10 foolproof ways to alienate visitors to your church

I don't know about your church, but ours is getting a bit full. Personally I'm getting a bit fed up with having to squish into the pews on a Sunday morning because everyone's on the hunt for a school place, or wants to know more about Jesus or whatever. Like so many churches, we're struggling to cope with the weight of new visitors through the door, and we're worried about how on earth we'll accommodate them if they decide to stick around.

Through careful observation, I've discovered a number of methods which, if implemented correctly, could quickly reverse this growth trend. The following is a list of strategies which are sure to switch off, alienate, and eventually evacuate your newcomers. Just work your way through them, and soon plenty of legroom - and that all important shorter communion queue - will be yours once more.

1. Fire the welcome team

This is an absolutely vital first step. If you want the feeling of alienation to kick in straight away, don't put anyone on the door. Just let people wander into the building on their own, and be sure to read them the riot act if they accidentally drift into the wrong area. Ushers should be standoffish, and only speak up if the newcomers sit in one of the seats you've reserved for important existing church members. Intervention in these circumstances should be swift and decisive.

2. Greatness needs no introduction

As the service begins, it's good to assume that everyone knows who the people speaking and leading are. If newcomers are really desperate to know, they can ask someone or take a look at the church notice sheet (don't give them one of these).

3. Use meaningless jargon

Where possible, conduct your services in unbroken Christianese, avoiding the familiar phrases and idioms of the common English language. Start by asking people how their 'quiet times' are, and how these are aiding their 'walk with the Lord', then later challenge them to 'love on' their friends and neighbours (if they 'feel led'). End with a time of prayer 'in the quietness of our hearts', and an excited final claim that 'God showed up' today. This will create a fantastic sense of total disorientation for the uninitiated person.

4. Don't explain

Intelligent people will always work out what's going on. They'll stand and sit when they see others doing so, and spelling out what's coming up later in the service for them is really just ruining the thrill of the surprise.

NB: An especially complex communion routine is always a good way to discover whether newcomers are 'our kind of people.'

5. Amp up the weird

Working in tandem with the last point, nothing puts off a first-time visitor to a church faster than unexplained weirdness. Have people shout out prophecies about animals and colours at random points throughout the service, and employ a team of people with no co-ordination to dance around the church with flags during the worship. Also, if someone starts screaming like a banshee during intense prayer ministry, make sure you ignore it as if it's the most regular thing in the world. 

6. Criticise, don't redeem, the culture

People feel understandably attached to the culture which they live in. They like the movies and TV that they watch, the music that they listen to and the games they play. Be sure to undermine this heavily by decrying the most damaging and twisted elements of modern culture: violent movies, explicit pop songs and banal soap operas. Do not under any circumstances try to engage the ideas explored in these things, or even to redeem them by pointing out their connections to the Christian story. You'll only give people ideas.

7. Deal with sin from the pulpit

Some people might argue that issues of discipleship and personal holiness should be dealt with relationally, in the context of small groups or one-to-one conversations. While sensible however, this will not help you to alienate your visitors. Instead, make sure you call out sinful behaviours (and others which you've decided are just as bad) in your sermons and then make lots of eye contact with your congregation.

8. Ignore them afterwards

A crucial element of the Sunday morning strategy is to ensure that, having felt like they've just spent an hour and a half on another planet, people aren't brought back down to earth by meeting friendly fellow congregants who are just like them. Instead, co-ordinate your church members into a series of impenetrable clique-circles during the tea and instant coffee. There should never be biscuits.

9. Don't create welcome events

It's important that your visitors don't feel like there's a natural next step. A special welcome event for newcomers, held every couple of months, explaining the church's vision and what it means to be part of the community, is a terrible idea. Unless you give them a no-longer-used address and phone number, of course - then you should publicise this widely on your out-of-date church website.

10. Don't follow up

People hate getting post these days - and email is even worse. Don't bother them with a note, thanking them for joining you. Ignore them completely, and chances are they'll ignore you too.

Martin Saunders is an author, screenwriter and the Deputy CEO of Youthscape. Follow him on Twitter @martinsaunders