When you are in charge of welcome and hospitality ministry at a church that has multiple services, new volunteers will ask you:
“How can I tell the difference between a first-time church visitor from someone who happens to be a regular attendee from the other service?”
It is possible and you can teach them some observational skills to pick up on some clues.
A faithful reader submitted a question via Ask Evangelismcoach about how to identify church visitors in a large church. Here is how the question read:
What are some ideas for identifying first-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?
I have visited a few churches of this size as the first time visitor.
At the time that I’m updating this post in 2020, I’m attending one that has near 5,000 people on a Sunday, and the holidays of Easter and Christmas swell to 10-15 thousand.
This gives me a first-hand experience of how a church of this size could identify church visitors making their first visit.
Because of the church size and the number of people going here and there, looking for coffee, looking for the guest information booth, taking kids to the children’s ministry, locating bathrooms, it can be hard to detect a first-time visitor in the crowd.
Anonymity feels safe, expected, and normal in a church of this size.
In the last place I visited, the church greeters and ushers made sure it was easy for us to get to our seats.
This helped with a great first impression.
They allowed us to relax and enjoy. These volunteers didn’t appear stressed over making small talk with us.
Making small talk while 2500 people are entering/exiting is not always possible.
That makes it hard to conversationally identify church visitors.
Here are some things I’ve seen and observed:
1. Read body language.
Instead, a key skill for greeters and ushers is to read body language to discern if they are looking at a first time visitor.
Some of those clues:
- looking above heads for signage
- asking questions that first-timers ask (E.g., can I take coffee in the auditorium?)
- walking slowly, as if they are absorbing too much information.
- looking bewildered or confused because they can’t find anything.
These are just examples.
I’ve spent a lot of time watching crowds of people and these body language clues fill me in on those who are first time visitors.
2. Give your visitors CLEAR ways to volunteer that information.
The easiest way to identify visitors is to give them CLEAR ways to volunteer that information.
When we visited churches of that size, the only way for us to be easily identified as visitors would be for us 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 or next steps 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 out the visitor card and turn it in at the welcome center.
The welcome center was well staffed, including the preaching pastor, and everyone was engaged in a conversation with a visitor.
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.
Read more: Guest Assimilation: A Roadmap to success
Other ways to identify church visitors in a large church
I asked my network on Facebook and Linked in, and here are some of their answers:
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.
This depends in part on the culture of the church. For example, I was on staff at a church that averaged 2800 every weekend. It was in a small community (~30,000 in the city, ~80,000 in the County) that featured a laid back, informal vibe. We created that same vibe in the church with a view to appealing to men.
Our men were comfortable wearing shorts and sandals to church, and it was fairly common to see folks carrying water bottles and coffee cups into the sanctuary.
When a family (or an individual) would visit and the man had on dress shoes and a pressed shirt, chances were 80% that these were visitors. We had rovers stationed around the property to look for visitors. They got good at spotting them by noting who looked at the campus map, who looked at the signs and who gave other indications of not being familiar with the place.
You won’t catch them all, no matter what you do. But with a little training and a little discernment you can catch a lot of them.
Indeed, it does. Thanks for your comments. I’ll keep adding more as they come in.