When someone goes to a healthy small church for the first time, what should they expect?
That's an easier question to answer for big churches, because they have a lot more in common with each other. Once any group – church or not – is serving 1,000 or more people at a time, certain systems have to be in place. So, while big churches each have their own personality, there is a level of quality control that we all expect to see. Age-appropriate Kid Ministries, high-end musicianship, professional-quality graphics and printed materials, etc. It's like going to a brand-name restaurant when you're travelling. There's a comfort level in knowing what you're going to get.
But the kinds of experiences you'll have in small churches varies widely. It's more like visiting a new town and deciding to check out the local diner. You don't know what you're going to get, but you take the risk because you want regional cuisine. And you're hoping for an experience you can't get anywhere else.
But, even in a small church, as varied as they are, first-time guests have the right to expect certain things that tell them the church is healthy. Like a local restaurant should observe standard requirements for cleanliness, service and food quality, small churches should have a baseline of quality that people can rely on.
Here are a few principles that I think meet a minumum standard that every guest has a right to expect in any healthy small church. These are universal. The standards every church needs to observe if they want to create a great worship experience that people will want to come back for.
This list isn't complete. So feel free to add your ideas in the comment section.
1. Genuine, Intentional Friendliness
This is the main reason people go to a small church instead of a big one – connectedness and community. While lack of it is probably the #1 reason guests won't return. All healthy small churches should excel at this.
But friendliness is not automatic in any church. We have to be intentional about it. It's very intimidating for someone to walk into a small church for the first time. Receiving, or not receiving a genuinely friendly greeting may make or break that experience for them.
You may think your church is friendly. Most church people do, because that's where their friends are. But we must be intentional about reaching outside of our own circle to welcome others in.