I’ve blogged about this before, but I feel strongly enough to take the chance again. And here’s the point I want to make. Going to a new church for the first time is one of the most frightening things a person can do. While we can’t change their minds, we can be proactive and try to take away as many of the fear barriers as we can, that have been erected over time. So here are seven fear barriers that we can take down.
Fear Barrier #1: The fear of going alone. Over 78% of people in a recent survey responded positively by saying they would be open to going to a church if they were invited by a trusted friend. And who blames them? I am a Christian and have gone to church all my life and I still get intimidated by going to churches I don’t know anything about. So instead of informing people that you go to a church and that it’s there, invite them to go with you this Sunday at a specific time. You’ll either pick them up, meet them, have lunch with them; something definite that allows them to come into this strange environment with a trusted friend.
Fear Barrier #2: How do I get around? For those of us who go to our churches, we know just about everything about them, or at least enough to get to where we need to go. We forget how intimidating a new environment can be. So you need great signage. You need happy people helping people find out where they need to go. Print up a t-shirt that says, “Ask me. I can help.” Anything will do to take away the intimidation factor of not knowing where to go. There is nothing more embarrassing than opening a door and walking into a place you shouldn’t be.
Fear Barrier #3: Am I late? I am absolutely amazed at how many churches refuse to give people what they most want to know when they visit a web site. What time do you meet, where do you meet, and how do I get there? That’s it. That’s the most important thing. But on 90% of the web sites you have to dig for it. It’s incredibly hard to find. So on every sign you make post the times your services begin. Start out in the parking lot. Since we meet in a theatre we have signs all over the place. And every outside sign has our meeting times on it. Why is that important? It helps people judge if they’re early, late, they need to hurry, or if they’ve got time.
Fear Barrier #4: Fear of sitting in the wrong place. This is where happy greeters and ushers come into place. Have greeters who help people get seated especially if the auditorium looks to be comfortably full. Christian people have a really bad habit of putting their Bibles or an open program in a seat to reserve it for them over time. This practice ought not to be tolerated anywhere. It’s just simply rude. If you’re not going to sit in a seat, don’t put your Bible in a seat. Leave it open for people.
Fear Barrier #5: Have a clearly printed program that let’s people know exactly what’s going to happen next.
Fear Barrier #6: Start on time and finish on time. A service need not ever be over 70 minutes for any reason. I know some pastors who speak 60 minutes. That’s simply too much for a Sunday morning, particularly if you’re going to be guest-friendly. People can’t endure an hour and a half of something, sitting in a seat passively watching, no matter how good it is.
Fear Barrier #7: The fear of getting out unnoticed. When the service is over, people who know each other turn and start talking and greeting and standing in huddles. That’s a good thing. But for a guest, it’s also an intimidating thing. Or people that I don’t know stop me and ask me questions that I’m not prepared to answer. One of the most important things you can do is to have coffee or a gathering place that makes these kinds of informal introductions less intimidating. There’s something about putting a cup of coffee in a person’s hand that helps them adapt to their new environment.
You probably have more things to add to this list, but these are some very practical things you can do to help. And by the way, it’s your responsibility to make it as barrier-free as possible for someone to attend your church and to engage the message of the gospel, not theirs.