Sometimes we get visitors to our service that don’t know our ritual, and when we make them follow our program, we lose them back to the world they came from, back to the road to hell.

Seth Godin had an interesting post yesterday on what he called the 2% – that small portion of any customer base that can’t or won’t follow directions. You can make it plain, give them step by step instructions, and they will still miss something along the way.

This is especially true with automated forms. We’re so afraid of spammers that we make people go through unusual hoops to participate with us. I’ve tried to contact some churches, and can’t find a number or directions that mean anything to an outsider, and the email is a web page form that makes me fill in lots of blocks to make a comment. If I miss anything, it won’t send my comment or question – worse yet, some will actually erase all the info and make me start over.

<p?I know their web designer just wanted to make it easier to capture my contact info, but if the folks never finish the form, you've lost the contact anyway.

As you think about your building entrances, your order of service, your standard ways of taking an offering or making an invitation to join your fellowship, try to think like an outsider, like that 2%. What can get in the way?

I heard about an old Jewish man who went to a Christian church and watched the offering being taken up. In Jewish congregations, they pay membership dues to cover the costs of the synagogue, and give special offerings in a Pushka or Tzedakah box, a confidential way to give to the poor without embarrasing the one that didn’t give. I’m not saying you need to change your offering plate practice, but explain to visitors what you’re doing and why.

Which is the point. You need to give newcomers an extra measure of latitude. In Louise Berkinow says “Newcomers don’t know where to make contact.”* You have to make that contact for them, understanding they don’t know your shared language yet. In time they will, but you have to get them past the initial uncertainty.

*Berkinow, Louise. Alone in America: the Search for Companionship. (NY: Harper & Row, 1986) p18, quoted in Mitchell, Mike. Hope for Struggling Churches. TurnaroundChurches Press, 2009. (chapter 5)