“If you’re a first-time visitor with us this morning, please stay seated. Everyone else, stand up, walk around, find someone who is sitting down, and say hello to them.”
Does this sound familiar? This same kind of welcome technique, or a variation of it, plays out in tons of churches each Sunday. I’ve been in church services where visitors were even singled out by pastors...from the pulpit. Talk about uncomfortable.
I get the point. As a church leader, you want to welcome your guests. You also want to be able to identify who’s new to the church. But we need to be more thoughtful in how we welcome visitors. If you want to be a guest-friendly church, think strategically about how you identify new people and how you welcome them in.
Here are a few key principles to consider as you create or reevaluate your church’s welcome strategy.
There’s a section in Romans 12 that I often come back to when I think about hospitality. In verses 9-13, Paul talks about how our love needs to be genuine, to outdo one another in showing each other honor, to rejoice and be patient, and to practice hospitality. I think we often mistake Paul’s call to hospitality here with a call to be friendly and outwardly welcoming. But true hospitality is much more difficult than that. If we’re being truly hospitable, we’re putting the needs of our guest first. In The Come Back Effect, authors Jason Young and Jonathan Malm say “hospitality is about caring for the emotions of the guest just as much as it is about serving them, if not even more.” Does your church’s welcome process think first and foremost about your guests feelings?
Help Them Remain Anonymous
Yes, this does seem contrary to everything you hear. Often, the main goal of a welcome sequence is to get your guests’ contact information. But believe me—they understand that, and that reality can be threatening. If I’m visiting your church and get singled out as a visitor, I’m not going to give up my personal information very easily. If you’ve already made me uncomfortable during the service, I might begin to wonder how much more uncomfortable you will make me if I give you my contact information. Instead, take care to make guests feel comfortable. Once they’re comfortable, they’re more likely to want to give you a way to contact them beyond Sunday morning.
Think Like a Guest
As regular members and even church staff, we’re used to the typical flow of our Sunday services. But what does a first-timer need when they enter the building? What do they think as they sit through their first service? Put yourself in the shoes of an individual or family who has never entered your building before. What are you doing well and what needs to be changed? Your guests need to be both cared for and informed so that they can actually take part in the worship process.
Help Guests Know What to do Next
Being truly hospitable toward your guests is a great first step. And ensuring they are comfortable and well-informed on their first visit is a great opportunity to establish a solid relationship. But visitors need a reason to return—or an easy next step. What call-to-action are you providing your guests? What would you like them to do after their first visit? Think through a clear, simple, concise next step that you can communicate to every first-time visitor. Maybe that’s filling out the connection card. It could be something like a pastor’s meet-and-greet. Or maybe it’s a midweek service. You decide what is the most effective way to enfold guests into your congregation. Then communicate that next step as effectively as possible.
What does your church do to make guests feel welcome?