There’s a line in a movie that has stuck with me for years — “Trust me, everyone is less mysterious than they think they are.”
I sometimes think about that line when I see people unintentionally communicating their true feelings in non-verbal ways. You know what I mean. When someone lets a facial expression flash for a moment before hiding it. When someone dresses in a way that says, “I take myself too seriously.” When someone can’t stop interrupting. (That one may happen verbally, but the non-verbal effect is to communicate “My thoughts are more important than yours.”)
Churches do this, too. They unintentionally communicate who they really are, what they really believe underneath the rhetoric.
Church parking lots with signs that say “No skateboarding.”
“We don’t want kids like you hanging around here.”
I somehow don’t think Jesus would put up signs that tell kids to keep away from the church. And he surely wouldn’t do so and blame it on an insurance policy.
Church auditoriums with signs that say “No food or drink.”
“We place a higher value on this facility than on people’s needs.”
The Unstuck Group’s Chris Surratt once worked with a church whose only outside signage on their auditorium building was “No Food Or Drink.” This ensured that their first (and only outside) message to newcomers was a negative one. It was also a false one, since they had a full coffee bar right inside the doors. We have to make sure that our initial communication to visitors is not a “no.”
Ministry names that only an insider would be able to decipher.
“These ministries are for people who don’t need an explanation.”
Greeter teams with an average age above 55.
“We don’t have any young people, our young people are not involved, or we’re not really concerned with reaching young people.”
I specifically mention greeter teams because they are the very first impression a newcomer gets. They are also the people who should be particularly attuned to making newcomers feel welcome and that this is a place for them. However, your other volunteer teams can also be communicating this sentiment.
Lack of clear way-finding signage.
“We don’t expect anyone new to show up.”
Why do we always seem to make it harder than it needs to be? Is there an advantage to parents wandering around in the hallways looking for where to drop off their kids? Why wouldn’t churches make it easy for first-time guests know where to go to ask questions and receive more information? When it comes to signs, make sure they are high and visible. Some churches hang signs but do not account for thousands of people standing in front of them. Others focus more time on making the sign look cool than they do making the message clear.
Water spots on the ceiling, stained floors, outdated paint, etc.
“We’ve been here so long, we don’t even see the flaws anymore.”
Have you ever allowed a room to become cluttered and continued to let it to stay that way until some event — the holidays, or a houseguest — gave you eyes to see what you no longer saw? That’s how we get with our church buildings. There’s nothing inherently wrong with having an old building. But the way you care for it and update it communicates volumes about your culture.
Passing offering plates without emphasizing ways to give online or via mobile.
“Our tradition is more important than helping people learn biblical generosity.”
People don’t carry cash. They definitely don’t carry a tithe’s worth around on them. You’re cutting them out.
Lack of follow through when people fill out information cards or request information of any kind.
“We don’t really want or need you.”
This is HUGE, and most growing churches miss this at some point, until they prioritize finding a system that works. And a really good system for responding to people and plugging them in is what can make a big church continue to feel personal.
I once started attending a new church, and I went to the informational gathering for new people. I was asked to fill out a two-page form about my background, areas of interest, how I’d like to serve. I did so thoroughly, and no one ever contacted me. You know what that communicated? Despite their apparent enthusiasm at the meeting, they either didn’t really need me or didn’t want me. So, I didn’t volunteer. I later found out they were desperate for more volunteers. This was confusing.
Cheesy, judgmental or irrelevant church signs at the road.
“We just don’t understand what connects with the people in our community.”
My dad and I text each other photos of our favorite church signs. They baffle me. Putting your pastor’s name on sign accomplishes nothing (the people in your city who know his name probably already attend your church). Putting a vague message title on your sign accomplishes nothing (no one drives by a church sign, notes you’re talking about Elijah this week and tells Siri to remind them at 8am on Sunday). Putting up a religious pun or judgmental verse accomplishes nothing (most people won’t notice, and the ones who do are likely turned off by it).
What we are communicating to the world matters. We should be intentional about it. We should be asking people with an outside perspective to help us identify our blind spots. And we all have them.
What others would you add add to the list?