As a pastor or staff member of a church, you’re constantly thinking of ways you can help your churches stay healthy and grow. One of the greatest ways you can do this is understanding your people and why it is they’re coming to church. After all, if you can identify why people are coming, you can be more intentional about responding to their needs.
Here are four reasons people visit a church for the first time.
There’s a felt need that needs to be met.
Think about your own story. You may not have been the drug addict that had to lose all of his worldly possessions and relationships to come to have a relationship with Christ, but there was something in your life that made you realize your need for Jesus. Maybe it was a debilitating illness, a divorce, losing your job, or unexplainable depression. Maybe you had everything and felt like nothing was fulfilling you.
There are people who are lost and looking to be filled with something. We have a great responsibility to help them understand their true need to find their joy and fulfillment in Christ.
One of the ways we can lead people to Christ is by meeting them where they’re at. When your church addresses felt needs, you often get on the radar of people that meet those needs.
The bigger the need, the bigger the opportunity.
It’s safe to assume most of us have been bitten by a mosquito. They’re pesky and irritating little bugs that leave you itchy all over. Most people wouldn’t go to the doctor in search of a cure for a mosquito bite. You just kind of suck it up and maybe rub some calamine lotion on it if it’s that bad. A shark bite is another story. You would head straight to the ER if you or someone you knew were bitten by a shark.
Instead of giving our churches “mosquito” cures, let’s give them “shark bite” cures. Let’s talk about divorce, race, homosexuality, marriages, money, and the other hard stuff our people are dealing with. If they don’t hear the church talking about this stuff, they’re just going to get it somewhere else. Help them face these issues with a Biblical approach.
They feel like they’re supposed to.
Some people have an innate feeling like they’re supposed to be going to church.
Maybe their mom or grandma want them to go and they don’t want to let them down. Maybe there’s something in their soul that just compels them to go, some kind of “ought to.” Maybe they grew up going with Nana or their parents and feel like it’s something they should do, at the very least for Easter and Christmas.
For some it may be guilt. For some, they feel like they need to go once they started having kids, so they can grow up in church. New parents often feel like they should get back in church to be an example to their new child. Even if they aren’t looking to have a need met, some people will go to church because they think it’s the right thing to do.
Whatever the reason, this is a great opportunity to change people’s negative perceptions and to build on existing positive perceptions of the church.
They want to meet people.
Life is busy.
The natural rhythms of life mean people go to school, they graduate, they move, their parents get new jobs, people get married, etc. People are constantly coming and going.
This means that there are plenty of people seeking community. They want to meet other fun people they can go get dinner with, watch the game with, or go shopping with.
Keep in mind there may be plenty of friendly people in your church, but they aren’t truly connected. The best way to serve these people may be doing things like providing plenty of opportunities for them to volunteer, planning social events (maybe young adults going to a local restaurant on a Thursday night), and seeking people out to get connected to a small group setting.
Be careful labeling people who go to church to connect with friends as people who go to church for the “wrong reasons.” It’s a real reason people do cross the line and decide to give church a chance.
Make sure your people are not alone. Help them find a community.
They want to worship God with other people.
Our last reason here people visit a church is that they want to worship God with others. These people know they’re not meant to do life alone and they need to be in community with others. These people are actively seeking a relationship with God and they want to know Him in a deeper, more intimate way.
However, this is not the only reason or the “right” reason for someone visiting a church. It’s just as normal and okay for people to be visiting your church because they want to meet people, because they’re filing a need, or because they think they’re supposed to do it.
It’s important to not treat these people any different than your other visitors and to meet each visitor where they’re at. Loving people well and being approachable may make the difference between a visitor and a recurring guest.
These are four reasons people decide to visit a church for the first time. What about your church? Is there anything you would add to this list?
So What's Next?
Feel like your church should be growing, but it's not? From someone who used to be a pastor and church planter, I know it can be frustrating.
Ultimately, church growth is up to God. But what else can you do as a steward to reach more people?
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