Welcoming New Families: An Interview with Danny Franks

As I began my new position as Pastor of Connection at the Journey--Tower Grove in January, I began looking for resources on how to do my new role. Jared encouraged me to check out a blog by Danny Franks. Danny had just opened an invitation to participate in a unique training opportunity called Confab. I signed up, and in February I had the opportunity to meet Danny and his amazing team. Over the next several months, 11 other people and I read books together and learned how to create a more welcoming experience at our churches. Danny is a great teacher and more importantly a godly man. So, I asked Danny if he would be willing to answer a few questions for the readers of Gospel Centered Family. Here's what we talked about:

Jeff: Tell me a little about your family. 

Danny: I'm just a few months shy of celebrating my 25 year anniversary with my high school sweetheart. Merriem is without a doubt my better half... the perfect complement in life, parenting, ministry, you name it. We have four kids: Jacob is 21 and Austin is 20... both are in leadership at a local Chick-fil-A. Jase is 15 and a high school sophomore. Haven is six and about to start second grade, which--to hear her tell it--is a Really Big Deal. 

Jeff: Would you mind describing your role and the context of your church?

Danny: I started at the Summit in 2003 with a one-sentence job description: I was to close the back door in a rapidly growing church. My first task was to develop our membership class and structure a few opportunities to plug in. Through the years I've held different roles from small groups guy to campus pastor, but my favorite (and current) role is that of guest services: I oversee those systems at all of our campuses and for any events. 

Jeff: Why do you have a passion for people connecting? 

Danny: When I was interviewing for my job - and questioning with whether this was even a role for me - I remember hearing the story of a fringe attendee who had taken her own life. I didn't know the full story, but couldn't shake the feeling that it might not have happened had she felt known and loved. That's what I want: for the church to be a place where people believe we knew they were coming, we had a plan for when they showed up, and we can't wait for them to return. I want to pave the road to Jesus with so many kind words and actions, that people won't be able to resist asking how they can be a part of it.  

Jeff: What is one of the most common mistakes churches make when seeking to help guests feel welcome?

Danny: I think it comes down to simply not being aware. It's not that we don't recognize that we have guests, it's more often that we assume someone else is taking care of them. As inorganic as it sounds, we must systematize hospitality so that there are no more assumptions of care. We have to form a team, a strategy, and a follow up plan to move people from first-time to second-time guests. 

If there's a close second, it's that we lose the guest mentality. We forget to view our parking lot, our signage, our building, our language, and our traditions through the eyes of guests. What confuses them? Frightens them? Causes anxiety? Makes them curious? Angry? Aggravated? If we can simply remember how we feel in a new situation - whether it's at a job, in a restaurant, in a new neighborhood, or at the mall - we can apply that to about 95% of church situations and make our guests' experience better.

Jeff: Elaborate on that. How can we cultivate greater awareness of guests in our churches? 

Danny: It goes back to thinking from the mindset of a guest, looking at the situation through their eyes, and simply remembering that the ultimate goal is not to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Luke 6:31), but to "welcome others as Christ has welcomed you" (Romans 15:7). When we approach the guest experience from that perspective, it changes everything. 

It also helps us to not only form systematic approaches, but to have the impetus to live organic lives of hospitality. It allows us to lavish kindness and grace on people who are not like us, because we remember that we too were once outsiders. It gives us the chance to not just talk about the gospel with our words, but to demonstrate the gospel with our lives.

Jeff: How can churches help new families and kids feel welcome to a church? 

Danny: I'm convinced that if parents believe that their kids are safe, having fun, and (for parents who are already Christ followers) being exposed to the gospel, that is 90% of the battle. 

  • Safe: communicate your security procedures. Offer new parents a tour of your facility. Talk to them about drop off and pick up procedures, volunteer-to-kid ratios, etc.
  • Fun: is your kids' space colorful? Energetic? Are the leaders engaging? One of my favorite anecdotes from Disney history is that when the park in Anaheim was being constructed, Walt made his Imagineers strap on knee pads and "walk" the park from the perspective of a three year old. The effect - among others - was that windowsills were lowered so that kids could get in on the fun. Is your facility set up for kids or their parents?
  • Gospel: communicate the air war and ground war to parents. Air war is your overall strategy - the benchmarks that you will be hitting over the course of their child's life. Ground war is the takeaways that kids get each week: what is the one gospel truth you're instilling? 

Jeff: What are three books you would recommend for a church leader wanting to explore how to be more intentional in welcoming guests?

Danny: First Impressions by Mark WaltzBe Our Guest by Theodore Kinni,  and The Starbucks Experience by Joseph Michelli

Jeff: What other ways would you recommend to help indiviudals and churches grow in helping people feel welcome? 

Danny: Get out of your church. I think we overlook opportunities to learn from other organizations and companies that are doing guest services well (and poorly!). The next time you're in a fast food restaurant, the mall, or a vacation destination, take note of what made you feel included and what made you feel left out, and practice (or avoid!) those things accordingly.

For more formal training, my team offers Weekenders (behind the scenes look at our guest services training and weekend experience), One-Day Workshops (targeted, practical training on guest services and volunteer culture), and Confab (a small coaching network for ministry practitioners). Find out more at dfranks.com/speaking.  

I'm grateful for Danny's willingness to answer my questions about connecting new families. What questions do you have? Leave your questions in the comments below.