Stop Confusing Your First Time Guests

One of the reasons people are hesitant to try attending a church for the first time is that they’re not sure what to expect. In fact, they probably expect it to be a little bit awkward and uncomfortable.

Over time, it’s important for your church to become known as a place where people will be able to understand what’s happening. That doesn’t mean changing the message, but it does mean clearly explaining what is going on during the worship service.

If you use words like “prelude” or “convocation” without explanation, you’ll send the message that the service is intended for insiders and those who already understand what’s happening.

Here are a few suggestions for how to make people more comfortable in a church worship service that might be brand new to them.

1. Use easy-to-understand terminology.

Instead of “Invocation,” call it an “Opening Prayer.” Or better yet, don’t call it anything. Just have the prayer. No one really needs to know that a “Prelude” will be happening. Just play the music.

If you have a traditional altar call, or even an invitation for people to go somewhere for prayer, be very clear and specific in how you invite people to respond.

I’ve always said at Saddleback that we have The Living Bible version of the order of service. We’re more interested in making it clear for the unchurched than impressing the folks who know what liturgical terms mean.

2. Provide explanatory notes.

When you go to an opera or play that’s difficult to understand, they provide you with program notes. Tell people why you do what you’re doing in the service. If you hand guests a printed bulletin, it should include a simple explanation of the welcome / commitment card, the offering, the response time, etc.

Something like,

Please fill out one of the welcome cards from the chair rack in front of you and drop it in one of the boxes located at the door where you exit after the service . . .


The offering time is an opportunity for members and regular attenders to invest in the ministry and mission of the church. We don’t expect guests to give.

Those kinds of notes can go a long way to putting people at ease.

3. Eliminate most announcements, and get creative with the few you make.

The best way to recruit people to volunteer, or attend an event, or support a cause, isn’t through an announcement from the stage. It’s best handled through relationships or personalized communication – email, social media, texts, etc.

The few announcements that are made should pertain to the whole body present, not a specific group within the church. And they can be delivered in creative ways. We often have two people on video, making announcements in a lively, news-like fashion.

4. Train members to be greeters and helpers.

Greeting people outside, in the parking lot, is a great start. But it’s also very important to have people insidethe auditorium and classrooms to make people feel welcome once they walk in.

While some people may be part of your official greeting team, you can train all of your regular attenders to be mindful of those who seem new or unfamiliar with their surroundings. Talk about this in your membership class so that everyone who joins understands that they’re informally part of the greeting team.

It really boils down to being sensitive to the apprehension people might feel walking onto a church campus with which they’re unfamiliar, meeting people they don’t know, and participating in a service that might be a brand-new experience for them.

> Read more from Rick.


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Rick Warren

Rick Warren

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of, a global Internet community for pastors.

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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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