7 Ways to Help Your Church Guests Feel Welcome Without Selling Out

We will do anything short of sin to reach people who don’t know Christ. To reach people no one is reaching, we’ll have to do things no one is doing. – Craig Groeschel

I know there are some church leaders who read that quotation from Craig Groeschel and throw up a little in their mouths. They’re convinced that their job is to preach the word and disciple people and not worry about stuff like guests’ experiences at services. In fact, some leaders look down their noses at churches that go out of their way to create environments that unchurched people love to attend. They’re concerned about growing Christ-followers and don’t want to worry about marketing, customer service, communications or similar issues. They just want to preach the word courageously and not concern themselves with pedestrian matters such as how people feel when they come to church.

The problem is that the Scriptures are clear that to worry about the outsider is core to being a follower of Christ. In fact, the entire weight of Scripture is about creating space for people who are outside of the faith to join us. Even in the Old Testament, we see God instructing his people to defer to strangers and make room for them at the table. In an age when faiths were divided along racial and ethnic lines, Jesus presented the crazy notion that anyone from any background can gain access to God through faith in him alone. (What a radical idea!) We see New Testament leaders attempting to live out a faith that created space for a broader community of people … they made space for outsiders.

“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.” – Colossians 4:5 (ESV)

Today, that leaves us to work out what this looks like for our churches. How can we create spaces where people feel welcome at our churches regardless of their spiritual background? What can we do to ensure that unchurched people know they are welcome to our experiences every weekend? How can we do this in a way that doesn’t compromise the core of our experiences, if we’re concerned about that? Here are 7 ways to help unchurched people feel welcome that don’t impact our teaching or music ministries:

  • Create Helpful Signage // Do people know how to find their way around your facility? Can they easily get from their cars to wherever they drop off their kids to their seats in the main auditorium? Most churches I’ve been to don’t have enough signage. They assume people know way too much. Exterior signage lets newcomers know they are in the right place. Interior signage should guide them through the experience while reducing stress.
  • Introduce Platform People // When someone gets up to talk from the platform, make sure they introduce themselves or that someone else does a quick introduction. “Hi, my name is James and I’m one of the pastors around here.” A simple introduction helps unchurched people get a sense of who everyone is and helps them know who they should talk to afterward. When people just get up and start talking or leading without any context, it leaves guests wondering who the person is and why they are talking.
  • Expect Guests // You know that feeling when you go a friend’s house and it feels like they were ready for you? It feels great, right? What about the opposite feeling: when you go over to someone’s house and you get the distinct feeling that they aren’t ready for you? It’s easy to start wondering whether they want you over at all, isn’t it? The same is true when guests visit your church. Even a few things that anticipate guests communicate that you are ready and expecting them. Examples include signs in the parking lot for new guests, a gift ready for them at an information desk, or trained volunteers at the kids’ check-in who know how to handle new guests well.
  • Explain What’s Happening // Every church has some form of ritual or patterns that it follows. If we don’t take a moment to explain them to people, they can be confusing to follow. Don’t assume people understand what is happening or that they know how they should engage. Communion is a particularly thorny one for people … are they supposed to dip not sip or take a gulp and then some bread? Slowing down and giving a brief explanation of what is taking place goes a long way in making sure people feel welcome! Taking time to frame what’s happening in your church during the announcements is also an important part of making guests feel welcome!
  • Give Context to Passages // Many people don’t know the Bible but they want to understand it better … that’s why they are coming to your church! Don’t assume people know anything about the passages that you are talking about; instead, provide a little context. This doesn’t need to be heavy Greek or a never-ending history lesson, just some understanding of where the Bible verses you are talking about fall into the broader narrative. Give some context so people can dig into the content you are presenting.
  • Serve Their Kids Well // When parents come to your church, they usually look at the experience through the eyes of their kids. When you go out of your way to serve their kids, you also serve their parents. Often, kids are nervous when they go into a new space. Make sure your team is ready to receive new kids well. Have activities that can engage kids right away. Guests often arrive earlier than your typical church attendee, so make sure your team is in place in plenty of time to greet guests well. Work hard to make sure the check-in process is smooth, simple and secure. Family ministry is a critical area for churches, so lead this team well.
  • Fix Your Website // 46% of church guests said that a church’s website was important in picking a church to visit. [ref] It really is the front door to your church. Chances are good that your guests will check out your site before they check out your services. Make sure the basic contact information is easy to find, including service times, the location and the phone number to call if people have any questions. Let people know what to expect by answering key questions, such as how long the service will be, what people usually wear and what services are provided for kids. Make sure your site is mobile-friendly so people can use it on their phone or tablet.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rich Birch

Rich Birch

Thanks so much for dropping by unseminary … I hope that your able to find some resources that help you lead your church better in the coming days! I’ve been involved in church leadership for over 15 years. Early on I had the privilege of leading in one of the very first multisite churches in North Amerca. I led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 4,000 people in 6 locations. (Today they are 13 locations with somewhere over 5,000 people attending.) In addition, I served on the leadership team of Connexus Community Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. I currently serves as Operations Pastor at Liquid Church in the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. I have a dual vocational background that uniquely positions me for serving churches to multiply impact. While in the marketplace, I founded a dot-com with two partners in the late 90’s that worked to increase value for media firms and internet service providers. I’m married to Christine and we live in Scotch Plains, NJ with their two children and one dog.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
 
— Glenna Hendricks
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
 
— winston
 
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
 
— Russ Wright
 

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