If you are wired in a certain way, you may have trouble believing that, for some people, visiting a new church can be an anxiety producing experience. There are some people in the world who love new experiences, love the unknown, and are thrilled by walking into a room where they know absolutely no one. Then there is the rest of the planet. There are lots of new studies on introverts and extroverts and many different types and degrees of each. But without going into detail, many people find new things a little nerve racking.
So what are we to do? What if we did all we could to remove the barriers that keep people from visiting our churches?
I am a high functioning, high-sensitivity introvert. I am not going to go into detail of what that means. But suffice it to say that going into new places with new people makes me nervous. What makes me high-functioning is that I do it anyway. In some ways, this is a gift. When I go to a church for the first time, even though I go as a long-time Christian, I still get anxious. I work for the Annual Conference. I am a member of the clergy. I know all this, but my brain doesn’t always cooperate. Usually when I go somewhere new, a little bit of anxiety nags at me and I can’t shut it off.
Here is another reason I love technology. Technology is like an assistance device for me. Before I go somewhere, I can research, review, make a plan and even find escape routes.
I have the advantage of knowing a lot about churches, so I know the answers to some typical questions, but here are some of the questions people like me want to know before we get there:
- Where do I park?
- How do I get to the sanctuary?
- What door do I use?
- If I have kids, are they welcome in worship?
- Is there a nursery? Is it well staffed?
- Will there be plenty of seating or will I be squeezed in next to someone I don’t know?
- What time should I get there?
- What is the standard dress?
These are questions that might be in the mind of someone who has attended church rather recently, but there is another list of questions for people who have never been to church or have not been in a long-long time. (Note: these are real questions that I have answered for people thinking about visiting a church.)
- Will I need to pay or give money?
- What is the expected amount to give?
- Do they take checks or credit cards?
- Do I need to have my own Bible?
- Will I be asked to introduce myself in front of the congregation?
- Can I or will I be required to take communion?
- Will I be called on?
You may have trouble believing that these are real questions. You will have to trust me on this and realize that there are a lot of assumed understandings we have as church folk. And leaving these questions unanswered can produce anxiety in people and the most likely way they have of dealing with that discomfort is simply not showing up in worship.
Here is the good news: we have the ability to help using our church website, technology we should already have, . To do that, we just need to look at our website through the eyes of someone who might consider visiting. Then, we need to ask the question, are we providing all the information possible to make sure they can be comfortable visiting us? Here are some things that might appear on our website:
An “I’m New” Button – An obvious place to click for people who are visiting your site for the first time. This could lead to a page where everything they might be wondering about is covered.
A FAQs Page – Think of every question someone might ask and answer it here. If you don’t know what people might ask, try talking to someone who doesn’t go to church. Or try answering the questions above.
What to Expect – A page that describes what it is like to come to your church for worship.
The Journey United Methodist Church in Kyle does a great job of putting this all together. Check out their I’m New Page.
Many of these questions and concerns can be answered with well-written text, but what about adding pictures? What if people could see for themselves? Try filling these pages with photos that convey the information. Show what the parking lot looks like. Post a photo of the main entrance, so people know what they are looking for. A picture taken during worship provides endless details. Parents will want to see what the inside of the nursery looks like.
I wanted to show you a good example of this done well, but I can’t find one. I will keep working on that.
Do you want to take it one step further, how about video? Here are some examples of churches who use video to help lower the barriers for a first-time guests.
Does your church website offer information to help first-time guests? I would love to see what you are doing so I can share your ideas with others.