While there are three grocery stores within a mile radius of our home, I almost always chose the local Harris Teeter. It is within walking distance to our home. If I drive, they have underground parking. The store is always well-stocked. The people who work there are almost always helpful. And, the lines are often rather short. I love Harris Teeter. It is my favorite grocery store chain. However, Safeway has been winning me over in recent weeks.
For some time now, Safeway has been doing whatever it can to lure me into their store. For several weeks, I have received a postcard with coupons for Safeway. Many of the coupons offer me free things if I purchase $25 worth of groceries. Through these coupons, we have received free taco shells, free ground meat, free salsa, free pasta sauce, free lettuce, free pasta, and the list goes on and on. In addition to the free stuff, they have offered me $10 off any purchase of $50. The deal has seemed just too good to pass up. And, they lured me in again last night with a $15 coupon in the Washington Post, offered to anyone who would come in and spend $100. Craig and I carefully created last night's list, trying our best to hit the $100 mark - which we did just fine.
But, I have also noticed how Safeway is not only doing what they can to get me into the door, they are also doing what they can to get me to come back. Their shelves have been well-stocked - even with the loss-leader sale items. The clerks have been extra friendly - the man working the seafood counter last night even told me to "have a blessed day!" And, the store has been clean with super fresh produce. I realize each time I go that I am becoming a Safeway shopper.
And I wonder. I wonder what it would take for the church to learn a few things from Safeway. What is it that the church can do to invite people into its doors? How can the church extend warm welcomes, enticing people to come in? Are our buildings welcoming? Are their markers that enable people to see what doors should be used? Is there someone there pointing the way? Is there ample parking? What is it that we would need to say in order to grab someone's attention and get them to finally come inside? What kind of 'deals' are we offering?
We do, indeed, offer all kinds of free stuff each week. God's grace is a free gift - abundantly infused within all people. The fellowship found on the inside is free. The weekly message is free. The transformation offered by our Savior is offered without price - all you have to do is repent and seek change in your life. We offer all kinds of things, never charging admission, only inviting people to return a portion of what God has given to them. How is it that we get this message across to the people on the outside?
And, once people come in, how do we get them to see that they cannot live without what we are offering? What do we need to do to make sure they come back? I have found that if someone goes out of their way to welcome me, I'll be more likely to come back. If the pastor follows up with me via email or mail, I'll be more likely to come back. If I had children and the nursery was clean with an ample supply of toys or books and friendly people ready to care for my children for an hour or two, then I will be more likely to come back. If the message is relevant, and I can take at least one thing away from it, then I will be more likely to come back. If the order of worship is clear and the bulletin free from typos, then I'll be more likely to come back. If restrooms are easy to find and clean once I get there, then I'll be more likely to come back. If the entire thing feels genuine instead of production-like, then I'll be more likely to come back. If I sense real community and diversity, then I'll be more likely to come back.
What about you? What got you into the doors of a church? Or, what would get you to come inside the doors for the first time? And, what would it take to get you to come back?
Safeway executives, thanks for all the lessons you're teaching me. And the free food, well, we love it.