Twenty years later, Bryan and his wife, Amy, can’t help thinking about a different kind of “big fish,” one that can slip past even the most well-meaning churches: the first-time church visitor, or guest—the more welcoming term that the Lenartzes use. From 2009 to early 2023, Bryan and Amy served at Harvest Baptist Church in Guam, where Bryan was pastor of outreach and discipleship. Through extensive studies on guest services, Bryan helped forge a church culture that put guests at ease, making them more likely to return.
Harvest Baptist’s guest services team sought ways to connect guests with church members they would feel comfortable with, ones who would invite them for a meal or to play with their kids after church, giving fertile ground for relationships to blossom. With these measures in place, Harvest Baptist’s return rate grew to 85 percent, compared to 15 percent for churches that take no special measures.
Guest services hinge on hospitality, a thoroughly biblical concept. In North America, hospitality equates with having a spotless house, amazing food, and beautiful decor. But whether at church or in a person’s home, guests’ deepest cravings are to feel comfortable, welcomed, and loved—simple acts of kindness that are easily shown through a smile, asking questions and listening, or taking the time to invite someone for a cup of coffee or a walk
More and more, people walk around with a figurative outstretched hand saying, “This is how you far can go with me.” Churches that recognize and meet guests’ concerns are more likely to earn their trust. At Harvest Baptist, Bryan did role-playing with church staff members. Each took on the persona of a first-time guest and were challenged to understand what their specific guest would look for in a church and how they would perceive Harvest Baptist. Guests’ core concerns usually boil down to “Am I wanted here?” and “Do I belong here?”
To be successful, guest service initiatives must be church-wide. Bryan enlisted ushers from a variety of ages and demographics to make a wide range of guests comfortable. He designated certain people as “Connectors” to look for guests sitting alone, and others as “Pursuers,” people with whom the guest would feel comfortable and who could initiate relationships with them outside of church. The church holds regular family talks to reinforce a church culture that is sensitive to guests’ concerns and needs. This helps prevent any guest from slipping through the cracks.
Bryan emphasizes that prayer is the fuel that powers guest services and keeps it from becoming just a checklist for a church to accomplish. “Prayer puts spiritual goggles on us,” says Bryan. “When we stop praying, we start trying to build our own kingdom instead. Prayer opens our eyes to see people as souls and to see that—out of the world’s eight billion people—God knew exactly who to put in our path. If we don’t reach them for Christ, who will?”
The Lenartz family joined BMM in 2022 and are raising support to serve in Japan. Bryan recently published Jump on the Fish! that expands these ideas. It is available for $0.99 on Amazon. Bryan also holds guest services seminars by request (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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