Getting Guests Back

Church Matters, Inspiration, slider

Easter is coming! You’ve been exhorting, imploring, and challenging your congregation to invite about everyone attend your Easter service. The guests are on the way.

Your congregants will be on their best behavior. The church is looking nice. The service is planned in detail. The guest gift bags are filled and waiting at the Info Desk. Your sermon is spot on. You’re ready!

Pastors who are hungry to bring in people desperately needing to connect with Jesus realize that getting guests to make their first visit is the easy part. But once you greet and treat them, will they return?

In-touch pastors realize how tenuous a guest’s “I’m coming back” decision really is.

While you’ve probably already considered helping them feel significant, the fact is that a welcoming service experience isn’t enough anymore. Guests can find that online with all the bells and whistles. If your guests don’t return, your congregation will hesitate asking again.

Even with a fantastic guest experience, you will lose them if they can’t answer the real question:

“Can I experience God here?”

If they answer “Yes,” they’ll return long enough to begin connecting. If not, they’ll never come back.

Such a challenge! How do you compress 66 books of the Bible and 20 years walking with Jesus into a couple of minutes during which your guests experience the Lord?

The answer is amazingly simple.

Use a song.

God gave us music as a doorway to engage Him. He built into us actual instruments—voices, hands, fingers, feet. Music impacts us on physical, intuitive, cognitive, and even relational levels. It bypasses cultural, linguistic, theological, and mental obstacles. It allows us to express our hearts and reach to Him. There’s no surprise that every culture I’ve ever studied has cultivated some form of musical expression.

If you’re the kind of pastor who is committed to church growth, you’ve probably read the research identifying in currently growing church models the single common thread: congregations engaged in expressive worship.

Music provides the doorway through which your guests can engage.

But, as you know, music can also lose them. These three false beliefs hamper effective music in church.

Three Killers Of Effective Church Music

  • Fallacy #1: A song is a warm up for the sermon. Pastors who connect well through sermons appreciate how music and other service elements help create a readiness to receive. But sometimes—at least for me—the highlight of the service is found outside of my carefully crafted presentation. It steps on my pride to admit that I’ve heard overheard someone humming one of our songs in the hallway or bathroom far more often than discussions about the excellent points of a recent sermon. Songs are memorable and speak powerfully into people’s lives. And while diligent pastors seek to deliver God’s message well, how much more powerful are moments when the Holy Spirit speaks directly to someone’s heart during times of praise.
  • Fallacy #2: A song should be listened to. It’s no coincidence that each Hebrew word for “praise” translates as a physical action expressing an internal interaction with God. Praise requires participation, not merely observation and mental assent. But if your guests find within themselves a desire to engage—even if they are not quite sure how—that hunger will motivate them to return, especially when they realize what they felt was a desire to connect with God.
  • Fallacy #3: The quality of a song’s presentation is not as important as its content. Biblical content must also be presented with excellence and authenticity. Sloppy mistakes makes a guest feel uncomfortable and disconnected. Lack of familiarity with how you do church (stand, sit, sing…) easily leads to embarrassment. Guests sense when the countenance of those on the platform and in the congregation fails to match the words being presented. It shouts “these people are either unauthentic or I simply don’t get them.” Why would guests return to experience that again? Guests usually do not expect the level of professionalism that they’d experience at a concert or theme park, but if you claim to worship the Almighty Creator of the Universe, don’t you think it creates a disconnect when the microphone can’t stop ringing, the guitar is out of tune, the wrong lyrics are on the screen, and the vocalists don’t even know the words to the song they’re singing? Quality counts.

Three Things That Make Music Effective

  • A song’s presentation must be engaging. Eliminate distractions that hinder congregational participation. Unfamiliar songs must be simple enough to quickly pass from Learning Mode into Engaged Mode. Encouragement helps people survive that curve. Smiles, eye contact, comments, engaging music, congregational involvement, something interesting, provoking lyrics, fun… there must be enough of a pay-off to retain interest for another 25 seconds. And then the next 25, and the next, until engagement occurs.
  • A song’s presentation must open the door and get out of the way so people can interact with the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 4:11-13 basically says that our job as leaders is to equip our people and let them grow by doing things themselves. It’s so easy for congregants to “let the professionals do it” and slip away from being engaged.
  • A song must convey authentic interaction between God and His people. Guests can sense that something significant is going on even if they don’t understand the why or the how. And they sense when everyone is just going through religious motions. Our culture runs from empty religion, but desperately yearns to encounter the Savior. Worship-Arts staff and volunteers who experience the spiritual transformation that accompanies sacrificial service convey that Jesus is accessible and truly present.

Even the most well-intentioned pastors can be baffled by how to develop the kind of thriving music program capable of facilitating interactive experiences that draw your guests to return.

Four Key Ministry Values

I selected 4 of the key values covered in my book Born For Worship. While these values apply to any church ministry, they are particularly significant for those serving in worship-arts. These values helped me grow a disjointed, damaged group of 26 individuals into a team of 108 trained, equipped, and unified musicians and technicians. Consider how your church could be impacted if your worship-arts team established such principles.

  • Ministry is about transformation. Developing Christ-like character aligns you with how Jesus wants to touch the world through you.
  • People are at peak impact when serving through their Jesus-instilled gifts. A church is at peak impact when its parts function in unity and strength. We’re better together.
  • Being a living sacrifice is not only the doorway through which we connect our soul to Jesus; we reach the world by being worship reflectors who direct worship beyond ourselves and toward Jesus.
  • Congregational worship is a spiritual encounter between the Lord and His people. As important as the art is, regardless of how intricately crafted or passionately presented, human effort cannot replace that Jesus moves amongst us.

Pastors who shepherd their flocks understand the need for continual communication to embed these values into the DNA of the congregation. That’s why we cast vision, disciple, model, teach, and debrief. It’s why we equip and train our leaders to encourage and support those who serve in our worship-arts programs.

When people embrace these values, significant things happen. It’s really a cycle. By catching the vision, passion increases. Passion increases desire to serve. Serving leads to transformational growth. Growth reinforces vision. Vision increases passion. Passion increases… rinse and repeat.

It’s downright contagious. We’ve gathered in Jesus’ name according to His purposes. He shows up.

And your guests? They’ll be back!


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Author and ministry coach Timothy J Miller thrives on equipping individuals and teams to serve. His new book Born For Worship: The Best You Can Be In Worship-Arts Ministry (Amazon & Kindle) helps apply key values learned through over 30 years in the worship/leadership trenches as a worship pastor and musician.

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