Should unbelievers be invited to church?

A year ago, I posted this question to the Facebook page.

“Should we invite unsaved friends to church?” Give a Yes or No, and then give a reason.

The answers were pretty divided between Yes and No, with some strong opinions:

  • Yes, the church is on an evangelistic mission.
  • No, the church is for believers only to train believers to go into the world, get them saved, and then bring them in.

It’s not my point here to drift into a full theology of the nature of the church, but to focus on the vocabulary of the question: what do I mean when I use the word church in this question?

I mean the gathered assembly, whether it meets in a high school gym, music hall, or a beautiful church building with stain glass windows and movable chairs.

I worked through the book of Acts to see if I could draw principles about the early gatherings of Christians before the church was more organized.

Invite Unbeliever Friends to Church

Should unbelievers be invited to attend our church?

Since many of you are new subscribers to our weekly newsletter, you may not know these exist in the archives.  Dig around and check out the evidence yourself.

I’m in the Yes camp.

I invite my unsaved friends.

I’ve been inviting my unsaved friends to church for so long that it is part of my teaching.  I teach on

Many of our church hospitality practices are based on the assumption that unsaved persons will be in our church, no matter how that visitor got there.  I’ve never questioned it.

I know many people who came to Christ because a friend invited them to church.   Here is one story.   After a few weeks of hearing the preaching of the word, my friend surrendered his life to Christ.  It is possible that without that invitation, he may have remained lost.  It is possible that God could have brought him salvation by some other method.  My friend was invited to church and came to faith in Christ.

If the church is responsible for evangelism, then it seems that some of it’s meetings will be intentionally evangelistic.

It also seems to me that the church would teach and train church members for evangelism where they live.

The Corinthian Church

We see Paul’s concern for the unbeliever in the midst of the assembly.

First Corinthians 14:23 Paul wants the assembly of the church to be sensitive to the unbeliever in their midst:

Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers.  So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?

But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all,  as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” – 1 Corinthians 14:22-25

Paul assumes that there exists a possibility of unbelievers in the midst of the assembly.

There is no indication of how that unbeliever got there, nor is that the point of text.

But what is clear is a concern for the visitor.  That reflects a strong ethic that should reflect in your church hospitality practices.

Start the discussion:

Answer this question in the comments below.

For what reasons should we invite the unsaved to our church?

3 Ways Church Management Software Can Help Your Church Visitors Become Members

One consistent question I receive is how to follow up on your first time church visitors.  Questions like:

Another question I’ve received is related to the data management side of handling visitor contact information.

How can church management software help our visitors become new members?

Today’s guest post answers that question.

It is from Leah Merrill, Software Analyst for Capterra, where she specializes in helping church administrators find church management software.

Church Management Software

3 Ways Church Management Software Can Help

Getting guests to stick around is a big deal.

If you’re like most churches, you have a few guests each week who come to your church looking for something new, somewhere closer to home or, sometimes, an entirely new life.

It’s always exciting to see a new face return for the next two weeks or maybe three.

But with so much to take care of in the church office, guests are often forgotten.

How can you get visitors to become active members?

Software may sound like an odd answer, but it can be more helpful than you think.

Though church management software (ChMS) can’t provide a smiling face to greet your guest on Sunday morning, it can go a long way in helping you convert guests into members.

1) Easily Post Your Services Schedule and Calendar Online

Studies from Grey Matter showed that 1.6 million American non-churchgoers visited a church’s website in the past 30 days, and almost half of them visited to check service schedules (likely to plan a visit). With numbers like these, you can’t afford not to display your church’s services in a clear and helpful way on your site.

Many Church Management Software products come with the ability to create and edit websites, which are often integrated with a member database and schedule. Because of this integration, it’s easy to sync the church calendar with the church website and make sure the service announcements are always up-to-date. And if the web-visitor is there to stream a sermon or download podcasts, ChMS can provide those things too, since that type of content can also draw visitors to your church.

2) Follow-up…Automatically

The visit happens and they’re delighted with your church. Perfect! This guest is great congregant material. However, the guest needs to feel like they belong if they’re going to come back, and it’s hard to find time to contact them personally when you’ve got a lot on your plate. ChMS can help with:

  • Phone calls:

An easy way to let this guest know they haven’t been forgotten is to send an automated phone call. If you already had them fill out a simple contact information card when they visited, you can then enter them into your member database as “guest,” which will automatically place them in the queue to receive a follow-up call thanking them and inviting them to come back. Also, since they’re marked as “guest”, if they don’t come back, they won’t be lumped in with the rest of your congregation in the database.

  • Email or Text:

Maybe phone calls weren’t enough, or maybe that’s just not your style. There are other ways to keep up. Automated emails are one of the most common functions of ChMS, and one of the most helpful. With an email, you can link to the church’s site, provide a way for the guest to get in touch, and send customized messages to different groups, like “guests.” Automated text messages sent straight to their phones can also keep them updated on upcoming services and events.

