I think we know instinctively that most of the time, people don’t experience dramatic life change the very first time they visit a new church. More likely, they will be attracted and want to return or they will draw a line through your church’s name on their mental list. So, we ought to approach first-timers with a welcoming and thoughtful posture.
We should be intentional in how we interact with them, and that includes the intangible and nonverbal ways we greet them. Visitors should feel like we were glad they joined us, that we were expecting and prepared for them, and that we believe they matter to God.
This focus goes beyond establishing a greeting team at the front doors. How creative can you be in this area? Here are some ideas that churches we work with have found help first-timers feel welcome:
Facility Maintenance Matters!
Think about the environments where you enjoy spending time–a favorite store or cafe, for example. I’m going to bet the bathrooms are clean, the decor is kept fresh and the lighting is good. Common facility problems we see in churches? Water stains on the ceiling tiles. Thirty-year-old carpet. Shabby seating. It’s not about making idols of any of these things. But allowing them to become a problem means your facilities will tell first-timers, “We didn’t expect visitors.”
Greeting Volunteers Aren’t Limited to the Doors.
You can have traffic volunteers to help vehicles enter and exit the campus or direct people to open parking spots. In rainy weather, volunteers who stand at the drop-off area with umbrellas in hand, ready to walk guests to the front door, are a really nice touch. Also, think about having a few people from your children’s and youth ministry teams at the front doors ready to greet new families with children and help them find their way.
Coffee Certainly Doesn’t Hurt.
Brew coffee and encourage people to linger and connect with new folks before and after the service. Our “Meet Me at Starbucks” culture associates coffee-drinking with conversation. Use that to your advantage. But make sure to cast vision to your congregation that helps them understand the importance of interacting with new people as well as their fellow church-members.
Invest in Your Children’s Environments.
No matter where they are in their journey with Christ, parents want great things for their children. The Church can show its commitment to the things that matter most to parents by offering great experiences for children. Capture their hearts and imaginations so that you have the opportunity to introduce them to Jesus.
Why is it so important to make a first-time guest feel welcome? It’s because we want them to know that they matter to us and they matter to God. It’s a first step that points them toward transformation through a new life in Christ.
What other ideas do you have about ways to make a first-time guest feel welcome? What has worked for your church?