This week, I had a hospitality coaching call.
The client was in charge of starting a hospitality and welcome ministry in a startup storefront church.
Under 20 people attend on a Sunday at the moment.
How can an extra small church give a good welcome?
It’s a challenge when the extra small church still has some awkwardness to the Sunday morning gathering.
Quality Experience for Small Church Visitors
Because of the small size of the church, your first-time visitor may feel like an intruder in an intimate gathering or feel like the most obvious stranger in the group.
Smaller churches are often very informal.
They may not have all their church welcome systems operating smoothly.
They may not have all their display technology working, printed materials proofread, or audio equipment functioning perfectly.
When the order of service is interrupted by technical failures, typos, off-key choirs, the small church visitor might decide to not return.
First impressions are sometimes pretty awkward.
We visited a small church a few weeks ago.
Some friends of ours joined us as first-time visitors.
Several times, I cringed in awkwardness at the quality of service experience:
- Slides out of order
- Delays in the drama
- Typos of all sorts on the display screen
- The sound person could not get the equipment to work right
- The pastor ditched the sermon because of the pressure of time
The size of a small church amplifies the awkwardness of such mistakes.
This was not our first visit, but a second visit for us.
It was a first-time visit for our friends.
We felt embarrassed for the church and for our friends.
It is unlikely that our friends will return.
Limited Resources for a Small Church Visitor
No youth ministry.
No worship band.
No mid-week programming.
Small churches lack the volunteer resources that larger churches have.
Small churches may even choose to forgo all the things that normally are associated with a welcome ministry due to the lack of volunteers
- A post-service gathering time to visit.
- Greeters and ushers.
Dig around on my website and you will find all sorts of welcome tools that many churches can implement when they have a volunteer base. For example:
- 10 Practices to Welcome Visitors
- Part II of 10 Practices to Welcome Church Visitors.
- 10 Useful Tips for New Church Greeters
- Host a reception after the service.
- A ministry guide for church ushers
Smaller churches may lack a volunteer base to run those welcome ministries.
Let me be clear:
The lack of resources and quality shortcomings might still be endearing to some small church visitors.
But our experience has been that these two things create a huge hurdle to overcome in the expectations of the small church visitor.
But it can be done.
You can overcome these hurdles through a focus on one question:
Where can an Extra Small Church Start?
I come back to the primary question of the church planter I was coaching.
How can an extra small church give a good welcome in spite of obvious challenges?
In a Sunday morning experience of an extra small church with limited resources, where should one start?
Start with making a friend.
How did I learn this?
An Extra Small Church Welcomed Us
I’ve learned from my church shopping experiences that friendliness overcomes any negative impacts on first impressions.
I visited a Spanish-language church for a season of my life.
In spite of all their awlful first impressions, I stayed and became part of that church.
Read how I became assimilated into their church.
Even Large Churches Can Start Here.
I also learned this lesson from visiting a big church.
We visited one church 6 times over the course of 3 months since our move to our new place in Florida.
It started off pretty good. They made a really good first impression.
Their church greeters were well trained and easy to identify.
Their ushers were efficient at getting us to our seats every time.
The check-in process at the children’s ministry was a breeze.
The pastor was clear about how to fill out a connection card and what we should do with it.
The welcome center was clearly marked and we could engage people in small talk conversation if we choose.
The papers in the visitor welcome packet thanked us for coming.
During the service, the pastor clearly welcomed first time visitors in a way that wasn’t intimidating.
The volunteers we interacted with were friendly and facilitated our ability to get to our seats.
This church does all the things that make for a wonderful hospitality system and live out the vision of a good welcome ministry.
We wanted to invest in the life and mission of this church. We tried going for several weeks to learn about its mission and work. We visited six times.
But we dropped out.
We stopped going.
We listened for any relevant announcements. We looked in the bulletin for ways we could get involved in the life of the church.
We never received any literature from the church about next-step opportunities.
We tried one Saturday event spending 3-4 hours with church people on a workday.
Our children visited the youth group for 6-8 weeks.
And that the end of all that, we still didn’t have a friend.
We couldn’t get in and make friends.
An Extra Small Church Needs to Start with Making a Friend
Your newcomer is in a place of stepping into a group of people for the very first time.
- Will they feel safe?
- Will they feel welcomed?
- Will they be invited back for the next week?
- Will they feel the freedom to contribute their opinions?
- Will they feel like it was worth their time to make the investment next week?
Your newcomer needs to feel valued and respected.
We failed to do this once in an evangelistic small group. We killed the safety of the evangelistic small group the first night and never recovered.
The same principle applies in the extra small church.
What Your Church Can Do To Get Started
Here is the question to think about.
How easy is it for your visitor to make a new friend?
Church growth books on first impressions often stress the first 7 minutes of a visitor’s experience.
But this surprise result indicates that the fellowship time afterwards is perhaps more important than first impressions.
It makes sense.
In my ebook, How to Welcome Church Visitors, a whole chapter is devoted to these important ten minutes, including how to talk with visitors after the service.
These 10 minutes are not the time to conduct church business between members.
It’s time to talk with your church visitors and begin the possibility of new friendships.
The research shows that those 10 minutes after the service are the perfect time to take initiative and talk with your guests.
- Introduce yourself: “I’ve not met you yet, I’m Chris . . . . “
- Offer to pray with them right then if a need is shared.
- Offer to answer questions they might have about their experience.
These 10 minutes are about them — not about you or your church volunteer needs.
It’s not about the quality of your coffee or the freshness of the pastries (though that is important).
It’s about intentionally making connections after the service.
Instead of locating all the articles on church hospitality on my website, consider my ebook “How to Welcome Church Visitors.”
Follow the link with this banner and learn more about how that ebook can help you improve your hospitality systems.