Thriving churches pay attention to fostering genuine connections
March 14, 2020
Over the past two years, I’ve been collecting a list of small things I’ve noticed that struggling pastors and declining churches perhaps don’t pay enough attention to.
See if rethinking these may help you either as a pastor or a church:
What always stands out in all the churches I visit is how well they welcome people. Do the greeters seem happy that I’m there, or do they just hand me a bulletin? Do any members notice me when I sit in a pew? How enthusiastically does the pastor greet the congregation?
In a number of churches, the pastor or a church member might read a formal, almost robotic, welcome from the pulpit. Nothing says “I’m glad you’re here” like a monotone, scripted welcome.
Meanwhile, in healthy churches, often the pastor or a member authentically says, “We are so glad you are here this morning. We are so grateful for everyone here. We hope you’ll stay around afterwards for coffee and get to know each other.”
As pastors, how well do we greet people, either before or after worship? Are we too busy beforehand to say hi? After worship, when shaking hands, do we enthusiastically greet people?
I visited a church several months ago and watched the pastor do a wonderful job of walking around the sanctuary before worship, placing her hand on the shoulder of members while sharing warm conversations.
After worship she shook hands, said hi to each member by name, and really demonstrated that she cared.
Pastor small talk
Many people who are attracted to ministry are introverts. They love studying theology and other disciplines. They love preaching. They love spending time alone in deeper thinking. The problem for introverts is that they are serving in a field that requires engagement and relationships — that requires extroversion as well.
In essence, pastors need to be ambiverts — people who are comfortable being both introverted and extroverted.
Many pastors hate engaging in small talk because they don’t know what to say. The secret to small talk is simply finding what interests people and listening and sharing. Once we’ve engaged them, the conversation builds a relationship, and that relationship helps them like and trust us.
Responding to emails and texts
This is so simple that it feels almost too simple to say. Still, a huge complaint is that pastors don’t respond quickly (or at all) to texts and emails. I have an eight-hour rule. I have to respond within at least eight hours. Even if I don’t have an answer or need more time, I let them know when I’ll be able to get back to them.
Too often I hear members complain that a pastor will say, “I’ll be there,” or “I’ll call you,” or “I’ll get back to you,” and she or he doesn’t. I’ve been guilty of this myself way too many times. There are so many legitimate reasons why. But follow through anyway because it builds trust.
I’m amazed at how many churches clear out within 10 minutes of the end of a worship service. In declining churches, the skedaddle happens quickly. Enthusiastically inviting people to stay for coffee after worship is such a simple way to help people build relationships — as long as the pastor lingers for it. Emphasizing it week after week eventually gets people to stay. In congregations where people linger, relationships grow.
Communicating “I like you”
Again, this is so simple, but I’ve talked with members of many churches who think their pastor doesn’t like them. Why? The pastor doesn’t engage with them in a way that says, “I like you.” To me this may be the most important thing a pastor can do, especially in a church where there’s some level of conflict. Often churches go where the leaders go. If the leader doesn’t remind members that they are loved, the church may respond with a lack of love.
Sometimes it is the simplest things, the smallest things, that can have the biggest, most profound impact.
Rev. Dr. N. Graham Standish; Executive Director of Samaritan Counseling, Guidance, Consulting. This piece was originally posted in Presbyterians Today’s “Hopeful Church” blog.
Today’s Focus: Thriving Churches
Let us join in prayer for:
Let us pray:
I give you thanks with my whole heart and I sing you praise, Holy God. Thank you for blessing us with congregations who gather to serve you. May we rejoice and embrace one another to better serve God’s glorious Kingdom in Jesus’ name. Amen.