Smaller churches have a distinct advantage over larger churches in welcoming first-time guests. First-time guests are easily recognizable since the regular attendees know everyone.
What can a smaller church do to be more effective in welcoming those people? The following are four effective initiatives in welcoming first-time guests:
1. Demonstrate practical hospitality.
The strength of smaller churches is relationships. Take advantage of this by encouraging members to not only greet first-time guests but also to include them for lunch or in your home.
Simple gestures of introduction, invitation, and inclusion can pay enormous dividends.
Friendliness is expected; hospitality shows you care.
Friendliness is the first step; hospitality is the walk that welcomes people into the church.
2. Welcome without commotion.
A fine line exists between being friendly and being desperate. And I don’t know exactly where that line lies. Smaller churches, since they know who the first-time guests are, will often go overboard in welcoming an individual or family.
This gesture of friendliness can be misinterpreted as being overkill for your guests if too many people make too much “fuss” over the new people. Treat a first-time guest how you would want to be treated when you visit a place for the first time. The next initiative may help…
3. Employ a two-minute offense.
Since everyone knows everyone in smaller churches, the opposite tendency is to speak only to your friends or family, leaving the first-time guest alone. A way to break this behavior is to encourage members to speak to guests before they speak to friends immediately before and after the service. (This instruction needs to be made at some other time than worship or it may appear manipulative.)
In a first-time guest’s mind, the most important time of a church service is the few minutes before – do they feel welcomed, and the few minutes after the service – does the church care. Simple gestures of smiling, a handshake, introductions, invitations to lunch, to play softball, etc. will go a long way in making first-time guests feel comfortable.
4. Repair, replace, or remove the cracked mirrors.
Cracked mirrors in our homes, if left that way over time, are often overlooked and ignored. (The mind plays a trick on us and we don’t notice the crack any longer.) Show that same cracked mirror to someone, seeing it for the first time, and the crack is glaring and obvious.
Churches have cracked mirrors that have become overlooked and ignored to its members. The cracked mirror may be something as simple as the frayed carpet in the foyer or the hollow sound system in the sanctuary to something more complex, such as the kind-hearted person who is overbearing and obnoxious to new people or the music leader who sings every song at the same tempo.
Cracked mirrors need to be repaired or replaced or removed. To a first-time guest, these “cracks” are glaring. They cause the newcomer to question, “Why doesn’t someone do something about this? Doesn’t the church care? How could this church be so blind?”