Holidays such as Easter and Christmas are often times when pastors and congregations focus not only on Jesus but on the potential for an increase in visitors. Everything is extra-special on those days. There are special programs, worship is typically different, and we even take the time to throw out our everyday dress in exchange for something new. These holidays are indeed special and draw a crowd for a good reason--Jesus is the Savior of the world. But what happens when the holidays have passed? How can we encourage visitors to return every Sunday?
I became a Christian at the age of 22. I didn’t have any real desire for the Lord but when I heard the gospel and gave my life to the Him I stayed. Here are a few reasons I think I kept returning and ways pastors and congregations might keep those visitors returning as well.
1. Preach the gospel every Sunday: Pastors can come up with all sorts of programs and gimmicks to entertain their congregations but none of those things will transform a soul. Don’t misunderstand, the Lord can use those things, but ultimately what will keep a visitor returning is the gospel. It is the Good News that saves and it is the gospel that we need to hear over and over again. “So faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).
2. Preach the word faithfully: Another thing that kept me (and keeps me) coming back was seeing the Bible opened up, studied, and exposed upon. This is similar to reason number one. We need to hear the Word preached and it is God’s Word that will keep us coming back.
3. Think evangelistically: Sundays seem to be one of the most distracting days of the week for my family. Trying to get out of the door with two children can be a chore. It takes great effort to look up and see others who walk into the building. We have to remember that the Great Commission in Matthew 28 is for us today as well. We are called to go and make disciples of all nations and teach them. We can’t do that if we aren’t thinking about others on Sunday mornings. Actively pray that the Lord will help you think of how you might love and serve your neighbor on that Sunday. Your neighbor might just be a visitor for the first time.
4. Be hospitable: Hospitality takes intentionality and thoughtfulness and must begin with an outward focus on others. It can be as simple as saying hello to hosting someone in your home. If you are having lunch after church, invite your neighbor to join. Extending genuine love and care displays the love of Christ to visitors. As Hebrews 13: 2 exhorts us, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
5. Follow up: Most churches have card where guests are invited to share contact information. Don’t forget to actually contact your guests. My husband became a Christian after attending and event where he heard the gospel. But it wasn’t the event that the Lord used to ultimately bring him to Christ; it was a follow up call from a member who then once again shared the Good News with him. We won’t know how our hospitality or even our evangelism will affect others, but we can guarantee doing nothing will produce nothing.
6. Welcome the hurting: Our churches should be a place where those who are struggling, marginalized, hurting, and in deep sin should be welcomed. They should be welcomed so that by the grace of God they might be cared for and restored. This would mean being a place that doesn’t show partiality (James 2). It would mean being a place that doesn’t throw stones but seeks to extend grace and truth (John 8:7). It would mean being a place where sinners come to find rest and love.
Ultimately, our job is to trust the Lord and pray for those who visit. It’s not about numbers; it’s about souls who know Jesus. So, whenever we are thinking about retention we must not focus on numbers and how many fill our pews, but on Jesus and the proclamation of the gospel. We want to love our neighbors. And we should all pray that like the First Century church in Acts the Lord would add to our number day by day those who are being saved (Acts. 2:47).
Trillia Newbell is a wife, mom, and writer who loves Jesus. She is the author of United: Captured by God's Vision for Diversity (Moody, 2014). You can follow her on Twitter. Visit her at her website at www.trillianewbell.com.