3) Enable Online Sign-ups

Speaking of emails, why not try linking to a new member’s class sign-up page? Many ChMS programs that provide websites also provide a way to put sign-ups on your church’s web page, so your guest can follow up on their experience immediately and start learning what your church is really about.You could also include a link to a small group sign-up page. As you probably know, joining a small group is one of the first big steps toward becoming a lasting part of the church, and it makes it that much easier if you provide sign-ups online.

So there you go. Using a bunch of great ChMS features, you’ve made contact and followed up with your guests, giving them an easy path into the church community.

Are you ready to start remembering every guest and welcoming more of them as permanent members of your community? Start looking for ChMS software today.

About Leah Merrill

Leah MerrillLeah Merrill is a Software Analyst for Capterra, where she specializes in helping church administrators find church management software. When she’s not helping churches and non-profit organizations find the right software on the Capterra Church Management Blog, you’ll find her reading, writing, and spending time with her family and friends. Follow Capterra for church management news on Twitter @CapterraChMS.

Your Turn

My current church is likely too small for such a software investment.  Most of our communications are email blasts, text blasts, and a chat group on WhatsApp.

But as your church grows, a software system could help you manage your assimilation process, to help your visitors develop that come back habit and make new friends (2 critical steps to keep more of your church visitors)

In fact, a using sequential follow up system based on a church management software is the main point of Nelson Searcy’s book, Fusion, one of my favorite books on church visitor assimilation.

I talk a lot about visitor follow up in my recorded class on visitor assimilation (available for purchase)

Regarding church management software, my question for you:

If your church uses a Church Management Software, what is the best feature you like about it.

Describe the feature and how it helps you.

Answer in the comments below.

Why your small church should have a reception after your service

I was an associate pastor in a small church.  We had to carefully manage every dime received through the offering plate.

During lean seasons, we had to question every expense in the budget.

Sometimes we’d question the value of spending money on coffee and snacks after the morning service.  Our pastor prided himself on his thrifty Scottish heritage and often looked for ways to not spend money if there was no value received.

Should our church have spent precious gifts from our members on little food items to have  a small fellowship time after church?

Was it worth the effort to buy napkins, cups, plates?

Did making coffee make any difference?

Did the pastry matter?

Church Hospitality Reception

Pastor, I liked your sermon

Our church had a reception in  room right off the sanctuary.  Guests were invited every Sunday to visit with us and maybe even share a prayer request.

One Sunday, an immigrant approached me after the service.  She had grabbed her cup of coffee and sweetened it with sugar.  Then grabbing a fresh pastry, she asked me to join her at the table.

“Pastor, I like your sermon,” she said in accented English.

I felt a nudge of the Holy Spirit that put me on alert that God was wanting to do something.

“Tell me more,” I invited.

She began to tell me about how listening to my sermons answered some of her questions, how easy they were to understand.  She told me how she was learning about God and what it meant to start following Jesus.

As I listened, the nudge of the Holy Spirit felt heavier.  It felt stronger.  Perhaps something like what Phillip might have felt before talking with the Ethiopian Eunuch.

I don’t remember some of the next phases in the conversation, but it eventually moved into me sharing the gospel with her, using the bridge illustration as my default presentation.

We had a napkin handy, so I drew out the illustration there.

When I finished and asked her where she would put herself on that diagram, she indicated that she was ready to trust in Jesus.  With that open door, I led her in a prayer of dedication, offering her life to the Lord and inviting him to come in.

A few months later, she took baptism and got involved in an international student ministry to help other immigrant students discover Jesus.

Did the pastry make the difference?

Church Visitor Reception

Source: Flickr

A fellowship time after our service in a small church provided a context for a life changing conversation to occur. 

This young lady had been listening to sermons, visiting with church members after the service, and developed enough trust to talk about issue on her mind.

The fellowship time provided the context.

Without that context, she might not have stayed.

Without that staying on a regular basis, she might not have surrendered her life that day.

Did the pastry we paid for make the difference?  Of course not.

But the food, fellowship, and the coffee created a relational context for her life to change.

Anecdotal evidence suggests food and beverage gives a person a greater willingness to linger and may help set a comfort level that can create a conversational context.

In my church visitor assimilation seminar (now available for download), one item I focus on why you need some kind of lingering space after the worship service.

A reception helps your small church ministry

A visitor reception like this is one of my top six ways to follow up on a first time church visitor.  Don’t go cheap.  Allow your church hospitality committee to spend the money on this reception.

In my current church, the reception after the service often allows people to stay for another hour (and sometimes 2) after the service is over.

  • Conversations happen.
  • Connections are made.
  • Relationships built.
  • People pray for one another.

Enough relationships are established that second and third visits happen.

If you are leading a small church, you’ll need to create some kind of relational space for newcomers to get to know you.  A reception immediately after the service creates that space.

Your guests can

  • choose to stay and visit,
  • sit with a friendly church member and
  • start a conversation that may lead to that second visit.

Not every guest will take you up on it.  Some will be in a hurry to leave.

