Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Top 5 Ways to Scare Away Visitors to Your Church

How do you feel when you walk into a room full of strangers?  I feel nervous, shy, and apprehensive.  Probably you do too.  It can be hard.  Will anyone speak to me?  Will I be able to figure out what these people are doing?  Will I fit in?  What if my child screams?  These are the same feelings that people visiting your church have.

What can your church do to make them feel less nervous and more welcomed?  Below are my top five things NOT to do. There are lots of lists like this around on blogs and twitter, but these happen to be my favorites…or should I say pet peeves?!  I work for an Episcopal church and one of my two main areas of focus is evangelism so I think about welcoming and visitors a lot!

Number One:  There are no signs in the building to tell visitors where to find important rooms.

Sure you know where the bathrooms and nursery are, but visitors don’t.  Put up signs. Simple and clear.  Using arrows is okay.  The most important ones are: Church/worship, bathrooms and nursery.

Number Two:  Nobody speaks to visitors when they enter the building.

Put greeters at all your major entry points.  They should smile, welcome people, introduce themselves and provide instructions to major areas of the building.  If the visitors have children, ask if they’d like to know about the nursery or child care.  Greeters are NOT allowed to talk to their friends during this time.  Their job is to talk to visitors.  They are to be at their post 15 minutes before the service starts and stay there until 10 minutes after the service has started.

Number Three:  Visitors and new members stand by themselves after church and at the coffee hour

This is a seriously bad.  Greeters can be asked to speak to them AND introduce them to others.  It is not just the job of the clergy or other staff to speak to visitors. We are all called to the ministry of hospitality.

Number Four:  You ask visitors to stand up and introduce themselves during the announcement period

Don’t single out visitors. They really just want to blend in. Speak to them after the service and introduce them to others at coffee hour.

Number Five:  You don’t follow up with them

If they will give you their contact information, you must follow up with them within 36 hours.  That’s by Tuesday.  Give them a warm and gentle call, note or email thanking them for visiting and asking if they have any questions.

Finally, none of this matters a bit if they can’t find your church or find out the times of your worship services.  So Carolyn’s Number One rule about that is: you have to have a website and it has to be easy to find information on: worship times, nursery times, parking and directions.  It should be no more than one click to this information.

Did you know that visitors to a church often decide within the first 11 minutes whether or not they’ll visit a second time?  It’s true.  Our parents told us that first impressions are important, and it turns out the same are true for our churches.

Carolyn M. Chilton

Searching for America

“I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why”, sang Simon and Garfunkel in 1968.

NPR’s Morning Edition had a great story this morning about the song and what it has meant to people through the years, and what it means today. (Be sure to listen to the story and not just read it. It’s only 4 minutes and includes the music.)

“The line that stands out for me is ‘I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why'”, said one of the interviewee’s.  She went on to talk about how she felt like that as a young adult, and  now does again. “We are still searching for America,” said another.

The 2018 mid-term elections are over though many races are still in a re-count.  The rancor hasn’t dissipated (in my opinion).  Who are we in America?  Is this who we want to be or can we be more?

Can the church help us explore these questions? For ourselves as individuals and as a community?

What if…

  • The church offered time and resources in Advent to explore these questions? It doesn’t have to be fancy.  I realize that Advent starts soon! Play the song on video, ask for remembrances and stories, reflect on them.  Invite people to journal during the week.
  • You invited people to do this around their Thanksgiving tables, giving them some questions and tools for amiable discussion.
  • The church continued the conversation in Lent perhaps looking at how your community can wrestle with the questions.  Invite those outside your church to join you.  Take road trips to member’s churches inviting their neighbors to join you.

“I walked off to look for America,” Simon & Garfunkel sing.  How can the church help people do just that?

Carolyn M. Chilton

Hospitality has many forms…

…and one of those, I believe, is mindfulness.  In particular I want to highlight how being intentional and caring are acts of hospitality to ourselves,  to others, and within our congregations.

On Being has a wonderful interview today about mindfulness and care.  I noticed this:

“Type out your email. Then stop, take three deep breaths, follow your breath in and out, and in and out, and in and out. Then read the email. Read it from the perspective of the person who is going to receive it. Think about it from that person’s perspective and then either change it or not and then send.”

I use email a lot.  I love the written word and as an introvert it lets me process and shape my thoughts in a way that verbal communication often does not.  It became doubly important to me in my work in the church because I quickly came to see email as an act of care and hospitality.  It was especially important in my communication  – in the moment or later – with visitors and new members in our congregation.

