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Why Not Offending Your Guests Is Killing Your Church

Have you ever been somewhere different for the first time?

In the past, I’ve encouraged pastors to go play Bingo for an evening to give them a sense of what First-Time Guests feel when they come to their church. At Bingo, there is a series of social norms, funny language, ritual, and definitely “insiders and outsiders.”

It’s good for pastors to feel like an “outsider” to give them a palatable sense of what First-Time Guests feel like when they come to your church.

What does your church do to reach out to First-Time Guests? How do you make them feel at home so they will venture the risk to come back a second week? Chances are you have to “offend” your First-Time Guests a little to get to know them a little bit to make that connection.

I sometime think we believe what Guests want is to be totally ignored and allowed to just slip in and then slip out because they want to be anonymous.

Effective churches reject that notion because they know that church is a relational community. “Ignoring guests to make them feel at home” makes about as much sense as “ignoring friends who come over to a house party because I want them to feel at home.”  

You are going to need to take some steps to interact with your guests to start building a relational bridge … you’re going to have to risk “offending” them by being proactive in the relationship. But if you don’t take the risk of offending them (a little bit), I can guarantee they won’t return. 

Here are a couple of ways to reach out to First-Time Guests that you could implement …

Name Tags.

I’m a believer in name tags. Even in large services with 1,500-plus people in them I think it’s a good ask for our guests. It says we are trying to make it easy to connect.

I’m not saying make people wear name tags … I’m saying offer everyone who attends the opportunity to get a name tag written up for them on the way in.

Who’s here for the first time?

Remember the horror story of the pastor who makes first-time guests stand up in their service and identify themselves … totally creepy.

But I’ve seen it be effective for the host to be on stage with their hand raised and say: “Who might be here for the first time? We have a gift that we’d love to give you as a thank you for coming today. If you flag down an usher, they would be happy to give you one. Thanks for coming today.” It’s all in how it’s done … no one is being told to raise their hand, but invited to self-indicate. This raised hand helps people around the First-Time Guest see who they could reach out to and welcome.

What about in your church? I’d love to hear what you’ve done that might be slightly “offensive” to start building a relational bridge with guests. Leave a comment!  

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Rich serves as Operations Pastor at Liquid Church in the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. He blogs at UnSeminary.com and is a sought after speaker and consultant on multisite, pastoral productivity and communications.