Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How many of your first-time guests are now involved in your church?

In yesterday's post I discussed some of the problems I noticed with the motel we stayed in while vacationing last week and how they relate to some of the same problems I sometimes see in churches.  I mentioned that the motel looked "tired" when compared to the more modern motels in the area, there was inconsistent cleaning of our rooms, and the free breakfast left a lot to be desired.  Today I will address the biggest shocker that completely surprised me.

Shortly after getting into our room I decided to check the Internet connection with my laptop.  I was able to immediately gain access to the motel's wifi and had an excellent connection.  When I clicked on my homepage another screen appeared informing me Internet service was $24.95 per week.  I have stayed in countless motels across the country and have never paid for Internet service.  I thought that charge went the way of the dinosaur.  My wife asked if I was going to pay for it, and I responded absolutely not.  We were on vacation, and if I didn't have it I wouldn't be tempted to do any work.  Besides, my phone provides me with Internet and e-mail access so I could still check things if needed, but that doesn't allow me to accomplish much work.  One day while sitting by the pool I was reading my NOOK when an elderly lady asked if I had wifi connection.  I explained I did not, and she responded she could not believe the motel actually charged to connect to the Internet.

There are at least two problems here that I see.  One, nobody likes being nickled-and-dimed.  Even your cheapest motels advertise free Internet service; there was no reason this motel feels they have to charge for it.  I felt this made the owners look cheap and greedy.  We were on vacation so it wasn't absolutely necessary we had Internet service, but what if I had been in town on a working trip?  I would have had to pay the fee or move to a different motel that offered free wifi.  Since the motel has a 72 hour cancellation policy it would have cost me more to move than to pay the fee, and the owners of the motel know that.

The second problem is that the owners either do not understand or care about how important it is for younger people especially to be connected.  I'm 64 and I would judge the woman who asked if I had wifi was maybe 10 years older than me, and it was important to us.  Imagine how younger people who are connected 24/7 would feel about being forced to pay additional for Internet service.  I can't see how this policy does anything to attract younger clientele to the motel, and I would think that would be a group they would want to reach.

Many younger people also do not understand why churches aren't more involved with modern technology.  Being a visual generation they struggle to understand why many churches do not use video technology in their services.  They wonder why there is no way for them to connect online with the church or their small group.  Studies continue to show that churches that offer online giving opportunities often see an increase in their finances.  That's because younger people are used to paying their bills online and do not understand why they can't give to their church the same way.  The churches that make that option available will be the churches that will be more apt to reach the younger generation.

I believe every church regardless of size should have a webpage, a blog, and a Facebook account if they are serious about wanting to attract younger people.  They probably won't read the newsletter you mail out, but they would likely read your blog.  They are unlikely to pick up the bulletin from last Sunday to check on the time of a church event, but they might attend if they are reminded on Facebook.  Churches should not claim they want to reach young people if they are not willing to communicate with them in methods they use.

Now that I've addressed the problems I noticed about the motel, will I stay there again?  Maybe.  See, like someone who has been a member of a church for a long time, I have some history with that motel.  I don't know that any of these issues are deal-breakers for me.  My wife and I did talk about checking out some other motels in the area before we make reservations again, so we'll have to wait until that time to know whether or not we return to that same motel.  But I do know this, if I was driving into Panama City Beach for the first time looking for a place to spend a few days I would drive past that motel to one that looked fresher, and if I was looking online for a place to make reservations and was considering this motel but did not see something promoting free Internet I would continue looking until I found one that did.

Forget what you keep telling yourself about how inviting your church is to outsiders.  How inviting is it really?  If you want a good way to gauge your answer, how many first-time guests have you had this year and how many of them came back for a second visit?  Finally, how many of them are now regularly attending your church.  When you answer those questions you will be able to accurately answer the one about how inviting your church is.

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