In this blog series, I identified 9 tips to help keep people from leaving your church (i.e., shutting the back door). I believe all 9 are important. In this post, I’ll address tip number two:
TIP 2. Allow for anonymity.
Have you ever been forced to know or be known?
I once attended a church where every person I saw wanted to become my friend. To shake my hand, introduce themselves, and hear my life story. Seriously. I began walking with my head down as to not make eye contact with anyone in the hallway. But that was just the beginning. In service, we were forced to not just say “hello” to a neighbor, but to have a full on conversation with a FEW neighbors. Again, I looked down and away from my neighbors, which is hard to accomplish over 5 minutes time. Finally, we ended the service holding hands and singing a song. The GUY to my left tried to interlock fingers, which felt like level jumping in our lack-of-relationship.
If you are an extrovert, you might want to visit THAT church next Sunday, as it might sound like a little slice of heaven. But for every introvert (and honestly, even many extroverts), being forced to engage relationally is uncomfortable at best. It’s probably safe to say most people do not like being forced into anything – relationships included. And forced relationships can drive people from your church. It’s an open back door.
So how do we prioritize relationships while allowing for anonymity? Simply by making relationships possible, but optional.
At Watermarke, we have worked hard to create a church ALL people (churched and unchurched) love to attend. When it comes to life, most people prefer to engage on their timetable. In the context of church, the same holds true – especially the unchurched and the spiritually skeptical.
Here are a few tips to allow for anonymity.
1. Stop asking guest to complete info cards (or at least make it clearly optional).
I wrote an entire post on this HERE, so I won’t reiterate it again. You might not agree with this strategy, but ask yourself this question before you argue back: Does your church’s Information Card make your guest feel welcomed or forced to engage on your timeline?
At Watermarke, we provide information only at the request of our guests, and if they would like, we will capture their contact information for a follow-up conversation. But this is ALWAYS by request. Allowing for anonymity.
2. Keep the church service comfortable (and anonymous).
At Watermarke, we often ask people to say hello to the person beside them. This is really more for us to transition from a welcome element into the worship set. But, more often than not, we turn this into a fun moment by connecting to something in culture. As an example, last week I said, “Let’s all stand up, and as we get ready to sing together, tell somebody beside you your favorite Halloween candy – mine is Butterfinger!” This is the ONLY relation’ish moment in our service, and it serves to transition to music AND break down a little personal barrier (but not much).
There are a few more things we do to keep the service comfortable. They are minor, but important. 1. We keep the room kind of dark, especially in the beginning and during worship. 2. We show pre-service videos, ministry commercials, and announcements to make the pre-service time more comfortable for early arrivers. 3. We let people know what to expect and how to engage (when they are ready). 4. We train our volunteer greeters to be warm, not weird. I’ll address these last two in more detail below.
3. Train greeting volunteers to be warm, not weird.
There’s a fine line between a welcoming smile and a “this guy is a little TOO happy” smile. We work hard to teach our volunteer greeters (we call them “Guest Services Leaders”) to keep the building warm and welcoming, but not weird. We don’t force handshakes (we try not to touch people at all). Of course, if you want to shake our hand, we will – but ONLY if you instigate. Because we want to allow for anonymity.
4. Make relational engagement an obvious step, but not an initial step.
Relational connections are crucial to closing the back door. And most healthy people will opt for a relational connection in time. So at Watermarke, we treat relational engagement as an easy, obvious, and logical next step. The key is allowing relational engagement to be a NEXT step, not the first step. This allows for anonymity, but doesn’t force anonymity.
5. Let people know what to expect (and what NOT to expect).
Within the first five minutes of every service, we address our guests from stage. We acknowledge their presence, tell them what to expect, and finally let them know how to connect. It’s very subtle, but effectively, we inform our guest that we are ready to engage with them when they are ready to engage with us. Until then, they can remain anonymous.
I wrote a post on the welcome segment if you want to see how we handle this moment.
6. Trust the relationship already in place.
Most guests at our church attend by personal invitation, and in many cases, sit with the person who invited them. This already established relationship is all that a new churchgoer might need initially, and anything else we attempt to force could push them right out the back door.
If your guests are anything like our guests, then you should lean into the friendship relationship already established, and allow people to engage in other church-related relationships in time.
It feels counter-intuitive to connect shutting the back door with allowing for anonymity, but when we consider how off-putting a forced relational moment can feel, allowing for anonymity is exactly what might keep people in your church instead of leaving your church. And if we keep them with us long enough while providing clear steps to engage in their time, odds are they will be around a long, long time.
How have you tried to balance relationships and anonymity? Do you prioritize one over the other? I’d love to know. Feel free to leave a comment below and share this post with others so we can expand the conversation.