When visitors come to your church, you naturally want them to join your flock. As a pastor or church leader, you know that people should come to worship God and not for the experience. However, people who don't like something in the church or don't feel welcome may not come back. While you can't adjust the doctrinal foundation or major physical attributes of your church to please every visitor who comes through the doors, you can control whether visitors feel welcome. This guide will give you some actionable solutions that you can use regardless of your denomination. First, it's important to understand what makes visitors feel unwelcome.
Why Do Visitors Feel Unwelcome?
Since nobody is perfect, even churches are susceptible to cliques or groups. Although grouping is an issue that leaders must address separately, they should always assume it as a possible hindrance when making a hospitality or welcoming plan for visitors. These are some additional reasons why guests may not feel comfortable:
- The pastor or a church leader didn't approach them after the service.
- They didn't receive any materials or information about the organization or its faith.
- Nobody asked them to come back.
- There was no greeter or a mediocre greeting.
- There was a language barrier.
- There was no feeling of hospitality.
- The members passed by and ignored them, or didn't introduce themselves.
5 Ways to Make All Visitors Feel Welcome
You may have heard of some of these suggestions but may not have thought that they would work. Some are creative, and some are proven winners that have been used for a long time. Have a meeting with your deacons or leadership team to make a solid and structured plan. Be sure that everyone knows what they need to do both on an individual level and as a group to make it happen.
- Make Reasonable Accommodations
Thanks to technology, there are plenty of solutions for each of the listed issues that make people feel unwelcome. For example, assume that a language barrier is a problem. If you live in a community with immigrants who speak another language, it may not make sense to start delivering your weekly sermons in a different language that most of the existing congregation cannot understand. However, you can use an online translator for your typed sermon, print it and give it to the non-English-speaking visitor if he or she returns. You never know how far one small gesture of hospitality or care can go. If the visitor brings friends who also like the church, you may eventually find an associate pastor who speaks their language and offer a second set of weekly services or other programs for them. While this is a very specific example that may not apply to all congregations, you can look for ways to make feasible accommodations when visitor-related issues arise.
- Respect Guest's Privacy
Today, people value their privacy more than ever, and this is especially true when it comes to their identity. Some churches still ask visitors to stand up and introduce themselves. While this may have made some people feel welcome in decades past, it can be overwhelming especially in modern society. It can make people feel as if they're being forced to do something, and that's not a practice that churches should perpetuate. Instead of pointing out guests or making them stand, which could be awkward and uncomfortable, just offer a simple but warm verbal welcome to all guests during your service. You can privately welcome them afterward or beforehand without addressing them personally in front of the congregation. While you plan how to balance this, consider the next point as part of a joint strategy.
- Organize a Welcoming Committee
While this may sound outdated, it's actually a very effective way to make people feel like part of a family, which is what all churches should strive to be. Leaders are often busy after the service with tasks, and the pastor may stay behind in the sanctuary or in a prayer room to pray with someone who needs help. If your leadership team is responsible for welcoming guests but is often too busy to approach them after the service, consider a volunteer welcoming committee. Ask people in the church to participate. Make sure there are participants who attend regularly, and properly train them to ensure that they understand and follow your church management plan. In keeping with the idea of protecting the privacy of guests, teach your team not to ask too many personal questions. People may not want to answer them. If possible, include some newer members of the church on the team. If a visiting person meets someone else who hasn't been a lifelong member, that individual may feel that he or she has more in common with a newer member. It's still a nice gesture to invite a family out for lunch after the service. If team members are willing to do this and it seems right for a situation, encourage them to do so.
- Keep Guests Engaged
One unfortunate but common picture is an uncomfortable-looking guest standing in a lobby reading pamphlets or the bulletin board while members are obliviously chatting with other members. Coffee stations, gift bags and even informational kiosks may seem dazzling but are not as effective as genuine care from another human. The welcoming team and church leaders should work together to keep an eye on a guest before and after the service. This is especially true for people who come alone. While not all people are hesitant to go to churches or other gathering places alone, it can be a difficult step for some people. If such a person doesn't feel welcome, that individual may never go to another house of worship again. Assume that it took a lot of courage for the person to visit, and make sure that he or she always has someone to talk to. One way to keep visitors engaged even after they walk out the door on Sunday is to get their contact information and follow up with a text or email later in the week. You can stay in touch with your congregation, track guests and remind yourself to reach out to them. There are intuitive church management programs such as Connection Card that offer cloud-based databases, text and email communication, and follow-up alerts. This can be helpful to remind you during the week to follow up with new guests.
- Implement a No-Pressure Atmosphere
In John 1:46, Nathanael asked Philip if anything good could come out of Nazareth, and Philip simply told him to come and see. Those simple words hold a powerful meaning. Philip knew that the experience of meeting Jesus was far more powerful than talking about it. He invited Nathanael to come and experience Jesus for himself. If you work on making your service a time when people can pray, worship, learn and draw close to God, they are more likely to keep coming back. By simply inviting people to come and see, you're acknowledging their free will and choice but stirring their curiosity. With this type of invitation, you eliminate pressure. If someone who visited doesn't come back the next week but gave you a phone number, it's good to text or call. However, keep the no-pressure tactic in mind. Ask how the person is doing, and ask if there is something that he or she would like you to pray about or if the individual needs anything. You can also mention upcoming meetings or events and that you hope to see the person again.
First impressions often determine if guests will come back, which is why they must all be treated with the utmost care and respect. Just as businesses try to create a company culture, church leaders must create a culture that is loving and welcoming to everyone. If you can create this type of culture among your congregation, you'll see the fruits of your labor in more than just the weekly attendance numbers.