11. Pastor’s Welcome. During the service, I like to hear someone from the platform tell me they’re glad I’m here. Not personally, of course. No newcomer likes to be singled out in public. But when the pastor spends valuable time in the service telling me that I’m valued by the church, it makes a big difference. And it’s more than just, “If you’re visiting today, welcome.” It means explaining a little about the church, what a wonderful place it is, how great the people are, and why the benefit of getting involved is worth the price of my anticipated anxiety.
12. A Time of Greeting. Many churches include a moment during the service to shake hands and greet those around them. This is either a good idea or a bad idea … and it depends on what happens after the service. It’s good if folks continue their initial conversation with the guest. It’s bad if they pretend nothing ever happened a half-hour earlier and beat a hasty path to the exit. If your people are naturally congenial with newcomers, then a greeting time in the service is great. If not, try the following idea …
After the Service
13. After-Service Hosts. Our research reveals three insights about church visitors:
a. “Friendliness of the people” is the most important thing newcomers are looking for in their visit.
b. “Friendliness” is assessed on the simple basis of how many people talk to them.
c. The most important time for such “friendly talk” is immediately following the service.
After-service hosts are responsible for making a beeline to newcomers after the service to welcome them, walk with them to the coffee table, introduce them to others,and invite them back. A variation of this strategy in one church we visited was when the pastor reminded the congregation of their “three-minute rule”—no one could talk to anyone they knew during the first three minutes following the service! It worked for us. We met a wonderful woman named “Rose” who had been attending for the past year. Our conversation lasted over 15 minutes! As you might guess, we looked for Rose the following Sunday when we returned.
14. Church Tour. Newcomers are hesitant to wander around a new church uninvited, even though they’d like to. So, why not offer a short tour of the facilities after each service? Such a tour is a low-commitment, limited-time, high-information event for anyone interested in learning more about your church. The tour leader guides the guests through various halls and rooms, explaining what activities take place there. It’s natural for guests to ask questions about various ministries or upcoming events. And it’s a much easier “next step” for newcomers who are interested in learning more, but not ready to sign up for a membership class.
15. Follow-Up Contact. It’s standard procedure for pastors to send a “thank you for visiting” letter. We received nice ones from every church we visited. But following our second visit to several of those churches … nothing. In the typical (non-growing) church, 9 percent of all first-time visitors join the following year. But among second-time visitors (those who visit twice within a six-week period), 17 prcent join. And third-time guests unite at a rate of 36 percent in the ensuing year. In growing churches, the pattern is similar: 21 percent of first-timers stay … 38 percent of second-timers … 57 percent of third-timers join the church they visited. Whether your church is growing or not, the insight is clear: The more often people visit, the more likely they will stay. Have a unique follow-up strategy for second-time guests and another for third-timers.
Your church probably can’t implement all of these ideas. Nor should you try. But circulate this list among your leaders and see if they resonate to any of them. Get a group together and brainstorm how some of the ideas might work in your church. Set a target date to have the plan in place. Then begin.
After you’ve successfully implemented one idea, find another and consider how it might work. While more than just an outside music speaker or an inside classroom host is needed to see newcomers become active members, such new ideas will raise the awareness level of your members to the importance of welcoming guests and making them feel comfortable in your church home. The newcomers who enter your front doors are the ones Christ wants you to welcome in the same way He would do so Himself. After all, we are the caretakers of His house … at least until that day when He invites us to His eternal home. And then we’ll find out what a good first-time welcome is really like!