This is part 3 of a 9-part series on attending church from a visitor’s perspective. You can read the original post here to get a better understanding of David’s experience visiting churches for the first time.
There’s a paradox when it comes to welcoming a visitor: on one hand, they want to anonymously investigate the church without pressure; on the other hand they don’t want to be ignored.
My wife and I were enjoying a church we had been visiting for a couple of weeks. Over that time the church allowed us to visit freely without making us standout as visitors. However, the only time anyone said “Hello” to us was when the whole church stood up to “pass the peace.” When we eventually tried to find a Sunday School class (or something) to connect with some other people, we couldn’t find anyone to ask. We eventually found a table in the lobby with a sign declaring it to be the “Welcome Table” but no one ever showed up. Even though we liked the church, we never returned.
Some churches have resolved the paradox between embarrassing their visitors and making them feel welcome. They’ve done this by empowering the church members to welcome guests on an individual level. For example, one time my wife and I attended the main campus of a multi-location mega-church. From the beginning we were lost in their maze of a parking lot. We decided just to follow the crowd until they led us somewhere. When we finally made it to the main building I rhetorically asked my wife, “Where do we go now?” An astute regular (passing us in the hallway) excused herself and asked us if we needed any help and then simply pointed us in the right direction. She didn’t have a nametag or was serving in any official capacity that we could tell–she was just paying attention and being a welcoming host. Not only were we saved the embarrassment of wandering aimlessly throughout the humungous facility, but we were grateful and immediately felt welcome.
If people know they can take it upon themselves to make visitors feel welcome, even a very large church can make someone feel right at home.