Showing care in email is extending Christ’s hand of love to others.  When we do this, we focus beyond ourselves.

Practicing intentionality and care in our communication, can spill over to other aspects of hospitality and evangelism in our congregations. What if you were intentional about speaking to people at church that you don’t know?  Intentionally welcoming children, teens, and young adults?  Sharing social media posts from your church with others? Making sure your church has signs that help people find their way around the building?


“There are no signs in your church that direct visitors to the sanctuary, nursery, or bathrooms,” I commented at a evangelism workshop. “Why do we need those?” a woman replied.  “We know where they are.”

Congregations that don’t practice hospitality in all its forms are ones that are focused inward.  And they don’t grow.  Churches can no longer expect to grow by hoping enough people will wander in the door to help them keep the doors open.  Churches grow because they focus outward and extend Christ’s hands of love and hospitality to all whom they encounter in all forms of communication and interaction.

A wise friend said:

People used to come to church seeking God.  And along the way they found community.

Now people come to church seeking community.  And along the way they find God.

How are YOU and your church offering hospitality and community? And along the way helping people to find God?

Carolyn M. Chilton

Attractional Evangelism Isn’t Working

Has your church changed over the past few years?  It seems to me that even a tangentially involved church-goer will notice that this is not the church of a decade or less ago.  Some of these changes,  hopefully many, are for the good…more emphasis on Christ’s mission in the world, vibrant worship, increased diversity, greater involvement in our neighborhoods.

But some of the changes we see worry us, with the top among these I think being decreased involvement and attendance.  Or certainly it gets the most conversation and questions that I hear.  And these bring added worries such as financial viability, building usage and upkeep, staff changes.

Many things in the church of years ago no longer work.  And one of the biggest is what is called “attractional evangelism”.  This is when we open our doors and expect people to come to us.  This is when we work hard to offer better and bigger programs, and diverse forms of worship and expect people to find us just because of those.

People who study congregations, religion, and evangelism are talking and writing more about the church (which is you and me not the buildings) needing to go out into our neighborhoods instead of waiting for the neighborhood to find us.

This is an interesting article which I urge you to read.  What the author is saying is that our attractional models of evangelism are no longer enough.  They have to be balanced with “go to them” models.  Make sure you read the whole article because you need to read about the shifts in this thinking and the 5 practices the author recommends.

I’ll highlight two of them:

  • The first is a Radical Hospitality that we individually extend to our neighbors and neighborhoods and which is more than Sunday morning hospitality to the visitor.
  • The third is Intentional Faith Development.  If we don’t involve people in their spiritual development how can we expect them to become active disciples of Christ? Our places of employment offer skill and knowledge development.  Why shouldn’t the church?  How can the church learn to listen to people about their spiritual questions and the constraints that hold back their church involvement?  Go over to my Facebook page and listen to the video about Big Buts!

What would this look like for you and your church?  What are the practical ways a “go to: model of evangelism works?

Carolyn M. Chilton


No Wonder Your Sunday Attendance is So Low

Does “coffee hour” at your church look like this?


My husband and I have been visiting churches for the past few months and it is amazing how we are ignored.  I honestly don’t think people know what to do about visitors and people they don’t know.  Many of these churches are fairly small so I think we clearly stand out as visitors.  But that seems to just increase people’s dis-comfort rather than increasing their hospitality.

Take a look around at your church this Sunday. If visitors and new members are standing alone before or after the service or at coffee hour you have a problem.  Visitors decide in less than 5 minutes if they’ll visit a church a second time.  And the top 2 reasons that they don’t?  Nobody spoke to them and they couldn’t find their way around the building.

Speaking to visitors and incorporating new members into the life of your church is not the job of the clergy, or staff, or vestry/parish council.  It is everyone’s job.  Read this.

Carolyn M. Chilton

Closing the Back Door

A while back, okay in June 2011, an article in The Christian Post stated:

80% of congregants are inactive.  This of course means that only 20% are active.  This isn’t news to most of us. You’ve probably heard some form of it before, often as a complaint: “20% of the people are doing 80% of the work.”   Whatever the phrase, the truth of the matter is that too many people in our congregations are not engaged with the mission and ministry of their congregation and their own spiritual growth.


