How do you get visitors to stick around? Part 2

by vernsanders on February 26, 2010

Last time I described my experience with visitor stickiness strategies at selected churches where I have served. To repeat: sticky is a term that is a good thing. For a church, to become visitor “sticky” has become a desirable trait. But, in my experience, most churches don’t know how to be sticky for visitors, and it seems like many don’t care.

So… What exactly does the church in which I now serve do that makes them sticky for visitors?

I’m sorry to disappoint, but there is no magic bullet. But there are at least three things that, in my experience, are significantly different:

  • Congregational DNA

I am indebted to Margaret Marcuson for understanding this concept, which she outlines in her book Leaders Who Last. My experience has convinced me that she is correct in positing that every congregation (actually every “tribe,” in Seth Godin‘s terminology) has a corporate DNA which is established early, if not at founding, and permeates the way the congregation “does church” over time. That DNA can mutate, but it is never eliminated.

One example of how this plays out over the life of a congregation is that many congregations self-identify as being “warm and friendly,” in part because why would you not want to be that? And yet, an impartial observer in pre- and post-worship fellowship can easily see the people primarily socialize in “shoulders in” groups. In the congregation which I now serve, that same observer will see a preponderance of “shoulders out” groupings, and, over time, notice that it is seldom the same group of people in the same space/place…the members of the tribe genuinely like each other, and form and re-form according to chance, concern, and circumstance, rather than because “this is my pew…I [or, even more telling, my family] have been sitting here since [you fill in the date]…”

  • Intentional Worship Design

This is not unique, because many churches have this characteristic. But there is a slight, but significant, difference here. The blended “liturgy” is not determined by denominational/traditional practice. It  is not demarcated by “worship time” and “teaching time.” Neither does the whole of the service lead up to and/or serve the pastor’s sermon. There is no pre-planned formula of hymns to choruses. Sometimes the band isn’t there, and sometimes the choir isn’t there. There is no textual “golden thread” tying the whole together.

The difference is that there is an “emotional sequence” to the worship design. This is a legacy from a young and very talented worship leader who has since been called to full-time ministry. I found it hard, at the beginning, to understand the textual and musical sequencing in any given service. But, there was something there…and as I settled in, I discovered that the golden thread here was, in a very subtle way, what my friend Doug Lawrence calls “creating a moment,” only in this case the whole service is a moment.

This is not easy to describe, nor simple to sense as it is going on. But it keeps everyone in the worship space “in the moment,” and it is extraordinary to be a part of, both as a leader and a participant.

  • The Congregation, and the Pastor, Care Deeply About Their Community

This, too, is not unique. But, as with congregational DNA, it is not lip service here…rather a living, breathing “actions speak louder than words.” It helps that the church has “Main Street Frontage,” but it is more telling that an 80-something choir member opens their home one afternoon a week to a youth with a difficult home situation so that child doesn’t wander the streets aimlessly between school and youth group…or that a worship team member with a tenuous financial situation does an overnight weekly at a homeless shelter…or a doctor joins a community team going to Haiti on a few days notice. Again, not unusual, right? Except that, in most cases the congregation doesn’t know this is happening. There is no “honor roll” at work here…but a genuine concern for their community.

What is the “one thing” here? Relationships built upon Scriptural understanding. This is not a worship-driven church, nor a  social justice church, nor a market-driven church. But it is a church that shows the face of Christ, individually and corporately, in large ways and small, every day of the week. The church is a place of welcome hospitality, but it is also a place where there is a place to serve. Visitors can sense that immediately, and, more often than not, they stick.

The combination is not easily packaged for franchising. But I can tell you that it works.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. What makes your church sticky, if anything?

You can follow me on twitter here
Join me on facebook here

{ 1 trackback }

uberVU - social comments
February 26, 2010 at 10:42 pm

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Marc Ristow February 26, 2010 at 10:21 am

You got it! You’re right…besides the doctor going to Haiti, I didnt know about the other two examples of Christ working through the congregation in the community. Praise God!

vernsanders February 26, 2010 at 12:10 pm

My point exactly…


Margaret Marcuson March 2, 2010 at 9:44 am

Vern, this illustrates the critical importance of leadership. The “congregational DNA” is a given, but how the leader articulates the importance of worship and relationships is a variable. It’s easy (and not that useful) to try to “get people to” have the approach we want, but defining ourselves to others, over time, can make a difference. Good post.

vernsanders March 3, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Thanks for your comment. I so appreciate your work, and I think your distinction is critical for people to understand.



Previous post:

Next post: