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Welcoming Visitors During A Church Service

Welcoming Visitors During A Church Service

Posted March 13, 2014 by Jerod Clark

I’ve always been terrified by the way my childhood church welcomed new people. Near the beginning of the service, the pastor asked guests to stand up so they could be recognized. That alone was awkward. Then an usher ran around and gave each visitor a bag of microwave popcorn with some church literature attached.  You could see the embarrassment on the faces of the people standing up as they waited.  It was where “awkward” met “get me out of here!” Finally, after all the popcorn was distributed, the pastor wrapped it all up by saying, “Thanks for popping in.” The last time I was there, several years ago, they were still doing this.

There is nothing worse than making visitors feel singled out or uncomfortable. It’s not really being welcoming. Making someone stand up is more about the congregation catching a glimpse of the new people rather than truly making guests feel welcomed.

So as you look at what you do as a church to say hello to new people during a service, here are a few things to consider:

Don’t embarrass anyone. Ever. Let new people blend in if they want. There are enough barriers for people to walk through the front door of your church. Don’t make their fears come true by singling them out or making them feel uncomfortable. 

Always have an in-service welcome that casts vision. An enthusiastic greeting from a real person from the podium should be a part of every service. Yes, it might feel monotonous to you, but it’s not to a new person. And a sincere greeting needs to be accompanied by a glimpse of your church’s vision. Who are you as a church? Why do you exist? This is your elevator pitch to a visitor and reinforcement for your regular attenders.

Clarify follow-up opportunities. Of course you want to meet new people face-to-face, but it might not happen on your timing. Make sure you let people know how and when they can connect with you. Are you by the door after the service? Do you have a welcome center? Do you have a welcome class coming up soon? Will you send them an email? Whatever the process, make it clear.

You don’t need all of someone’s information right away. If you’re collecting someone’s personal information, let him or her know how you’re going to use it. If you get someone’s address, are you going to visit that person? That happened with a church I visited and it was overwhelming to have people show up at my door the next day. That’s why I’m hesitant to ever give my address to a church on my first visit.

Think about what you really need. An email address is probably enough. You can send a follow-up note thanking someone for visiting and offering to help them if they have any needs. As someone becomes more involved in the church, then you can gather more contact information. Honestly, you don’t need all the information you’re likely asking for on a contact card, so do not make it a barrier that keeps someone from connecting with you.

Teach your members the right way to approach visitors. A key piece of being a welcoming church is having members who know how to greet new faces. There’s a difference between “You’re not from around here are you?” and “I’m not sure if we’ve met, I’m Max.” I’ve been greeted both ways. The first way was an awkward put-off and the other led to a nice conversation.

Likewise, don’t swarm a visitor. Many of us are in small enough congregations that we know when there’s a new face in the crowd. That doesn’t mean everyone has to swarm around that new person and introduce him or herself. I’ve been in that uncomfortable situation, too. Here’s the key: be welcoming but not overwhelming.

Filed under: Branding, Visitor's Perspective, Communications

About the Author

Jerod Clark

Jerod joined ReFrame Media in 2007 and built Church Juice from scratch. He poured all his passion for branding, marketing, and messaging into the ministry, publishing e-books, blog posts, and speaking at conferences to help churches energize their communications. He also served as ReFrame’s in-house graphic designer. Before beginning his work at Church Juice, Jerod was a local TV news reporter. In 2016, Jerod stepped away from the ministry to pursue interests in marketing and communications on new horizons.

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Comments (5)

  • Paula Smith
    6:15 PM
    Thu, Mar 13, 2014

    Great article! What is your position on calling first time guests?

  • Eric Dye
    5:11 AM
    Fri, Mar 14, 2014

    Great tips!

  • Jerod Clark
    10:33 AM
    Fri, Mar 14, 2014

    Good question Paula.  I think it’s always a good idea to ask people about their communication preference.  If you’re getting multiple forms of contact info, let people check a box or fill in a blank. 

    The key for calling is to not pester someone.  If you leave a message and they don’t call back, it’s probably not good for a church to keep ringing them.

  • Dave Trout
    8:38 PM
    Fri, Mar 14, 2014

    Killer post. Way to go ChurchJuice!

    I’d like to add a #6 to the list: Give a welcome gift that matters. Some churches give ugly, branded swag items (usually a pen that doesn’t work accompanied by the 4 Spiritual Laws). One church sent us a $5 Panera gift card. I’m still attending that church now 3 years later. (And I’ve had to open up several PO Boxes to keep my “visitor” alias going. I love me some Asiago Bagels!)

  • Steve V
    3:14 PM
    Thu, Aug 14, 2014

    Follow-up is key. When visitors take the time or boldly take a step to share themselves with you, don’t let too many days go by before you actually reach out to him or her. Let it be a personal greeting from a pastor or elder, and don’t be afraid to ask the visitor for their thoughts of the church—“How did you hear about us?” or “What are your thoughts about this past week’s music?” or “Is there anything we can do as a church to make your experience smoother on Sunday?”

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