According to a Barna Research survey of people looking for a church, “Friendliness to Visitors” is
- Extremely important: 71%
- Somewhat important: 21%
Based on a national telephone survey of 1,015 people 18 or older; sampling error of plus/minus 3 percent. Citation: Moody (Jan/ Feb 2002);
For 9 out of 10 visitors, the friendliness of your congregation is important.
What each church needs to do is develop a strategy to grow in their church hospitality — to be friendly, but not overly friendly or smothering.
- How can I help my church welcome church visitors?
- What role can I play?
Ten Common Practices to Welcome Church Visitors
1. Recruit a greeting ministry team
This team would be responsible for recruiting greeters to serve and provide ongoing training to new greeters.
Some churches are large enough and have multiple points of entry into the building, and this requires a little more administrative planning to manage.
One could make the point that all members are responsible for greeting.
While that is true, what often happens is that a greeting may never get done. It’s easy to slip into the mentality that we are a friendly church and therefore visitors will be welcomed.
But there exist too many stories of “No One Said Hello.”
Some churches provide regular training sessions for new greeters.
Extroverts may find this ministry easy to do, but introverts may need a little help or guidance in how to break the ice welcome visitors.
One could also read
- Serving as a Church Greeter, Leslie Parrott. (Review).
- The Work of the Greeter, Paige Lanier Chargois
- Church Greeters 101 in Paperback
- Church Greeters 101 for Kindle
- You can get the 2 DVD Greeter Training Greeter Training DVDs, or download them in one transaction
3. Hospitality or Welcome Center
Some churches have a large enough lobby to have a table or booth that is staffed by greeters.
This is a central information area about the church and its ministries.
It can also be a place where visitors can leave their contact information for future conversations.
Many churches will give away a small gift for those who visit the table. Coffee mugs, pens, free books, etc. Here is where one could place Church Welcome Folder.
One church, Glen Burnie Baptist featured the church welcome center on a webpage for visitors, along with a map of the facility.
4. Church Welcome Folder or Packet
We have been in churches that distribute a church welcome folder or church visitor packet. For more information see: Ideas for Church Visitor Welcome Packets.
During our visits in different churches, these visitor packets have come to us in a variety of ways:
- We have found them ourselves.
- The members that have invited us will see we get one.
- Told to get one from the Welcome Center on the way out.
- Greeters that have recognized us as visitors give them to us.
- We have raised our hands when asked and ushers gave one to us.
Some churches will have a coupon to turn in at the welcome center for a free book or some such token of appreciation.
Usually inside the visitor packet, we will find
- a letter from the pastor,
- informational brochures on various ministries and programs of the church.
For more information see: Ideas for Church Visitor Welcome Packets
5. “Go and Greet someone” or “Pass the Peace”
When I am the leader of the service (emcee, moderator, director, liturgist, worship leader, pick the term for your tradition), here is what I do:
At an appropriate moment I say
Get up, turn and greet someone that you’ve not met yet. Shake their hand, introduce yourself, and take a few moments to welcome them to God’s house.
I don’t say the same thing every time, but they usually contain four commands.
- Get Up.
- Go Meet.
- Give Your Name.
I particularly mention “someone you have not met.”
I want to encourage people to make new connections that could lead to significant relationships, and I want the congregation to learn to look for people they don’t know.
Check out this video on this awkward time during the service.
6. “Secret Greeters”
Some churches will go beyond only training greeters for points of entry at the church, such as the front door.
A good idea is to encourage others to be “secret greeters.”
These folks are part of the greeting team but are not in the obvious places like the front door or as an usher.
I had a fellow in my congregation who never served on a greeting team. However, he was always in the sanctuary, taking the initiative to greet people personally and visit with them for a little bit. He functioned as a “secret greeter.” This someone beyond the “professional greeter” at the door or the welcome center.
If for some reason a visitor gets to the sanctuary with a greeting from someone, this person is there to continue that greeting.
Consider this resource: 2 DVD Combo Set of Greeter Training DVDs
7. Pulpit recognition
Most churches that I have experienced will have the worship leader give some kind of welcome to the greeter.
Here, the advice from McIntosh is best (source: Beyond the First Visit: The Complete Guide to Connecting Guests to Your Church, Gary McIntosh, Review)
Whatever you do, take great pains not to embarrass the newcomer. Among other things this means you should not identify new people by placing a ribbon, flower, or name tag on them.
