, mix it into the set after you've brought the congregation into worship together and helped everyone connect to God.
Fail To Introduce Yourself To The Congregation
You wouldn't think this would matter too much but you would be surprised. A new person has no idea who anyone is. So, when someone gets on stage and starts talking, visitors don't know if that person is the lead pastor, an elder, a member, or some dude that had the guts to grab the mic.
By asking each speaker (announcements, welcome, offering talk, etc.) to start by saying something like, “Hi, my name is Bill and I'm on staff here..” or “My name is Paula and I'm a member here…” helps new people get some context for who is who.
This helps people feel more comfortable. By the way, when you don't do this, newcomers assume that almost everyone up on the stage is working at the church.
Have An Exceptionally Long Meet & Greet Time
First of all, you should ditch the “meet and greet.” You know what I'm talking about–it's the moment that the worship leader or pastor says, “hey there, take a few minutes and say hi to the people around you.” They might as well be saying, “hey there new people, for the next few minutes you'll be standing uncomfortably by your selves while everybody says hi to people they already know.”
Too harsh? Not really. Ask anyone who's visited a new church how they feel about being forced to meet new people in such a non-escapable environment. Only the most gregarious and outgoing new people appreciate the meet & greet.
Be Sure To Mention Situations and People Inclusive To The Church
How does it feel to be left out of a private joke? Pretty terrible. That's sort of the feeling that new people have when the pastor is speaking about a situation that only the current congregation knows about. “Remember when Tom flooded the basement?” he might say. “That was a bad day!” Well, we can only guess because we weren't there and we don't know who Tom is.
You could say, “In 2001, Tom, our janitor accidentally impaled a water pipe while installing the new sign for the children's area. By the time we figured out where the water was coming from we were standing in ankle deep water!” (autobiographical illustration, by the way)
That helps because you've given enough information to help even a first-time guest know what you talking about. They won't feel left out of the joke that way.
A related habit that a lot of ministry leaders have is referring to Bible passages and stories casually, assuming that everyone knows them. If you refer to a well-known Bible story or verse, don't assume everyone knows about it already. That's insider talk and it subconsciously excludes people who don't know the Bible.
Don't Give People Time To Find Bible Passages
As a preacher, this is a huge pet-peeve of mine. The reason? I used to do this A LOT! When I first starting preaching I would place bookmarks in my Bible ahead of time so I could find them fast. The problem was that no one else in the congregation could find them as quickly.
For example, if you are speaking and you say, “please turn to 1 Peter 3,” you need to turn there with everyone else. Once you get there, look out in the audience and see if most people are done flipping pages. Once they are, then you can reference the verse you're asking them to find.
You say, “but there will be a lot of silence while we are all looking.” Yeah, that's ok. People won't be listening to you when they are searching in their Bibles anyway. This is especially true for new people who aren't as familiar with the Bible as everyone else. For many visitors, this could be their very first experience with God's word. Make their first experience a positive one by helping them feel successful in finding the Bible verses you're talking about.
And for Heaven's sake (literally), use the Bible when you preach!
Overwhelm New People By Being Too Friendly
For a while, the greeters in our church were too happy to see new people. It's true! I actually got that feedback from a visitor once. They said, “your people were too happy to see me.”
What they meant was that the greeters sort of bombarded them on the way in the door. It's the same feeling you might've had the last time you walked onto a used car lot–the sales guy runs out of the office and attaches himself to your leg.
Smaller churches are especially susceptible to this problem for a couple reasons. First, because they tend to be so excited to see new people, hoping that the church will grow. Second, because there are fewer people it's easier to determine who is new.
The solution? Whelm people. Don't OVERwhelm them, don't UNDERwhelm them either. Just ‘whelm' them. Yes, it's a word.
Be happy to see them and welcome them cheerfully. Then let them experience the church at their own pace. Most visitors don't need to know everything about the congregation on their first visit.