It’s true that people are busier and busier. It’s true that Sunday morning is now full of other opportunities – sports, shopping, the only day to sleep in. But Scott Thumma and Warren Bird, authors of the book “The Other 80 Percent” argue that a contributing factor is that churches are not engaging people in their own spiritual growth.  We’re not minding the back door, as they phrase it.  A common phrase now is that we are “not discipling” people. Most of our evangelism efforts are focused on getting new people in the front door.  Most of our churches work hard to greet people on Sunday, invite them to coffee after church, sign them up for a newcomer’s class, maybe enroll their children in Sunday School.  Then somewhere 8-10 months into the newcomer assimilation process, our efforts wane.  And we realize too late that they haven’t made any friends, haven’t joined a small group of some kind, and aren’t coming to non-worship events.  We notice that we don’t see them around anymore.  “Hey, where is that new family with the two young children?”  But, by then, they’ve slipped out the back door. They’re gone.   Is part of the reason that we the church have not engaged them in the mission and ministry of the gospel and of our congregation?

It would seem obvious that there have to be programs to incorporate people into, but Thumma and Bird argue that this is not the case: churches are actually offering fewer opportunities for long term members to grow through engagement with the gospel. When we couple this with the top reason given for why people’s participation in a church decreases (“my faith has gotten weaker”) we can begin to see one of the paths that can lead people out our back doors.

 The Spiritual Life survey done by Willow Creek Church ( shows similar findings:

  • 22% of those surveyed said that they “have stalled spiritually.
  • 17% expressed a level of dissatisfaction with their church’s role in helping them grow spiritually

Their most surprising data was that there was little correlation between how active a person considered themselves to be in their congregation and how high they rated their spirituality or spiritual attitudes. In other words, even the “20% who are doing 80% of the work” are reporting being under-engaged or un-engaged spiritually by their congregation.

This should be a wake-up call to the church.

Incorporation of new, lagging and lapsed people into a congregation is hard work. Engaging people in the gospel is hard work.  It’s the work of the congregation, not just a few people.  It takes intentionality.  It takes planning. How is your church sharing and engaging people in the Good News in your congregation?  How does your congregation engage the newcomer, the new member of one year, the member of 10 years who comes t

Carolyn M. Chilton

o church less and less, and the person who works hard all week?

Car Talk & Sunday Morning


I love Car Talk.  Click and Clack are, in my opinion, the funniest guys around.  I listen to the show because they make me laugh.  As a bonus, I learn about cars.  Not that I do anything much about the car other than say, “John, I think there is something wrong with the car.”

But you know, they’re evangelist’s.  It isn’t the “Good News of Jesus Christ”, but it’s the good news of humor.  And for my money, we all need more of that. So I’m willing to “share” the word evangelist with them.

Last Saturday, one of the callers was a young women – late 20’s as I recall.  I don’t remember her car problem, but after much kidding and flirting, Tom and Ray walked her through how to fix the problem.  And then one of them said, “So on Saturday morning when you’re relaxing and don’t have much to do you can fix your car.”  And she replied, “No, that would be Sunday morning.”

Wow. There it was in one short sentence — the gap between the church and many young adults.  The gap between the church and many people of all ages, actually.

For many many people Sunday is not any different from Tuesday, for example.  It isn’t set aside for worship, or at least worship in the usual organized Christian sense.  Sabbath appears to be an unfamiliar word and concept.  It is a day for rest (good), a day perhaps for family and community (good), but where is worship?

Where is the church?  Is it “their” fault or ours (the church)?

We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

“They aren’t coming to us [the church] any more…. We are no longer the first place people think about when life falls apart. We have to actually do the “Go” part of the Great Commission.” This is from a blog post by Ron Edmondson: Paradigms of the “New Normal” in Church Leadership

This is a good article and I recommend that you read it.  Mr. Edmonson is, I think, trying to get the church – i.e. you and I – to recognize that “we’re not in Kansas anymore,” as Dorothy said to Toto when they found themselves in the land of Oz.

What did Dorothy do in Oz?  She built relationships – the tin man, the straw man, the Lion, little green people, a nicely dressed witch, Oz himself.

How diwizard-of-oz-original1she do it?  She walked down the yellow brick road, out into the world of Oz.  And there she encountered others.  She listened to their story (“I’m rusty and can’t move”, “I’m afraid and can’t move”…).  She told them who she was (“I’m lost and trying to get home”).  She invited them to come with her on the journey.

It’s about relationships, folks. How the church markets itself is through building relationships one person at a time.

Here’s another angle on why we should do this:  Put yourself in the visitor’s shoes.  How do you feel when you walk into a new place, especially a place where everyone seems to know everyone else?  I feel nervous and a bit scared.  What does it mean to you when someone speaks to you in this situation?  It makes me feel much less nervous.  It makes me feel a bit more included.

