My sister has always struggled with the Church. She went for a while, exploring different church options, but found most to be unwelcoming, unfriendly. There were many weeks when she would sit alone, no one ever taking the time to speak with her beyond greeting her at the door. In her experience, the door was where a church’s welcoming stopped.
Today, she has walked away from the church.
Unfortunately, this is an experience all too common among new church-goers. The perspective that churches are unwelcoming is extremely widespread (seen in studies such as Unchristian), especially among younger generations, even Christians in those generations.
You probably see this at your own church: people who come once, maybe twice, but never return again. Or perhaps your church is struggling to appeal to any new people in the first place. Find a way to ask this question through the eyes of an outsider:
Does your church’s greeting become welcoming?
I’m a pastor’s kid, and I remember a time when I was young that my church fit the unwelcoming church description well. To address it, my parents started using a mantra in church communication that has stuck with me. It changed things in my church’s life, and in my own life as well.
“Become a there you are person instead of a here I am person.”
Or, on a larger scale,
“Become a there you are church instead of a here I am church.”
A there you are person walks into a room and, with their actions, says, “There you are. You are important. I’d like to get to know you.”
Jesus did this, always seeking out others instead of waiting for others to seek him. Jesus pursued people, he noticed them, and he sought them out. Jesus called people by name. When Jesus walked into a room, he found those that were alone, those that were hurting.
Unfortunately, the Church today is largely a collection of here I am people who walk into a room and, with their actions (or lack of), say, “Here I am. Come talk to me.”
They don’t make the first effort. They wait for others to pursue them, to notice them, to seek them out.
As would be expected, the majority of people visiting a church for the first time naturally go in with a here I am mindset.
When the visitor and the congregation both have that mentality, things get awkward — and damaging.
Changing this mindset in your church begins in the life of the pastor. You’ll have to champion it for your congregation. Teach them the language. Encourage them to ask visitors meaningful questions, to learn at least two or three things about them. Cast vision to your hospitality or first impressions teams. Help them understand the goal, how you want a guest to feel after they interact with someone from that team.
These basics of a meaningful interaction are what make someone feel cared for and welcomed and sets the tone for their entire experience at your church.
Feel like you may need someone with an outside perspective to help you evaluate if your church is truly welcoming? Our Ministry Health Assessment service includes a “secret shopper” visit from one of our consultants at your weekend services.