Saint Francis of Assisi Episcopal Church

1 St. Francis Drive - Gulf Breeze, Florida 32561
From Our Priest

The Rev. Tim Backus
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,

“Excuse me sir, I believe you are sitting in my pew…” Several years ago, there was a research study completed that indicated that within the first five minutes first time visitors came to a church, 75% of those visitors knew if they would return for a second visit or not. First impressions make a considerable difference.

One of the main reasons for this is how welcoming and hospitable the members of the congregation are when a visitor enters the doors and then enters the worship space. I have personally entered churches as a first time visitor and been given a bulletin with no words spoken to me before the service began. Take a guess if I went back to those churches. It’s the ‘Good morning! Welcome to St. Francis!’ with a smiling face, shake of the hand, and exchange of names, small conversation and invitation to coffee hour following the service that most first time visitors are looking for. People want to feel they are wanted and accepted, especially in a church. This is also a generational difference. The younger the generation, the more focus and desire on the importance of community. And often, you will see first time visitors enter the church and sit in a pew by themselves if there is one open. If this is the case and no parishioners sit with them, (though not intentional by the congregation) the visitor feels that they are alone within a large group of people. So if there is someone you don’t know sitting alone, go join ‘em and say hello!

There are certainly other factors that influence a visitor including the atmosphere of the worship space, but the data indicates that by far, most visitors will visit again if they feel welcomed. And on the flip side, within the first five minutes, if a first time visitor feels they have entered a church that is not welcoming or hospitable, regardless of the actual service itself, they will not return. All of this occurs before the service even begins. Statistically, over the next few visits several other factors come into play such as the theology and understanding of God, the worship itself, music, sermons, minister, etc. The number one factor that remains is whether or not visitors feel welcomed and that members of the congregation have a general interest in approaching and meeting newcomers with a desire to get to know them.

If first time visitors remain after the service for ‘coffee hour,’ it is a clear indication that they have felt welcomed and invited and want to learn more about the church and get to know the parish and parishioners. This past Sunday when I walked into the parish hall following the service, there were three sets of visitors who were sitting at tables surrounded by parishioners in conversation. I was thrilled. That speaks to the amazing hospitality and welcoming atmosphere that St. Francis has to offer. To me, this is one of our greatest assets. And when a visitor walks through the doors into the atrium for the first time and sees over half a dozen smiling, warm, welcoming faces, that speaks volumes. This is an atmosphere that many churches simply do not have. However, St. Francis has it. And by building on it, intentionally reaching out to new people who walk through our doors and inviting our friends and neighbors, our parish will continue to do nothing but grow as we have over the past several months. We have an amazing parish with amazing people and an amazing future.

In Christ,