How to Welcome People to Your Church
Many church members, pastors and greeters have forgotten what it’s like to be a church visitor. Welcoming people to your church is the first step in growth. We’re called to share the gospel with our neighbors and we throw the doors open on Sunday morning. But too often when church visitors come, our church people are less than welcoming.
Below is a series of resources that can help your church welcome the church visitor.
Unwelcome: Is Your Church Sneezing on People?
Church expert Jonathan Malm talks about the importance of first impressions with Sunday Sneeze. It’s a lead in to his book Unwelcome: 50 Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Visitors.
Walking into a church for the first time can be scary. Are you making your first-time guests feel welcome? Or are you driving them away—unintentionally—with bad signage, reserved seating, clunky communication and more?
The Importance of Church Visitors
“When you spend all your time in the church you have to constantly remind yourself that some people do something entirely different on Sunday morning.”
Because if we’re not going to welcome people to our churches, then maybe we better own up to what we’re actually telling people. What if we were honest with our church visitors and gave them fair warning about what to expect (yeah, it’s kind of ugly).
“Lots of people pray for God to send new people to their church. Few accept the folks God actually sends.” –Heath Mullikin
How to See From a Church Visitor’s Perspective
Visiting a church for the first time can be intimidating.
That’s an actual fear of a church visitor. A Seattle newspaper sent reporters to churches to experience that first-time church visitor apprehension. One of the hardest things for churches to do is understand what it’s like for a newcomer. Sometimes we forget. And we need to remember. Embrace that awkward feeling and learn to empathize with church visitors.
“As a visitor, I want at least one person to shake my hand, tell me their name, ask for my name, and pretty much feign interest in getting to know me.” –one of our commenters
One way to get back in the game and remember what it’s like to be a first-time church visitor is to do it again. Go visit a different church and see what’s like. There’s an entire phenomenon called the mystery worshiper, like retail’s mystery shopper. You can do it yourself or hire a professional. Ship of Fools has collected more than 2,000 such reports—even though it’s not your church, it can be helpful to read through them.
The Welcoming Paradox
First-time church visitors don’t want to embarrass themselves. And that can be a challenge. One person’s welcome is another person’s too much. Sometimes you have to give people space. You want to make people feel welcome, but you don’t want to scare them away by being creepy welcoming. It’s a difficult paradox to navigate, but you can overcome it by empowering people to be real.
Let’s Get Practical
Now that you understand the required mindset to welcome church visitors, let’s get practical about how to make it happen:
- First impressions are no longer physical but virtual. Potential visitors will check out your website before they walk into your worship service.
- Check out 8 Ways Your Church Website Can Welcome First-Time Visitors Before They Arrive
- As Andy Stanley says, “Your sermon starts in the parking lot.”
- Go the extra mile—don’t telling people where to go, show them.
- Make sure your primary exterior sign is getting people to your church. Then make sure your secondary exterior signs are properly directly people. Finally your interior signs need to do their job
- “Invite a friend who isn’t familiar with your facility to walk around with you and see if it makes sense to them. It’s tempting to skip this step, but you can probably walk your facility blindfolded. Get that outside perspective.” –Steve Fogg
- At 80% capacity, consider your church full. Time to do something, like consider multiple services.
- No church visitor wants to feel lonely. If your church is empty, create a more intimate atmosphere and hide those empty seats.
- Think about the atmosphere of your service before it starts. What can you do with those forgotten minutes to create the proper vibe?
- Church visitor cards: How to connect and follow up effectively.
- Watch your language. The words you use and how you say them can make church visitors feel like outsiders or make you look outdated.
- Church can be weird, so explain what’s happening.
- Church visitor gifts: Rationale, examples and best practice.
- If you talk money, be careful about how it’s contextualized. Even scrutinize the updates in the bulletin.
- Pastors need to be dressed well and make a good first impression. Don’t squeeze your pastor into skinny jeans if that’s not their style, but the “defrumpification of the American clergy” is a goal we can get behind.
- Check out these suggestions for empowering your congregation to invite people and welcome visitors.
- What happens after Easter or after Christmas? Make sure the follow-up to your big weekends can live up to the hype.
- Consider how your church can welcome 20-somethings.
- Check out Simply Strategic Growth for more tips and ideas for welcoming church visitors.
Bring Those Church Visitors Back
Once you get church visitors in the door, how do you get them to come back? Hopefully your visitors had a good experience and are eager to return. But know that the numbers don’t look good:
Only 12% of first-time church visitors will return the following week and eventually become members.
Yikes. Those are old numbers (1997), but you need to find ways to integrate new people into the life of your church. You can also create an email strategy to bring visitors back. But perhaps the best way is to make a good first impression and have warm, authentic members that make visitors want to come back. After all, authentic is the new awesome.
Here’s a final tip: Whatever you do, don’t put a “love warning” on your sign out front. That’s a sure way to make people feel unwelcome.
Unwelcome: Get the Book
For more tips and insights on church visitors, check out Unwelcome: 50 Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Visitors by Jonathan Malm.
“Read Unwelcome for rueful good laughs and wise counsel, then get to work making your church more welcoming.” -Church consultant and strategist Meredith Gould