Why Don’t People Return After They Visit?

Often I hear conversations about why many churches aren’t growing. Many blame our culture, materialism, or some other outside source. Those may play a part.

Let me relate something that happened to me less than fifty years ago, and less than 500 miles from where I’m sitting in Nashville, Tennessee.

I’d started preaching at this congregation a few weeks before this situation. I was the new preacher.

I was talking with a member in the foyer immediately following Sunday morning services. Another member approached and interrupted our conversation. They talked between themselves about where they were going to eat. The interrupter left. We ended our conversation. The person I was speaking to left.

A few weeks later, a similar situation occurred. I was talking with a different member. Here comes a fourth member. He interrupts. They discuss where they wanted to eat.

The person I was talking to said, “I want to go somewhere I can eat breakfast.”

The interrupter said, “I would like breakfast too.”

They agreed on a restaurant. Our original conversation ended soon. Gail and I left for lunch.

Both conversations were similar. In neither case did one of the four say, “Excuse me,” or “Would you like to join us for lunch?” Both times there was no malice on their part, no thought, and no shame. There was no followup. Not one of the four returned Sunday night and said, “What I did this morning was unthoughtful. I shouldn’t have interrupted. I wish we’d invited you to lunch with us. Would you go next Sunday?”

[bctt tweet=”From every indication, this was their rule: “We go to eat together every Sunday. Please complete your conversation so we can get to the restaurant. You’re not invited.”” username=”@JerrieWBarber”]

I have no intention of quitting the church, becoming angry or ugly. But that’s not a good way to welcome your new preacher, new member, or visitor. Four different households — all prominent families, and leaders. They’re the ones who set the tone for the congregation. I would expect others to be less sensitive than those who lead.

This is a well-known congregation. They’ve been declining several years. What I heard for months after I arrived was how bad the world was and how other churches entertain, and we can’t compete with them.

[bctt tweet=”This attitude thrived because everyone liked it the way it was more than what it would take to change it. Their Sunday-eating rule was so entrenched not one of the four leaders recognized how insensitive he was.” username=”@JerrieWBarber”]

That’s rude. If you treat your new preacher that way, you’ll do it to a visitor or weak member and then wonder, “Why isn’t the church growing? It must be our corrupt society.”

My Observations

  • Members follow their leaders.
  • The answer to our decline isn’t to entertain or wish others wouldn’t entertain.
  • People want to be valued, led, trained for meaningful service, challenged, and encouraged to serve in meaningful ways.
  • There are Bible principles to encourage us and attract others.
  • We are to follow Jesus and point others to Jesus.

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others (Philippians 2:3, 4, NKJV).

How can we practice this “mind of Jesus” principle and encourage it in other Christians?


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Jerrie Barber
Disciple of Jesus, husband, grandfather, preacher, barefoot runner, ventriloquist

12 Responses to “Why Don’t People Return After They Visit?

  • Outstanding blog post and continue your outstanding work brother

  • Eddison Fowler
    6 years ago

    Our family has fond memories of those who became members of the congregations where we attended, and very close friends of our family, after we invited them to our home for lunch after their first visit to the Sunday worship. It makes for an immediate acceptance and bond with visitors. They feel the love and normally enjoy helping prepare the meal.

    • Jerrie W. Barber
      6 years ago

      That’s the key — thinking about others and what would be good and helpful for them, service. Then we are blessed also. Someone said that’s the way to become great. Matthew 20:25-28

  • Courtney Fellers
    6 years ago

    This is excellent. I particularly appreciate the point that people want to be valued, trained for (and engaged in) meaningful service, and challenged. It is very easy to become discouraged when you don’t seem to be needed.

    May I have your permission to use an excerpt of this post for our bulletin? You have made excellent points that, I believe, are worth sharing.

  • Dan Wheeler
    6 years ago

    Jerrie, this is insightful–thanks for the reminder. I commit to do better toward our visitors, new members and long-time members that need to feel included!

    • Dan,

      Thank you for an excellent response. The goal of learning from Jesus is not to say, “That’s interesting, I never heard that before, or I want to remember that,” but to do something different (Matthew 7:24-27).

      Thank you for your attitude and action.

  • Lee Robertson
    6 years ago

    Profound. As scripures so often is… Not through rose colored glass as we often see into…

  • Thanks for writing this. I found that almost every parish I served considered themselves friendly and open. So about a month into my time with them, I would have a friend visit, sit through the service with some obvious diificulty following the leaflet, prayer book, and hymnal, and then attend coffee hour, where hardly anyone talked with her. The following week, i would report to the congregation what had happened. There was stunned silence. That whole situation provided an opportunity to develop a welcoming ministry and to address with some peripheral ministries ministries.