By Sean Fowlds
Having served in the local church the past two decades, one of the first things my wife and I did after our recent move was eagerly hunt for a new church home. To our surprise and disappointment, we’ve experienced a rather lukewarm reception at the churches we’ve visited.
But our experience as newcomers has allowed me to see churches from a different perspective. Here are some things that would help make your church more welcoming to visitors like us.
1. Start in the parking lot. Make sure your church has adequate guest parking and that it is clearly marked. Consider placing volunteers in the parking lot to assist first time guests.
2. Smile more. A friendly greeting and handshake go a long way to making guests feel welcome.
3. Signs matters. There’s nothing more awkward than wandering around a church, looking for the worship center, children’s area, or the restrooms.
4. Louder isn’t necessarily better. Now, I know our new city is renowned for its music, but I’ve visited churches where I’ve felt almost assaulted by the sound. I’m talking about music that’s so loud you can’t hear yourself think. High energy is great, but be sensitive to all age groups attending your service.
5. Clearly communicate that guests are welcome. It’s easy to identify a church that’s “members only.” Their worship programs use insider language to promote activities and events. Prime seats are taken requiring guests to climb over folks to find an empty seat.
Welcoming churches communicate in a variety of ways—from the parking lot to the pulpit—that guests are valued. Some churches set up a welcome center in a prominent location where guests can find valuable information about the church, meet friendly and knowledgeable members, and have their questions answered.
6. Make time for fellowship. I appreciate churches that create time and space for coffee and conversation after the service. Train your regular attendees to look for first time guests and invite them to lunch after the service.
7. Follow up. A card in the worship program is an easy way to capture contact information. Ask guests to place this in the offering basket, or better yet, offer a gift if they bring it to the welcome center. A letter, a phone call, even a visit can help turn guests into regular attenders. Clearly communicate the next steps for a guest to get connected to the church.
8. See your church through their eyes. Visit another church, and pay attention to everything from the website and parking lot to the signs on the wall and the reactions of church members. Then try to see your own church from a first-time guest’s point of view. Even better, have an anonymous guest visit your church and give some honest feedback.
You’ll be surprised by what you learn.
Sean Fowlds (@SeanFowlds) has served as a youth pastor, associate pastor and senior pastor. He and his wife, Linda, live in Franklin, Tenn. He is writing a book about living a kinder, gentler life. Visit him at www.seanfowlds.com.