The stories you tell impact first-time visitors [3 of 3]

Church visitor lessonsFor 12 years I served in youth ministry leadership positions and now, for the first time ever, my full-time job is outside the church. My family and I have never visited churches where employment wasn’t part of the equation, so this is all pretty new to us. We’re finding that looking at churches from a visitors perspective is much different than looking at the visitor’s perspective as a church leader.

Two days ago I shared how your church website really makes a big impact on whether or not someone will come to your church in the first place. And yesterday I talked about making claims to be a welcoming church when the visitor doesn’t necessarily feel welcomed.

Today is an observation I noticed a few times that never really occurred to me as a church leader until I was sitting on this site of the “church guest” situation.

When you tell stories about your church or people in the church, remember that there may be first-timers attending who know nothing of what you speak of.

Churches use a lot of insider language and talk about things that leave first-timers clueless. For example, a church will mention an event, talk about a church member, or tell stories that make everyone laugh except the visitor, not because the visitor didn’t think it was funny, but because they didn’t understand what the guy on the stage was talking about. When that happens, it’s a reminder to the guest that they’re on the outside and have no idea why a story is funny.

Now, honestly, this doesn’t really bother me too much because I think it’s good that communities have stories that they tell to share and celebrate together. In fact, sharing these kinds of stories regularly is a good and healthy thing! However, it does serve as a reminder to the visitor that, “I’m not one of you,” and, “I’m not part of this moment in the worship service.”

A solution could be as simple as acknowledging the people in the audience who aren’t insiders and are unfamiliar with the context of your story, the event you’re promoting, or the congregation member you’re talking about. Just start with a word or two that specifically addresses the outsiders and invite them into the story with some background. This simple gesture goes a long way in saying, “We want you to be a part of this story with us.”


QUESTION: How else can we help outsiders feel a part of the stories we tell?

Posted on May 17, 2012

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