Do not ask visitors to stand and speak before the entire congregation. A survey of one thousand adults 18 years of age or older reported that “making a speech” was the number one event causing adults to be nervous. It ranked first, ahead of, in order, getting married, interviewing for a job, going to the dentist, a first date, and getting a divorce. (p 110).
My wife and I recently visited a church where this wasn’t done at all.
She commented that it simply feels nice and warm when the worship leader acknowledges the presence of visitors and encourages the church to say hello.
8. Friendship Pads, Fellowship Books.
These are books that gather attendance information and provide a place for visitors to identify themselves by checking a box on the form.
The idea is that other people in the row would see check in the visitor box and take the initiative to greet. Church multi-purpose this form for attendance tracking.
However, I have been in churches where I check the box, and still no one greets our family. This practice seems to be falling out of favor because the pads become a doodle bin, the pencils are hard to keep sharp and it’s becoming an administrative nightmare.
There are other ways of getting visitor contact information, particularly the response card system mentioned in Fusion: Turning First-Time Guests into Fully-Engaged Members of Your Church (which I think is the best Assimilation book available right now). They use a Connection card that is distributed with the bulletin and every one (members, attenders, and visitors) fill it out as part of the service. This information is used in their assimilation process, described in detail in their book.
9. Quality Snacks and Beverages.
The basic idea is a informal reception area where people can gather after the service. For some, this is the lobby area (some call that a narthex). For others, it could be in the fellowship hall or auditorium.
As our evangelism training ministry takes us to churches throughout the Americas, many American congregations provide some kind of coffee hour after the service, to allow for a social setting where people can talk one on one. (Observation: In my travels in 10 different Spanish speaking countries and countless churches, only one church practiced this idea).
Make the coffee fresh and of appropriate strength.
It should not be reheated from last night’s fellowship event nor should it be so weak as to taste like colored water.
While it doesn’t take a lot of skill to make coffee, making it right is the challenge.
Coffee drinkers know a good cup of coffee, and a bad cup will leave a bad taste.
Don’t forget to make enough – sometimes the pot gets drained before visitors have had a chance to get to the urn.
Offer alternatives such as teas, juice, ice cold water.
If you choose to use bottled water, offer a recycle container for empty bottles.
Whatever snack items are offered, make sure they are fresh.
Stale sweets, or frozen items (poke a little fun) that had been thawed simply taste cheap and do not make a great first impression. Consider common food allergies and either avoid those (like nuts) or provide an appropriate sign.
In our health conscious time, provide healthy options for those that don’t want sugary cookies or sticky sweets.
Church members should be on the lookout for visitors again in this time.
Some visitors are obvious – standing around, reading the news items on the bulletin board, and generally being overlooked. Members ought to take the initiative and start a conversation.
This can be a time to help make connections and perhaps introduce people to the pastor. Pastors should make themselves available during this time to meet and greet people, not rush off to the study and prepare for the following service.
In the international church I served, we stressed the importance of introducing our visitors to the pastors. We had been told that many people from non-American cultures consider it an honor to be introduced to the pastor.
10. Sunday School Greeters and Hosts
Some visitors will partake of the Sunday School offerings. Many have a strong program here that attracts visitors who come for the first time.
I experienced a warm welcome in a 14,000 member mega church because of my experience in Sunday School.
I arrived early enough to pick a class. Once I found it (a kind person in the hall pointed out where I needed to go) I was welcomed by a person and invited to a beverage and ushered to a place to sit. The small talk was not intrusive but just enough to help me feel at ease in a strange place with total strangers (I was by myself). When the Class was over, this person showed me to the sanctuary and took me to a usable seat. After asking if there was anything else I might need, they left.
I learned later that this church was very intentional in their Sunday School program to welcome class visitors. Each class had a person in charge of the beverage, the teaching, and the greeting. I felt welcome, overcome the sense of being lost on their campus.
Do you want to discuss your where your hospitality system is stuck?
I offer a coaching call where I spend time on the phone with you or your committee, up to 90 minutes, where I help you trouble shoot and develop some action plans. I can help you review your systems through a step by step flow chart that I’ve developed. Read more about that hospitality coaching here.
Let me ask you this?
What did I miss? I’m sure your church might do things a little different.
What practices do you do in your church that you’d like to share?
Feel free to share with us in the comments.