Is Your Group Like the New York City Bus or Tour Bus?

On the last day of my trip I noticed a little receptacle with a sign that said, "Take one." It was tucked away behind the contraption that takes your money. Apparently it was supposed to contain brochures that explained schedules, pricing, and how the New York City bus system worked. I say "apparently" because there were no brochures to be found. I could understand why. No one ever asked for one. Everyone seemed to understand how the bus system worked. Everyone seemed quite comfortable without brochures, signs, or helpful personnel to answer questions and guide passengers. The system worked.

The system worked because the system was set up to serve locals. Everyone on the bus was a local New Yorker that rode the bus on a daily basis. For them, anything more than the minimal of instructions is a nuisance. (I get a little annoyed by the airlines incessantly making the same announcements over and over on every flight. How many times will they tell me there is a map of the DFW airport in the back of the American Way Magazine? It is a bother.)

The tour bus was very different. Helpful guides with brochures in hand hopped off at every stop, looking for someone who might remotely be interested in getting on. Another person was there to take all forms of currency for the tour. On the city bus they only take quarters, their own special $1.50 coin that had a hole in the middle, or the most common currency, the MetroCard.

I saw the metro cards could be purchased at the Train station. This probably made sense to New Yorkers, but a tourist would not naturally guess that you buy a MetroCard for the bus at the train station. (They work for both.) Curiously, on the city bus you could not use dollar bills. Don't even think about plastic.

On the tour bus there was an abundance of signs, brochures and helpful personnel to guide the first timer. On the city bus there was scant information because they were set up to serve the locals.

Who are you set up to serve--locals, or tourists? Is your group like a city bus or tour bus? My dream is to see the church double in the next 20 years. If we do it, we will have to think more like a tour bus and less like a city bus.

This issue has become a controversial one in this generation. For some, operating like the tour bus smacks of commercialism, pandering to the world, and watering down the gospel. Let's look at what the Bible says. Think about this verse from the viewpoint of the city bus versus the tour bus:

"Even so, if an unsaved person, or someone who doesn't have these gifts, comes to church and hears you all talking in other languages, he is likely to think you are crazy." 1 Cor. 14:23 (Living)

God is clearly teaching us that we ought to plan our church life with the first timer in mind.

Ed Young of Fellowship Church in greater Dallas speaks of four, count 'em, four welcoming teams: parkers, greeters, hospitality booth workers, and ushers. Parkers wear red vests and help people find the closest parking places. Greeters do what they do at Wal-mart--shake your hand as you come in. (I have been in some churches that had multiple teams of these--at the curb, just outside the door, just inside the door, and so forth.) Hospitality workers pass out bagels and take people (never just point) where they need to go.

It is not just the welcoming teams, the building itself is inviting. Some churches I am in look like a fort or a maze. Not a worry for insiders; they know their way around. For first timers it can be a bit daunting. Providing lots of signs is one way we act like a tour bus. The most important signs are on the outside pointing first timers to the entrance.

Here are a few differences between City Bus churches and Tour Bus churches:

Tour Bus ChurchCity Bus Church
Lots of greeters.Not so many.
Lots of signs.Not so many.
Helpful attitude in assisting visitors.Not so much.
Pay lots of attention to visitors.Not so much.
Background music.Eerie silence.
Clean building.Little piles of old quarterlies in the corner of rooms.
Clean smell.Musty smell.
Personal follow up, ala "Friday nights for Jesus."Professional follow up if at all.
Persistent follow up: invite every member and every prospect to every fellowship every month forever.A few contacts then forgotten. "They must not be interested."
Someone specifically in charge of noticing, paying attention to, and welcoming guestsWelcoming by chance.
Name tags.Name tags not necessary;
we all know each other.
Coffee. (Who will be the first church to offer Starbucks coffee?)Water fountain.
Pew Bibles."People ought to bring their Bibles to church."
After the prayer, everyone just knows to sit down.After the prayer, the person praying says, "You may be seated."
Lots of explanations in the bulletin with full names, phone numbers, and detailed instructions.Lots of initials in the bulletin, i.e., B.S.M., A.B.F.s, W.M.U.
High quality, interesting, interactive, practical teaching.Not so much.
Bible references given by page number in the pew Bible."People ought to know how to find Hezekiah."
Lots of illustrations from USA Today and People Magazine.Lots of illustrations from the farm and preachers who have been dead 100 years or more.

Let me invite you to have a conversation that could change the way you do church and change eternity. You might have this conversation in your staff meeting if you are on staff at a church. Or, if you are a Sunday School teacher, you might have this conversation to begin your class on Sunday. Here are five questions I would invite you to ask.

  1. In what ways are we like a tour bus?
  2. In what ways are we like a city bus?
  3. What was your experience when you first came to this church? (Note: remember you are only hearing from the people who joined when you ask this question.)
  4. Whose job is it around here to make sure guests feel welcome and comfortable?
  5. What are the most important ways we improve the way we treat guests?

Most churches have plenty of visitors. My research indicates that the difference between doubling churches and non-doubling churches does not have too much to do with how many visitors (what I call the magnet factor). The difference between doubling churches and non-doubling churches has mostly to do with the Velcro factor--how
"sticky" the church is. On average, 87% of our visitors don't join. In doubling churches, up to one third join. In non-doubling churches, less than 10% join. In many cases we can become a doubling church simply by treasuring the visitors that God sends our way.

It is not enough to be friendly to people. We must be their friends. Greeting is just a start, only a start. A man asked me one time, "Do you want to know why I don't go to church anymore?" "I really would like to know," I said. "People are only nice to you at church."

Let me invite you to have a conversation that will ensure this never happens in your church.


Seminar Hosts Sought

I would love to come to your church and challenge your teachers to give their one and only lives to the magnificent obsession of seeking to double their groups every two years or less.  Here is an overview of how the process works:

MONEY: cost for the conference is $750 plus expenses for the host church.  Outside churches are charged $100 per church or $20 per individual, whichever is less. Denominational agencies are charged a flat $750 plus expenses and all the churches are covered at this price.

FORMAT: I can work with a variety of schedules. The average length of the conference is 3 hours. The range is 2 - 5 hours. Evening meetings are normally 6:30 - 9:00 p.m. Another option is a Friday night and Saturday morning format. A third option is to preach on Sunday and do the conference on Sunday afternoon or evening.

SCHEDULING: Most of the dates that are taken are listed on my web page at I do this full time, so that I can accommodate a variety of scheduling needs. (My friend Tim scheduled an all night flight from Las Vegas, NV to Orlando, Florida so I can preach at his church this fall. Thanks, Tim!)

PROMOTION: Four of the best things you can do to promote the conference are:

  • Get your teachers on this list. If you are with a denomination, get your Pastors and Ministers of Education on this list. The gradual familiarity with the 2020 Vision will lay a good foundation for promoting the conference. Click here to add names one at a time, or email me at with a list of email address. It is easy to get off the list at any time.

  • Invite your teachers to use Good Questions.  As they use the lessons week by week, I become familiar. I get my best attendance at churches that pass out my lessons each week.

  • Use one of our video series prior to the conference. Click here to order one or more on a free 30 day trial.

I'd love to come to your church! Call me at 575 650 4564, or email me at

"This seminar has been extremely inspiring to me. As my husband and I prepare to be first time Sunday School teachers in youth, you have given me great information and most of all great inspiration and encouragement."

Sherman, Texas