Jesus was all about love and love is evidenced in hospitality.  Speak to the visitor in church tomorrow.


I work at an Episcopal Church in Richmond VA.  The Rector is actually quite cool.   He’s funny, well read, very smart, loves Bob Dylan and is taking electric guitar lessons.  I’m lucky.

He’s also committed to evangelism.  Hard to believe in an Episcopal clergy person, eh?!

At our Annual Meeting in February (these generally dull meetings are required by canon) he talked about evangelism.  Here is some of what he said:

“I am talking, of course, about the dreaded word….evangelism.  It comes from a Greek word simply meaning “good news.”  The old English for it is “Godspell”.  So think about it that way if you will…we are called to spell out, to tell, to show God and the good news, to be a Godspeller.

fishbowl-oceanThe problem is that for too long the Episcopal idea of evangelism has been “fishbowl evangelism”. Put the bowl by the sea shore and hope some fish jump in.  But Jesus said to his disciples – go fishing!”

What does “go fishing” look like?  I believe it is two things:  invitation and relationships.

Invitation.  Inviting someone to church.  The statistics at the church where I work are that 85% of our visitors/newcomers have come because someone personally invited them. This is in line with studies from churches across the country.  A recent study that I read (which didn’t site a source) said that 1% of people visit a church because of a newspaper or TV ad.  Big difference. Jesus invited.  Follow me. Come and see.

Michael Harvey, an Anglican clergy person and evangelist, says that the invitation is a simple 11 word question:  Would you like to come to church with me on Sunday? And here’s what he adds:  that success is not measured by how many say yes.  Success is measured by our extending the invitation.  We are called to be faithful.  “Go into all the world,” says Jesus at the end of Matthew’s gospel.  We invite. Growth is God’s job.

Second, I think evangelism is relationships.  We build relationships by engaging people in telling their story, listening to it, and our telling God’s story and the story of our own lives.  Where these overlap – and they will – we will find connections and relationships.  And relationships build community.  Community builds commitment.

Don’t put your fish bowl by the sea shore.  Go into the all the world.  It’s full of fish.

New Models

Bad habit: I read the last few pages of Diana Butler Bass’s new book, Christianity After Religion, recently while sitting in a bookstore.  Good news:  it was good so I’ll read the rest.

Just from my brief reading, I was reminded of the Celtic model of evangelism that I outlined in an earlier post. That model for evangelism was:

  • Fellowship,
  • Ministry and Conversations
  • Belief & Invitation to Commitment.

Butler Bass talks about a new model for the church of “belonging, behaving and believing.”  Which, I believe, corresponds to the Celtic model above:

  • Belonging=Fellowship
  • Behaving=Ministry and Conversations
  • Believing=Belief and Invitation to Commitment.

What might this  model look like in a local congregation?  This is what we do at the Episcopal church where I work so I’ll describe that for you.  We work hard to engage visitors/newcomers in on-going conversation about who we are and who they are. Storytelling.  Clergy and staff follow up with phone calls and emails; we take them out for coffee or lunch; other parishioners visit them; we are intentional about talking to them on Sunday morning; we ask them to help in small ways with programs and events.  We invite, engage, share.

Behaving or ministry and conversations as Butler Bass terms it is just more of the same.  We’re more intentional about inviting and involvement; we pair them with a mentor in the parish; we connect them with small groups and get them involved. If they have children, we work to incorporate the children into events, programs and classes.

As a last step, or sometimes in the midst of the first two steps depending on the person, we ask if they are interested in formal membership.  Many say “yes”; some say “not yet”.  I haven’t kept any hard data, but I find that the more involved the person was with a church in  the past, the longer it takes them to make a formal commitment of membership to our church.  It is hard to let go of the past often.  That’s okay.    But in the transition  time, we consider them members of our church.  And we respect them enough to expect something of them.    We expect them to be involved in worship and programs and give of their time and talents, and we expect them to give financially.  When I say to these folks that we have expectations of them just as they have of us, I have never had anyone get angry or refuse.  Isn’t that kind of amazing?  Why?  I think it is because they are by then part of the community – they have become connected to us just as we have to them. They have become connected to our story – the Christian story as well as the story of who we are at that particular church.

St. Patrick  might have said that he and his missionaries were learning about the culture and the lives of the people before asking for a commitment.  I would say that today we should be doing the same – engaging people in worship, fellowship and ministries all while telling the story of who we are as Christians and helping them to find where they can fit into that.  And out of that we all walk into greater commitment to God, the church and each other.

Evangelism:  it’s radical hospitality.  Inviting, engaging and incorporating.