No church is automatically friendly. Especially not to outsiders coming in.
In some places, friendliness is harder than others. Like where I live, in Orange County California.
The Orange County population is so varied, so new and so busy, we don't develop relationships without being very intentional about it. Even in church.
The good news is that most people who attend church do so for spiritual reasons. But the reason they choose one church over another church is often about personal relationships.
People usually visit a church because a friend invited them. And when they choose to stay it’s because they’ve made friends there.
Friendly Churches are No Mistake
It’s often easier to find a church that preaches the Bible, has good worship and offers excellent child care than it is to find a church where we can make genuine, lasting friendships.
Genuine friendships are becoming more rare – and thus, of greater perceived value – than any other aspect of modern church life.
If we want to bring people in and keep them coming to church, we need to turn up the friendliness quotient.
The G.I.F.T. Plan for Friendlier Churches
One of the simple things that has helped our church become friendlier and more welcoming is something I call the G.I.F.T. Plan.
G.I.F.T. stands for Greet, Introduce, Follow up, and Thank.
Every week, we encourage our church members, and especially our leaders, to do at least one of the following steps:
1. GREET someone you’ve never met before.
Get out of your comfort zone. Find someone whose name you don't know and learn it. Welcome them if they're new. Discover something about them.
Get to know them if they've been around for a while, but you just haven't met yet. Or offer to sit with them if they came to church alone.
2. INTRODUCE people to each other.
After meeting someone, make sure they meet others, too. Connect people who have something in common.
Introduce a first time guest to the pastor. A young person to the youth leader. Kids and their parents to the children's ministries director. And so on.
3. FOLLOW UP on someone you met recently.
Find that person you met a week or two ago and say 'hi' again. Call them by name. Engage in further conversation. Include them in your group of friends.
4. THANK someone who did something you appreciate.
Every church has people who volunteer their time and efforts with very little, if any appreciation shown to them.
Sometimes it's a simple "way to go" to the worship leader. Or an appreciation to a Sunday School teacher for encouraging your child to read their Bible.
Encouragement costs nothing, but is worth a great deal.
5. ACCOUNTABILITY – The Essential Fifth Step
Every week, at our church leaders meeting, one of the first items on our agenda is always 'Who did you G.I.F.T. this week?'
We go around the room and share stories about who we met, introduced and so on. By doing this, we hold ourselves accountable and we often learn more about church members and guests as we do so. ("Oh yeah, I met her, too. She told me she wants to help in the nursery. Here’s her email.")
We also teach the G.I.F.T. Plan in our discipleship class, including requiring the students to apply it on Sundays and report back to the group.
Since starting the G.I.F.T. Plan, our church members have come more out of their shell, opened their hearts a little wider and met some great new friends along the way.
We don't expect people to do all four steps each week. Most find that they do one or two well, but not the others. And if someone gets busy on a Sunday and misses doing it, there's no guilt attached. But when we ask them to do one a week and report the results, we've found that this simple plan with accountability attached to it makes a big difference.
Imagine a church in which everyone Greeted, Introduced, Followed Up or Thanked someone every week.
It Really Works!
I’m under no delusions that this simple little plan will automatically lead to long and lasting friendships, but imagine a church in which everyone (or every leader and most of the regulars) Greeted, Introduced, Followed Up or Thanked someone every week. It would truly be a GIFT to their guests and to the entire church.
Our church still has a lot to learn about being friendlier. But these steps have been a great starting point.
Just last Sunday, a couple in our church introduced me to someone who had sat near them during the service. We chatted and got to know each other. After the guest left with a wave and a heartfelt "thanks, I'll see you next Sunday!" the couple turned to me and said "we got our 'G' this week!"
To which I responded, “and your 'l' for introducing him to me!”
They smiled. And I believe Jesus did, too.