Attending Church for the First Time Can Be Scary

 The First Day

Remember your first day at the new school growing up- what it was like knowing no one? Remember being dropped off at camp, as you balanced trying to be cool saying good-bye to your parents, but terrified to see them leave? Remember your first practice with the new team, dance group, or club? It’s so easy to forget how scary it is to do something new.

Once we feel a part of a community or group, it’s hard to remember what it was like to not feel that connection. Cognitive Psychologists coined the phrase, curse of knowledge to describe this kind of forgetting. Once we know something, it’s almost impossible to remember what it was like to not know it (Try not knowing the Happy Birthday song).

Because I’ve been a part of an amazing church community for the last seven years, I’ve forgotten what it’s really like to attend church for the first time; that is until a few weeks ago. My family I sat in our big grey van taking deep breaths, psyching ourselves up like Rocky before a big fight- to head into a new church. I suddenly remembered what it was like to walk into a new place for the first time. It’s scary.

So, I’d like to share 3 questions I asked myself as I attended these new churches. If you’re a pastor or business owner, think about what it’s like for people to interact with your establishment for the first time.

1. What should I Expect?

I was nervous about trying a new church. So, I Googled potential churches, finding out everything I could. My primary goal for Sunday was to not look like an idiot. So, I wanted to know what time service started. Also, will there be quality childcare? Where will the services be held? One church website gave me an address- and that was all. I wondered if the service was held in a gym, school, theater, house, office building, tee pee, prison, or hole in the ground (Due to weather I guessed I could cross off hole in the ground). I was also curious what to wear? No one wants to be the guy wearing a tuxedo to the pool party. Does your website answer every question a potential guest might have? Does it accurately portray the ambience a potential guest will find upon arrival? 

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2. Where should we go?

My family visited the ambiguous address church and alas, there were also no street signs. We missed the turn into what appeared to be a secret fort and had drive around the block to try again. We hoped we were in the right place. This immediately made us feel more nervous that we were, in fact, in the wrong place. We contemplated where to go eat breakfast. There’s nothing more awkward than walking into what you assumed was a Sunday church service, but turned out to be a Sunday morning apocalyptic cult meeting. You only want to make that mistake once. Luckily, in this instance it was the church we planned on attending.

We walked in and immediately scanned the room for where to take our children, while at the same time trying to seem casual and confident. It was difficult to find at first, but we eventually found the child check in. A friendly person took us back to drop off our children- which was awesome. We couldn’t help but think about our children’s safety. As we convinced our two year old that the kid’s room would be fun- we hoped we were telling the truth. We then found our way to the worship space and took a seat. When a new person attends your building, how easy is it to know where to go? Is every area clearly marked? Will you notice the new person and walk them through their whole process?

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3. Do you want me back? 

Everyone wants to find a place they belong. We want to fit in and feel comfortable, like we’re a part of the t.v. show Friends, Seinfeld, The Big Bang Theory, or Cheers. As my family piled back into our car after the service, we reflected on how we felt at church. Did we form any meaningful connections that we hoped to continue? Did we fit in and connect with the people at the church? We’re partly responsible for this part of the equation because when it comes to relationships- you only get back what you put in. But, I thought about the greeters, the people who took us back to the kids room, and the people in general. Did it feel like something special was happening here that we wanted to join? How well do you communicate that you want people to return? Do you have a community people want to join? Do you build relationships with new people that they want to continue?

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Make New Friends and Keep the Old

If you want new people to be a part of your organization, then you need to plan for their arrival. Make it easy for them to get to where you are. Let them know what to expect. Answer all their questions before they’re even able to ask. And finally, make them feel welcome. Even with your best efforts, your church might not be a good fit- but at least they’ll leave feeling valued.

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