Making Visitors Feel Welcome (But Not Too Welcome)

Making Visitors Feel Welcome (But Not Too Welcome)

April 4, 2012 by

I went to an Anne Lamott reading last week for her new book Some Assembly Required and she gave some advice to churches. For those who don’t know, Anne Lamott is a post-druggie, dread-locked author and now grandma. She’s a feminist, pro-choice, pro-gay hippie who loves Jesus. She came to church as a strung out alcoholic and now teaches Sunday School. (Oddly enough, the first question at the reading—in a Barnes & Noble—was “Can you just talk about Jesus a little bit?”)

When Anne Lamott first came to church she was hungover and wanted nothing to do with anybody. Her advice to churches is to give visitors space and just let them be. If anyone had approached her and tried to do a home visit she would have joined a witness relocation program. She needed space and her church gave it to her.

Giving strung out alcoholics some space is good advice. The problem is that’s not what every visitor needs. That’s the real challenge for churches as they try to make visitors feel welcome… but not too welcome.

That means your church’s welcome committee—whether it’s an official ministry team or that one way-too-friendly guy—need to be really good with people. They need to be able to tell the difference between the barely recovering alcoholic who wants to be left alone and the lonely widow looking for a new place to belong. They need to be able to welcome the stand-offish twenty-somethings who are curious but not that curious, along with the eager family who are already signing their kids up for summer camp.

It’s not an easy job. Too eager in your welcome and you’ll chase someone like Lamott away. But if you give space to someone eager to get involved, you come across as cold and aloof. It’s a fine balance and there’s surprisingly little grace.

Do we really have to think this hard about how to greet someone? Yes, yes we do. And the churches that don’t will suffer for it.

How does your church welcome visitors?

The book on church visitors: Unwelcome: 50 Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time VisitorsMore:

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998 and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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18 Responses to “Making Visitors Feel Welcome (But Not Too Welcome)”

  • Dawn
    April 4, 2012

    I agree. Churches definitely need to train their greeters/hospitality team to read body language as they do their ministry. “Welcoming” should not be a one-size-fits-all approach.

    • Jonathan
      April 12, 2012

      If a church assigns greeting visitors to a team, they already have a huge problem. Engaging fellow believers or inquirers is the job of everyone, not just the lady with the funny hat.

  • David
    April 4, 2012

    Off topic: So Anne Lamott is ok with abortion?

    Also being pro gay does that mean she loves the people that are gay or that she is ok with homosexuality?

    • Melissa
      April 4, 2012

      David- I think you totally missed the point of the article…,

      • David
        April 4, 2012

        No I got the point of the article but I am just trying to get this clarified for my own sake. That’s why I said, “off topic.”

        • Kaleb
          April 4, 2012

          David, even though your questions were rightfully prefaced with the disclaimer of “off topic” , I don’t think this is where the authoritative answer will be found. Anne Lamott is probably personally available on some blog, somewhere, or else her answers to these questions are probably publicly available.

    • Kevin D. Hendricks
      April 5, 2012

      David: I’m not sure what you mean by “OK” with abortion or homosexuality. She’s had an abortion and talks about it in her books and she’s talked about loving gay people. Plenty of quotes out there if you search around. She’s certainly on the liberal end and many have labeled her a universalist.

      But to really understand what she thinks, ask her. You can find her on Twitter: @AnneLamott.

  • David
    April 9, 2012

    I am just not going to take advice from someone that is ok with homosexuality or abortion. I love the the gay person and those who have abortions, but I do not like the act and neither does God. I have a cousin that is gay and I love him very much, but I do not approve of his lifestyle. Kevin you said she was pro-gay and pro-choice so by that confession alone I would not feature an article written by her on a site that instructs churches.

    • Don
      April 10, 2012

      Now, that’s a loving and understanding reply…not to mention an amazing feat of judgement.

      David, none of the advice in the article came from Anne. She was referenced as an example of a changed soul. Nothing in the article or after says she supports abortion now. And, the article was not written by her.

      Nice jump to a far-off set of conclusions supporting your personal biases based on totally inaccurate information. Or are you just trolling the site?

      And we wonder why the church has problems growing.

    • Jonathan
      April 12, 2012

      you sound just like Jesus, all conditional and judgmental. I’d think that when advice is sound, the source is irrelevant.

  • Matt
    April 12, 2012

    Our greeters are encouraged to give high-fives, jump straight to deep theological questions and give long, awkward hugs to first time guests.

    Just kiddin’.

    We have a couple points of contact in our greeting ministry. A few of our high school students hold a welcome sign at the entrance of our parking lot and we have several men and women who are a part of our greeting team to welcome guests on their way in. The team is encouraged to engage in short conversations and, whenever possible, connect others around common interest (so and so is in the airforce or is a big UNLV Rebels fan too). They also help people find seats as our small room fills up fast.

    Tip: Never start off with, “Is this your first time here?” and be careful of introducing yourself to the same person more than once. Nothing makes a person feel more unwelcome than having to say “No, I’ve actually been coming here for a few months now.” or “I met you last week, remember?” Be interested in them, not just their church attendance.

    • Karen Dau
      April 23, 2012

      When I see someone I don’t know at church I just say, “I don’t think I’ve met you yet?” and the conversation goes from there. If someone remembers meeting me before, I apologize and say “you deserve better attentiveness from me,” but I’m pretty good with faces and that rarely happens. Now with names, I do have more of a problem…….

  • Gerig
    April 25, 2012

    Just for the record, Anne Lamott is a strong advocate of chocolate, puppies, the beach AND the mountains (crazy, right?); as well as sunshine AND rain. So I hope those who cannot follow her advice because of other issues aren’t going to miss the aforementioned items too much.

  • Roger
    May 15, 2012

    Buffet Christianity. Pick this, don’t like that, pick this, don’t like that.

    Jesus loves everyone…duhhh. That’s why He came to earth.
    But He still has standards and principles to adhere to. If you are truly connected to the fruit tree (John 15:1-8), and are seeking friendship with God and to be influenced by His Word and principles on a daily basis, I SERIOUSLY doubt you will be an adamant supporter of the pro-gay lifestyle and being pro-choice.
    Anne may be a nice person and have great qualities, but she is in error of some basics about the WHAT THE WORD says.
    If you need further explanation as to why Anne Lamott is wrong in her view, all’s I’ll say is stop being stupid.

    • Kevin D. Hendricks
      May 16, 2012

      Stop being stupid? C’mon, Roger, don’t be a jerk.

      Smart people read the same Bible and disagree on this issue. It doesn’t mean the person who disagrees with you is stupid.

  • Becky Harmon
    January 11, 2013

    I am tweeting this thread just because it made me snort laugh. HALARIOUS. I want to take Church Marketing Sucks out for Starbucks.

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