But others will choose to linger, to learn more about your church, maybe even to seek out someone to pray with.  Make sure your church greeters are looking for people who might be newcomers.

I have concluded that the funds for a small reception like this are untouchable, and should be increased.

Your reception should have quality beverages, quality snack items, and well made coffee.

Spend the money on table cloths, tables, and chairs to give your guests and members a place to sit.  That’s what one church welcome committee did with their hospitality budget.

I’ve learned that this one small reception can make a big difference in your visitor assimilation.

Outreach to visitors is not a place to be tight on budget.  That is part of your evangelism budget – but that’s my biased opinion.

Check out this church hospitality resource

Church Hospitality BookHow to Welcome Church Visitors is a compilation of several hospitality articles all in one place formatted into one eBook.

It is for church hospitality committees, leaders, and greeters that need to get a fresh vision for welcoming the visitor who comes to your church as well as practical steps to get started.

If you are in a hurry, without enough time to read all the hospitality articles here, get your copy of How To Welcome Church Visitors.

Bonus: Take me up on my offer to provide your church with free coaching.  If you buy my eBook “How To Welcome Church Visitors,” you can get the coaching call free as a bonus, instead of the $97 charge if you did the coaching by itself.  That is an 82% discount off paying for the call itself.

Fellowship Hall photo credit: The World Wants a Real Deal via cc

This belongs in your church’s DNA

Epicentro ColonWhat do you want your church visitors to think when they experience your church?

  • You’re crazy.
  • God is in your midst.

Last night, I taught in a church that is planting two more churches here in 2013.

This is a young congregation, under 4 years old, already raising money and training leaders for future church plants.

I asked them the same question as they set the DNA for their future churches.


So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?

But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all,as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”

1 Corinthians 14:23-25

A few notes:

What follows is not the text of my challenge to them, but the basic summary.

It’s not a theological treatise on tongues and prophesy either.  Rather, it’s a reminder that we should be sensitive to the visitor that God brings to the church.

Paul expresses a concern for the church visitor that attends one of the gathering of Corinth.

If a visitor comes in and all are doing their own thing, speaking in tongues, wouldn’t they think you are just a little weird?  Would it freak them out enough to never come back?

But if a visitor comes in and hears the word of God proclaimed in a clear manner in an orderly way, they might declare that “God is in your midst.”

Which response would you rather have from a visitor in your midst?

Paul has a concern for the visitor and it should be our concern.

  • Our practices need to be sensitive to the visitor God brings
  • Does this practice help the visitor in their journey to Christ or drives them away?

Your Turn: How to Identify Church Visitors in a Large Church

Recently, a reader submitted a question via Ask Evangelismcoach.

What are some ideas for identifying visitors?

We are a 2500 member church and many of us don’t know the difference between a visitor and someone who is a member who we just have never met?

I have heard of using name tags, colored coffee cups(ugh!), asking visitors to stand during worship…

I spend time talking with people I do not know/recognize but they end up being members, not visitors. Any suggestions?

How To Spot a Church visitor

My thoughts

I have visited a few churches of this size as the first time visitor.

In a crowd this size, anonymity feels safe, in contrast to a group of 100 people where we would feel obvious as a visitor.

In the last place I visited, the greeters and ushers made sure it was easy for us to get to our seat.  Making small talk while 2500 people are entering/exiting is not really ideal.

The only way for us to be easily identified as visitors would be to volunteer that information.

The church gave us plenty of opportunities to do so:

  • Fill out a visitor card and put it in the offering.
  • Visit the welcome center after the service for a free book.
  • Take our child to children’s church and fill out the registration form.

We chose to fill it out and turn it in at the welcome center.  The center was well staffed, including the preaching pastor, and everyone was engaged in a conversation with a visitor.  We didn’t linger to wait for a conversation.

On our second visit, we allowed our child to visit children’s church.  We arrived late so we were the only ones at the registration table.   They have a security system in place with wrist bands to match up the right child with the right adult after church.

There we met the children’s director, who make small talk with us while we were filling out their form.

Other responses from Linked In and Facebook discussions:

Look around for those you don’t recognize, Ask them if it’s their first time there and try to remember from then on. - By Mark Willis

Our congregation is way smaller than these two large attended churches. We have appointed members at the doors who will recognize visitors and greet them with a small folder of information, a visitors card to fill out so we can send them a card, a business card with phone numbers and a printed BIC Clic Pen with also a phone number for a Daily Bible Message.

Since I am an Specialty Advertising Dealer, I order the pens. Also, as members, we recognize visitors and many make an effort to greet them even after they are seated. They have the information and pen to take with them and will remember to visit us when back in our area. This might help you to get some ideas as larger congregations will need several greeters. Tom Hay

Be sure to greet people as they are arriving and leaving! Most of us do not do a good job greeting folks on the way out. We often get more questions from visitors at that time. – Clayton

Let me ask others:

If you are in a church over 1000 attenders each weekend,

What are some ways you identify visitors to your church?

Answer in the comment field below.