Some time ago my family and I moved to a new house and neighborhood, and in the process visited a number of churches in search of a new place to worship. The experience reminded me of how other newcomers must feel in visiting a church for the first time. New faces … new places … new spaces. The truth is, it’s not a particularly enjoyable experience!
Here are a few simple ways you can increase the warmth of your church’s welcome; and, as a result, increase the number of first-time visitors who return … and stay.
1. Don’t call them “visitors.” According to Webster, a visitor is “a person who resides temporarily; one who goes or comes to inspect; one who makes a short stay at a place for a particular purpose.” May I suggest you instead use the word guest, defined as “a person welcomed into one’s house; a person to whom hospitality is extended; a person held in honor who is due special courtesies.”
2. Stop using the word “greeter” defined as “one who meets or extends welcome in a specified manner; one who gives a formal salutation at a meeting.” Start using the word host—“one who receives or entertains socially; one who opens his or her home for a special event; one who takes particular care and concern that guests are well-accommodated.” And discuss with your “hosts” the new implications of their new title.
3. Parking Lot Hosts. Deploy a team of your members to greet and welcome folks the moment they step out of their cars. Or, if it’s raining, parking lot hosts should have umbrellas ready before guests step out of their cars! These hosts can greet everyone coming to church, but should pay particular attention to the guest parking area or to newcomers. A warm welcome should be extended and an inquiry made as to special needs or questions guests may have. Parking lot hosts may accompany guests into the building and introduce them to the host at the welcome center. (You do have a welcome center, don’t you?)
4. Celebration Balloons. It’s common to see strings of helium-filled balloons attracting your attention to RV sales and used car lots around town. Does your church have something to celebrate? Why not get folks into the mood with columns of colorful balloons reaching heavenward? How about a great arch of balloons leading into the building? “It is appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for this, your brother, was dead, and is alive again. He was lost, and is found” (Lk 15:32). Sunday should be celebration time!
5. Piped-Out Music. Install a number of strategically placed outdoor speakers welcoming people to God’s house with the music of heaven. If you have a recording of your own worship band or musical group, use it. Otherwise, there’s lots of great Christian music available.
6. Direction Signs. You can’t have too many signs on the church property. If your campus has more than one building, the name of each should be clearly visible. Direction signs should be at every major “intersection,” in and outside the church. Identification signs should be on every inside door (including closets and storage). Children’s classrooms should be marked with age/grade level. Adult classrooms should note the topic, age group and time of meeting. (By the way, class names exclude, class topics include.) Restrooms, nursery, chapel, fellowship hall, library and worship center should all be identified with conforming and attractive signs.
7. Welcome Center Support Hosts. Many churches have a person or two working inside a welcome center kiosk or at a welcome table. That’s good. But move from a good welcome to a great welcome by also stationing hosts in front of the kiosk/table where guests will be standing. Those hosts answering questions at the Welcome Center may call on support hosts to escort guests to a particular location in the church (i.e., nursery, classroom, sanctuary, etc.), or simply make a “social hand off” of the newcomer for a more casual conversation with a church member. Such hosts engage the guests in friendly conversation and may introduce them to others in the fellowship area.
8. Guest Information Packet. Every church should have an attractive packet prepared specifically for newcomers. The basic questions your guests are asking should be answered in this kit. They are: “What kind of things are going on in this church?” [The more the better.] “Is there a place for my kids?” [If not, nothing else matters.] “How can I learn more about this church?” [See “Church Tour” below.] One of the best ways to answer all these questions is with a video brochure. This is a well-produced eight- to 10-minute introduction to the church with words from the pastor, staff and some new members. Put the video on a DVD in the packet, and include it on your website. A gift for guests is also a nice touch. I’ve seen coffee mugs, fresh baked bread, complimentary Bibles and CDs, donuts and cappuccino at the snack bar, even free $30 polo shirts with a Christian symbol on the front. All are nice touches.
9. Class Hosts. Every adult, youth and children’s class should have at least one host. Their task is to look for newcomers, welcome them, introduce them to others, sit with them, and generally be sensitive to their comfort and needs. Hosts may be the same throughout the year or vary from week to week.
In the Service
10. Worship Center Hosts. Don’t stop being a good host at the Welcome Center. If your sanctuary/worship center is a bustle of activity before the service begins, why not ask some of your members to host a pre-determined area of seats? When newcomers sit in their area, a good worship center host will go over and welcome them to the church and engage them in conversation. If there will be any special activities in the service which might need explanation, it’s a good chance to give a “heads up.” Hosts should introduce the guests to the person(s) next to them. Perhaps even sit with them.