I recently spoke with a pastor of a medium size church of 300.
He has often heard from people after 6-10 weeks this statement that broke his heart: “I have been here x number of weeks and no one has said hello.”
(After a recent workshop on hospitality, one couple said “We’ve been in this church for 6 months and no one has noticed us.”)
Recently, this pastor took a sabbatical and visited other churches outside of his tradition.
He was the first time church visitor.
The experience of visiting congregations opened his eyes to the power of hospitality ministries in helping a church visitor feel welcome. He summed up the best experience as “Informal but intentional.”
When he returned from sabbatical, he wants to cast the vision for hospitality ministry so that congregations members can see the power of such a ministry.
His experience opened his eyes.
Be the first time visitor
Is your church friendly?
Most church members, of any church, would answer that question, “Yes, we’re friendly!”
But is that the answer that your church visitors would give?
Perceptions matter, and friendliness is in the eye of beholder. Church Visitors come and go to the church and few of your church visitors stick around.
Perhaps the most painful words a pastor hears in this area is when a church visitor says to him or her after several weeks:
“I’ve been here for 6 weeks and still no one has said a word of hello to us.”
How can we miss this?
We have forgotten to think like a church visitor.
Put ourselves in their shoes.
Leviticus 19:33-34 says,
“When an alien lives with you in your hand, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native born.
Love him as yourself for you were aliens in Egypt. I’m the Lord your God.”
The Israelite was not to oppress the alien in their midst because they knew how it felt to be an alien in the midst of another social group. They could think and feel like the alien in their midst. They could empathize.
You were the church visitor once.
Think about your volunteers.
Think about yourself.
The fact is you were once a first-time church visitor. You were once a first-time visitor to this congregation or the congregation where you are at.
You were the alien once. They can identify what it was like to be the church visitor for the very first time.
Some people may have been going to church before they were ever born. They started growing in their mother’s womb and started going to church. They were born into a church, and maybe they’ve never had an experience of being a first-time church visitor in that congregation.
But most of us we were a church visitor once.
Do a Bible study of these verses with your church welcome or hospitality ministry team to help people think through their experience and their emotions as a first-time church visitor.
Help them develop empathy.
If you can’t remember what it was like to visit your congregation for the very first time, encourage your team to
- go as an individual
- to a church down the street
- that they have never been to before
- outside of their own tradition.
For example, if you’ve grown up in the Presbyterian Church and you’ve been in the Presbyterian Church for a long time, go to an Assembly of God on a Sunday.
Or visit the Pentecostal Tabernacle down the street.
Or visit a Baptist congregation if you’ve grown up in a Presbyterian system.
The idea is to mix it up and get outside of your comfort zone.
As you experience being the alien in their midst, pay attention to your feelings, pay attention to your anxieties, pay attention to these things.
Noticing these things will help you develop an empathy for the visitor.
As you develop that empathy, your response to the church visitor who comes to your church will be more spontaneous and generous.
Make the same visit and your team will be much richer for it.
Improve Your Church Hospitality
Do you want more first time church visitors to come back a second time? Taking care of your hospitality systems can help you keep more of your visitors. I’ve put an ebook together to help you review your hospitality systems
Image credit: xiaohuan / 123RF Stock Photo