It sounds like one of those sensational headlines designed to trick you into clicking on something, only to find an ad waiting for you, but I think there's something worth considering as you build your guest ministry.

Some time back I was reading through a church’s welcome message to their guests, and they encouraged guests to pray and “seek God’s face” in deciding to join the church. That welcome message didn’t sit right with me but it wasn’t until a few days later when it struck me: Most lost people have never been taught how to pray.

I believe that church genuinely loves people and wants to have a positive impact on their community, but in writing that particular welcome message, that church is subconsciously saying “this church is for insiders who already know what to do.”  People only know how to pray when they’ve been taught how to pray. Even Jesus had to teach his disciples how to pray. This church asked people to make a decision based on criteria they know nothing about.

The longer we’re “church people” the easier it is to ask people to make decisions based on our criteria, not theirs, and as our culture races towards post-Christianity, your lost guests are likely going to use a completely different set of criteria than you want them to. So how do we handle that? How do we help guests decide if our church is the right fit for them, without asking them to pray, fast, or seek God’s face in the process?

1) Pray on their behalf Just because your guests don’t know how to pray doesn’t mean you can’t pray for them. Pray for them before they even get there. Ask God to bring you people who need Him and ask Him to help you prepare for them.

2) Understand what criteria guests will actually use. In life, we decide if we like a restaurant based on the quality of service, price, and how the food tastes. We decide if we liked a movie based on how much it entertained or moved us emotionally, not on how well we like the director or his vision for lighting in the movie. Think through “how do normal people decide if they like an experience” and then evaluate if your church meets that expectation.

3) Give them what they expect. If your honest desire is to have lost people join your church, then understand they’re probably more self-focused, materialistic, and experience driven than you would like them to be. That’s okay. Speak their language on day 1 by making it about them. Give them an awesome experience, and tangibly thank them for coming with good coffee, a sweet treat, and a nice take-home gift they can enjoy later. Remember, Jesus protected the adulterous woman from certain death before telling her to go and sin no more. There will be time to work through the ultimate need for forgiveness, materialism and self-focused behavior. Don’t try to do it all on day 1.

4) Give guests a taste of what they can’t get anywhere else. In a recent Barna Group survey, millennials said they wanted something they couldn’t get anywhere else… they wanted to experience God. I’m not convinced lost people know what that actually means, but regardless, what can we do to help them experience God? Invite them out to a meal (and don’t use your mobile device while eating)! Follow up with them. Show interest in their lives. Remember their names and/or something (anything) about them when they come back again. Community, love, purpose, forgiveness… that’s what a guest really needs, and is in short supply in our world. We can start to meet that need on day 1 while still speaking their consumer-focused language.

Effective Guest Ministries excel at removing barriers between guests and the decisions you want guests to make. Have you taken the time to evaluate everything a guest sees, hears, smells and receives from your church to make sure you’re removing unnecessary barriers and still giving them what they can’t get anywhere else?