Last fall, I counted down the days to the big MacBook Pro reveal, but now here I sit, typing away on my 5-year-old laptop.
While boasting of making the laptop millimeters thinner and ounces lighter, they loaded it with an old processor, and a battery so inconsistent that Consumer Reports withheld their recommendation of the model for the first time ever.
At the beginning of 2017, FastCo Design writer Mark Wilson put into words what many Apple fans are feeling:
Dear Apple, please fix boring problems this year. Stop trying to dazzle us. Just give us old-school great design that works.
As we begin new seasons in our ministries, we dream big dreams. We encourage our churches to be creative and think outside of the box. We launch new programs, start new groups, or re-brand our services.
But what if we find ourselves in the same boat as Apple—casting big visions while neglecting the things that matter? Here are some boring problems you can and should fix:
1. Clean Up Your Website and Online Presence
There is nothing less sexy than reading every sentence on your own website, Facebook page, and your church’s page on the denominational website (like UMC’s Find-A-Church). But there is also nothing more frustrating for a visitor than showing up at the wrong time for a service.
And there is nothing more disappointing than someone who would have connected with your church choosing not to visit because your website is inward-focused or your Facebook page looks dead.
Cement this statement in your brain: Your website is for visitors, not members. Make sure someone who has never been to your church can quickly and easily find every piece of information they need to feel comfortable about visiting. This includes information about where to park and where families with children should go.
And make bright, smiling photos of real people from your congregation the first thing people see when they get to your website. They will connect with that much more than your building, pastor, or current sermon series.
2. Clean Up Your Facilities (Especially Children’s Areas)
You know those Febreeze commercials about being “nose blind” to smells we have gotten used to? The same thing happens with our church facilities—and with more than just smells.
We get comfortable with clutter. We ignore the shaggy bushes. We know that the stain on the carpet is just coffee. And the dust-caked air intake vent in the children’s wing? Doesn’t exist in our mental picture.
But those things 100% exist, and they can be both a turn-off as well as hazardous.
Cleaning and maintaining facilities is tedious and expensive. And if you don’t have the room in the budget to hire someone, you’re relying on volunteers, ministry staff, or even yourself. Things just don’t get done, they don’t get picked up, and they don’t get repaired.
You can argue that it gives the place a certain type of charm or that it feels like home, but remember: for a visitor, it is not home yet. And there is absolutely NOTHING charming about a dirty, cluttered children’s area.
3. Audit Your Services
Similar to the previous point, we can become “blind” to certain aspects of our services. We don’t notice that the greeters only talk to people they know because we are one of the people they know (or we don’t enter through the same door as everyone else). We accept music that isn’t as good as it could be because we know and love the music leader or choir director. We don’t notice awkward transitions or hiccups in the service anymore because they happen every week.
And we accept lackluster sermons because we know how hard we work and how many others things we have had to focus on lately…
This is where a “mystery worshiper” might come in handy. Like a mystery shopper who is sent into a store with fresh eyes to give honest feedback, find some people who don’t go to your church but are willing to evaluate it for you. Find both people who are familiar and unfamiliar with church, and ask them what their experience was like. What did they like? What turned them off? Where were they confused? What would have helped?
Before you buy that new piece of equipment or launch that new service, make sure that what you’re doing is working as well as it could.
4. Create an Intentional Guest Follow Up Procedure
This is one of those steps that we all know we should do, but it often falls through the cracks. We will have bursts of motivation for it, sending thank you emails or taking people small gifts after the start of the new year or after a weekend like Easter. But it is a week-in-week-out necessity.
Create a clear, easy, and low-pressure way to collect contact information from visitors. Ask for as little information as you need, like a name and email address (you can get all the kids’ birthdays when they join the church later).
Then make a plan for what to do with the information. Does someone send them a personal email? Does it come from the pastor or a lay person? Do you create an email sequence that can be sent over a week or two that thanks them and introduces them to difference aspects of the church and its mission?
Once you have the system figured out, make sure someone is following up on it every week. Making contact after someone visits is a great way to let them know that their visit mattered and that your church cares.
5. Make Next Steps and the Discipleship Path Clear
Ok, great—you have a follow-up system in place and people are coming back. What now?
Well, you have new members class, Wednesday night dinner, small groups, Sunday school, the food pantry, youth group, a mission trip, a prayer circle, men’s ministry, women’s ministry, mom’s ministry, single’s ministry, and a thousand other options. Talk about decision paralysis!
Create a clear sequence of next steps that help people get plugged into the church. It doesn’t have to be a 3-year process, and you don’t have to keep visitors, new members, or transfers from knowing about and participating in your other ministries. However, you have an awesome opportunity to introduce people to your church, what it believes, and what it does in an intentional way.
Offer multiple on-ramps based on where someone is in their walk with Christ. Someone who is new to the faith might benefit from a “Christianity 101” class or beginner-level small group, but a family that just moved to town and was active in their previous church may only need an introduction to your church.
And what better way to make sure that everyone is on the same page and focused on the same mission than to offer a standard “on-boarding” process? When you implement it, ask current members to go through it too so that it becomes a shared experience and something they can recommend or explain to visitors they meet/bring.
None of these are particularly flashy or exciting, and they’re certainly not new. But they are the kind of foundational problems that will undermine the flashy, exciting things you are dreaming about. Like a thinner lap top with an unreliable battery, it defeats the purpose. So, maybe it’s time to fix the boring problems.
Dan Wunderlich is a United Methodist pastor and creator of Defining Grace, where this article first appeared. He also hosts the Art of the Sermon podcast, a podcast that serves preachers, teachers and other communicators of the Gospel. You can connect with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.