Church Welcoming – A Job for the Pastor, Congregations and Ministry Team
On a business trip one Sunday, I arrived at church and walked directly in. A nice lady nodded handed me a bulletin, but there was no other church welcoming.
People raced past me to get good seats without acknowledgement. As I glanced around the expensively appointed auditorium, I saw small groups happily conversing. Others just sat silently waiting for their weekly appointment with God. After a fine service I simply left without anyone making a comment.
Traveling extensively as a Director of Marketing, I attended churches all over the USA, from mega to small country. Most of the time the music was good, the sermon was solid and pews/chairs were comfortable. However, only once did anyone say hello, or give me a reason to ever return. So, I never did!
Most people feel a little uncomfortable when entering any new place which includes a church. Ever notice how we frequent particular restaurants, coffee shops or gas stations, because someone there makes us feel good or special? Shouldn’t churches show God’s love by having the same welcoming attitude for visitors and members?
Due to major job changes, our family endured new church searches several times. Churches selected weren’t just due to the pastor/minister/priest, but the people we met there. We’ve also seen many members drift away from churches, because they simply couldn’t get connected. This isn’t the fault of the pastor, but congregation cliques not including others in their conversations.
Welcoming people to church is more than shaking hands, asking names or handing out a bulletin, connecting with others in your church family. Congregation outreaches need to begin in church.
Over the years I’ve developed a significant informal “ministry” of making people feel welcome and good about themselves. Weekly (sometimes as an usher) I intensely visit with as many attendees as possible, asking probing (never prying) questions of my favorite targets who are:
- Those standing with their arms crossed (a sign of resistance)
- anyone who enters alone
- men sitting alone at the back of the church and
- those sitting during hymns/worship while everyone else is standing.
We need to make our churches “smile” at both visitors and regular attendees.
A formal or informal Welcoming Committee is needed. Here are some unofficial duties I’ve found helpful:
1- Intercepting those appearing confused, alone or positioned close to exits (Visitors gather close to exits for a fast get-away.)
2- Introducing and/or connecting people to others who can assist them
3- Praying for/with people when problems are identified
4- Connecting family/friends arriving separately
5- Directing visitors to various Sunday School classes
Don’t Forget: Those welcoming can also relay key information to the ministerial staff. These include special anniversaries, birthdays, illnesses, misunderstandings and great ideas for the church.
The Welcoming Center
Surprise! The truth about an Information Center – it’s generally avoided by your shy guests. This is because it requires them to talk to someone they don’t yet know! However, it’s a wonderful information resource for regular attendees.
Here are guidelines I’ve learned while greeting at conventions, department stores, charity events and churches for 15+ years. The 1st guideline the Holy Spirit taught me was, don’t greet anyone inside the sanctuary once the service starts. Exceptions are those who are not participating or just being seated during music.
Approach Visitors and Attendees – They shouldn’t have to approach you. Look into their eyes, moving toward them extending your hand of friendship.
Use Elements of Surprise & Humor
- (To an older husband) Hello and welcome! Is this your daughter?
- Welcome! God’s got a wonderful plan for your life?
Introduce to People with Similar Interests
Gosh – I see you week after week, what business are you in? (Wait for answer.) No kidding! You should meet _________. I know he’ll be interested in what you do.
Church Welcoming is All About Them – Not You!
- Be genuine
- Talk to them about what are they interested in.
- Give them an encouraging word or compliment. (Just seeing you brightens my day!)
- Where have you been? I’ve missed you!
- Ask open-ended questions like: How’re you feeling? How’s business? How’re the kids?
Be Distinctive. Dress Like Someone You’d Like to Know
- Men should be dressed in a sharply pressed shirt. Suit and tie isn’t necessary, but it makes a great impression. Then when you approach people, they think you might be someone important. They’re really surprised when you’re not.
- Remember, you’re never fully dressed without a smile!
Frankly, being available consistently week after week builds credibility and encourages people. They know no matter how bad their life has been, there’s a special someone to smile, greet and encourage them.
Most businesses understand that gaining a new customer requires 5-7 times more effort than retaining current ones. A similar statement could apply to churches. (The Principal at Francis Howell North High School occasionally had members of a club stand at every entrance and welcome students as they entered. It made a terrific difference in student attitudes.)
It is a fact that it requires 5-7 times more effort to get a new member, than keep the current. Therefore, its common sense that “farming” current members and visitors is easier and more productive than endless “hunting!”
Frankly, it’s nearly impossible for the pastor/minister/priest to mentally prepare themselves for the service; deliver an outstanding sermon; meet every visitor; pray privately with all who need special prayer; and listen to every story while keeping track of every member of their flock in 15 minutes after the service! They need help!
I’m convinced churches need happy, compassionate, cheerful and caring “welcomers”.
You need not only to concentrate on visitors, but every church attendee as well. While I know coming out of your shell doesn’t come easily to most (it didn’t for me), but your church will prosper if you and others will sincerely greet church members and guests. This is an activity everyone should pursue!