A common complaint from nearly every dedicated church member is the lack of confidence when greeting visitors. Members often say they’re eager to be friendly but don’t know how to strike the right tone.
Given the shape of our country these days, churches should recognize that more and more people are becoming hungry, fearful, bankrupt, and desperate. Churches should be prepared to deal with this by knowing how to reach out to their neighborhood.
Yet making new folks feel welcome does not happen accidentally. It takes some thought and discussion in advance to form a welcoming strategy that works for your flock. As someone who frequently travels and has visited hundreds of churches in dozens of cities, I’ve seen some tricks that work and some that don’t. Below is a simple list of dos and don’ts that can help begin the discussion in your church.
- DON’T embarrass me. This means no nametags, no announcing my arrival with a megaphone, and no stopping the announcements to point me out. I’m looking for a place where I can easily blend in.
- DON’T act too cool. By the flip side, this doesn’t mean you act like having a visitor is no big deal. Greet me as if you would greet a visitor to your home: with casual warmth.
- DON’T make me park on the street. Talk with your regular members about leaving the closest parking spaces open. If it’s my first trip to your neighborhood I’m reluctant to take any chances.
- DON’T have awkward silence before service. Nothing scares me away from a church faster than to see members stand around chatting with no focus on the Lord until someone gives the “cue” to start worshiping. Set the atmosphere with soft music and encourage your members to “enter His court with praise.”
- DON’T let me flounder after I walk in the door. I’m going to be too shy to ask you where the bathroom is. Offer to walk me into the sanctuary or at least direct me where to go next.
- DON’T send a thousand people to greet me. The names will all blur together and I’ll end up feeling like I didn’t connect with anyone. It’s better to focus on getting maybe half a dozen to actually have a conversation with me. And one of those people needs to be the same age as me.
- DON’T ask about where I live or what I do for a living. If I’m unemployed you just brought up a sore subject. If I’m nervous about meeting you I don’t want to reveal my address. Focus on why I’m visiting church.
Having said all that, let’s look at some positive steps you can actively take.
- DO ask what prompted my visit. Am I new in town? Lonely? Looking for answers?
- DO have someone from the priest/pastor’s family invite me to sit with them. This happened at a church in Seattle once and it impressed me tremendously. Even if I decline, I’ll notice the gesture. It means your church is not wrapped up in social cliques.
- DO have a clear definition of when service is over. Nothing confuses me more than when a pastor invites people to prayer and then wanders off stage. By all means, encourage people to pray after service, but let me know when I’m free to politely stand up.
- DO have a familiar face check on me after service. Invite me out for coffee. Offer lunch at the pastor’s house. Do something. Even if I refuse, I know the offer is open.
- DO treat children like an adult. Shake their hand, look them in the eyes, and ask them directly what their name is (don’t just ask their parents). Families are far more likely to return if the kids ask to go back.
This is not any definitive list, but it should help to break the ice and open a conversation. Either way, whatever you decide to do in your church, have a strategy in place and discuss it with your members. Empowering people to be prepared is the most important thing.