Churches should be welcoming places where new visitors feel free to explore and meet new friends. Because it’s been a while since many of us have been first-timers, some congregations have forgotten some basic ways of putting yourself into the shoes of visitors, and how to make them feel welcome. By learning to welcome new members and introduce them to your church, you can make the experience memorable and avoid some common mistakes that turn off prospective members.
Part 1 Part 1 of 3:Introducing Visitors to Your Church Download Article
Appoint specific greeters for visitors. The welcoming process should start for visitors as soon as they park in the parking lot. Going to church can be an intimidating experience for a lot of people, so you want to make sure first-timers feel as welcome as possible. For this reason, it’s common for churches to have greeters posted out in the parking lot, making sure that new visitors have some idea of where they should be and don’t get scared off before they even make it into the building.
- Choose especially warm and friendly church members for this job. It can be an excellent way of giving particularly bubbly young members something to do before the service, or letting senior members feel valued.
- Make sure the greeters avoid accusatory or unwelcoming language, like, “What are you doing here?” or “What do you need?” Instead, just assume that everyone’s in the right place. Say, “Hey there! Welcome! How’re you doing today?” Listen and help out.
Introduce yourself. Don’t put the pressure on the visitors to introduce themselves and make the first contact. Visitors should be comfortable to relax and to sit back if they want to, or to have conversations and make friends if they’re interested. Take the pressure off by introducing yourself and your family, and getting the names of the visitors.
- Treat the visitors as people, not as “visitors.” No one wants to go somewhere looking to be welcomed and instead be made to feel strange or in a separate category. Ask them questions and learn about the visitors to make them feel welcomed. Look for common ground to discuss and help them to feel as if the visitors belong.
Show visitors around. Many church members forget what it’s like to visit a church for the first time. Most first-time visitors aren’t interested in deep matters of doctrine and the content of the sermons–they’re just looking to find out where to park and where to sit and listen. They just want to feel welcome. Slow down and focus on helping visitors get comfortable and make the experience easy and stress-free.
- Make sure visitors know where they can park, where to get a quick cup of coffee, and where to hang their coat. Get a pamphlet that outlines the service for the day and be available for any questions.
- Give a quick tour of the building, if time permits. Show visitors the room where the service will take place and any other attractive facilities, if they seem interested. Some back-story about the history of the congregation can be interesting for new visitors, be friendly! Say hi to people.
Let visitors know how they can join without pressuring them to do so. Many churches have different procedures and steps involved in joining the church, and you shouldn’t assume that all visitors will know how to sign up, or whether or not they even should ask for information. Make it available to guests, but don’t make it mandatory and don’t force it.
- Ask visitors if they’re interested in information by asking questions and finding out what they’re looking for. If someone’s visiting because they’re in town staying with relatives and live out of state, there’s not much point in forcing materials on them. Make them feel welcomed, but don’t worry about selling them on the church.
- This can be a tricky step in welcoming visitors, because you don’t want to assume every visitor is interested, but the easiest way to engage is usually to get visitors to sign the guest book so you can have their contact information to follow up later.
Recognize when to back off. Everyone is different, and some guests might just want to enjoy the sermon and be left alone. If they have an enjoyable experience, they’ll come back and you can get to know them a bit more later. Don’t assume that standoffish or silent guests are displeased or uncomfortable, they may just be looking to sneak in for a quiet service. Recognize visitors who may tend toward this and back off. Make contact and introduce yourself, so they’ll have a name in case they want to ask questions and learn more.
Part 2 Part 2 of 3:Making the Experience Memorable Download Article
Have genuine conversations. Greeters should practice their active listening skills and engage in real, genuine interactions with first-time visitors. Open yourselves up to the new people and help them to feel welcome by showing an interest in where they come from, what they’re looking for, and who they are. Learn visitors’ names and remember them.
Help visitors connect with people. Perhaps the most effective way to make a new visitor feel welcomed is to help them form bonds with regular members. One of the main reasons why people feel intimidated at a new church is because they don’t know anyone. That fear quickly disappears when they’ve made new relationships with others, so do your best to help that process along.
- New visitors to a church should always meet the pastor before they leave, if they’re interested. Make an introduction after the sermon. If the visitors aren’t interested, don’t force it.
Invite new visitors to sit with you. After introducing yourself, invite the new visitors to sit with you and your family, so they’ll feel welcome, as if they’ve already made a friend at the church. Looking at a crowded church auditorium for the first time can be intimidating for new visitors, but if you give them one less thing to stress about, the experience will be much better for guests.
Provide childcare during the service. Many larger churches will have childcare services in place during the service, so it’s a good idea to make this available to first-time visitors and help facilitate the process if they’re interested and have children. It can be an embarrassing thing to ask, and some visitors may not even be aware of the service.
- If visitors are uncomfortable leaving their children in a nursery at a church they’ve never visited before, that’s not unreasonable. Even if it’s uncommon, try to accommodate new guests as much as possible.
Invite new visitors to church programs and events. Sunday morning Bible study classes and weekly church get togethers are great events to which you should invite new visitors. You can also invite them to upcoming one-time events, such as a weekend picnic or a holiday pageant. Make them feel welcome and informed.
- Invite visitors out for a meal, or other after-church gathering. If after-church potlucks or other get-togethers are common at your church, make visitors feel welcome by inviting them and including them in the festivities, as if they were a member. Even informal get-togethers at the buffet down the road can give guests a feel for the congregation and a sense of welcome. It may be just what they’re looking for.
Follow up. Send a follow-up note to visitors if you collect their contact information from the guest book. You don’t need to automatically sign them up for weekly church newsletters and bulletins, but sending a short note expressing how much you enjoyed meeting the visitors would be a wonderful way of inviting them back to the church.
Part 3 Part 3 of 3:Avoiding Common Missteps Download Article
Don’t pressure visitors into joining right away. Even if you find out that visitors are looking for a new church and are considering joining, don’t jump the gun by thrusting a bunch of paperwork in their face five minutes after they hung up a coat. Focus on making the experience pleasant and stress-free for the visitors and let them make the decision to become a member or not. Make yourself available for questions and help, but it should be their decision.
Don’t seat visitors in the front row. Making a big deal out of new visitors is generally discouraged. No one wants to be made to feel like some kind of zoo animal their first time in church with a bunch of strangers. Don’t make it worse by seating them right in the front row for everyone to gawk.
Don’t make visitors introduce themselves. Forcing visitors to get up in front of a room full of strangers and talk about themselves is a good way to send them running. Try not to make any visitors stand up and talk for any length of time, even if you’re intending to make them feel welcome. If you feel the need to acknowledge it, say something general like, “It’s good to see new faces today!” But don’t draw too much attention to people and make them feel uncomfortable.
- At the same time, some visitors may be very talkative and have things to share. Encourage them to do so enthusiastically, if they show an interest. Prayer requests and other opportunities to contribute should be available to visitors.
Don’t have ushers or deacons “out” visitors. Some churches will have ushers walk around during the service to take attendance and to note any visitors that may have been missed, as a way of targeting them later, after the service. Try not to make visitors feel like impostors that are having their ID checked by the cops. If visitors just want to sneak in and leave afterward, they should be free to do so.
Don’t organize a welcoming song. Hard to believe, but some churches organize semi-complciated welcoming rituals, involving a welcome song when new visitors attend. Talk about awkward. Avoid this practice.
Never have specific “visitor seating”. It makes visitors feel unwelcome.
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