There is a multitude of prompts that will inspire a person to grace the doors of your church. Perhaps it is loneliness and the individual feels that a church home is a wise place to make new friends, or an acquaintance keeps inviting the person and he thinks if he visits just once that the friend will stop bugging him about it. Other reasons could be that a person once had a deep faith and wants to become more spiritual again, or the individual is new in the city and is looking for a church home.
It's great to have visitors in your church, but it's vital that they return and eventually become members if your church is to experience growth. One of the best ways to ensure that your church is healthy and growing in numbers is to make those first-time visitors feel welcome and comfortable during their visit. After all, this may be your only chance to make a good first impression. It takes courage to visit a new church, particularly if the person doesn't have friends who are members and has arranged to sit with them. Below are six tips that help demonstrate to each and every visitor that they are truly welcome in your church.
- Designated Visitor's Parking Area: Having a designated visitor's parking area is a wise idea for many reasons. This parking area is typically close to the entrance of the church and prevents the visitors from having a long walk into the building particularly if they are elderly or have small children along. A really nice touch is to have a covered parking area that is near to the door in case it's rainy outside. If an awning isn't possible, having a church member or two armed with golf-size umbrellas to escort visitors inside is a charming and welcome touch for people who were caught off guard by the weather. Another kind gesture is to have members stationed near the parking area to greet the visitors and give them directions to the worship center or a particular Sunday school class if needed. A first-time guest would likely turn the car around and leave if they had to circle the parking lot a few times to find a parking spot. No one likes to go somewhere new and to arrive late, therefore a designated parking area is very helpful for visitors.
- Door Greeters: Anxiety usually runs highest when the first-time visitor is about to enter the building. The person may fear that he or she will be totally ignored, stared at, or won't be dressed appropriately. The visitor has no idea if this is going to be a friendly, welcoming church or if the members will only smile slightly, yet remain aloof. Station friendly, outgoing church members at each busy entrance to your church. Instruct them to smile, say “Good morning,” or “Welcome,” or some other appropriate greeting. Ask them to shake hands with the adults as they enter and to give a friendly ‘high five' to the youngsters or a gentle pat on the back. Encourage them to make eye contact and to be attentive if the person looks lost or confused. If so, ask the visitors if they have any questions or if you can assist them with directions. If possible, have a couple of members around who can not only direct the visitor but also escort them to the right Sunday school class, etc. Instruct them to keep up a friendly — yet unobtrusive — chatter along the way so that the person won't feel awkward or ill at ease.
- Opening Greeting: The pastor or another leader of the church should make it a point to always welcome any first-time guests from the pulpit. Two or three sentences describing how friendly the members are and how delighted you are to have visitors today will help the guests feel more comfortable. It's also smart to mention any special events and unusual details that will occur during the service, such as a special singing by the middle-school choir, Communion, or a potluck after the service that all guests are invited to attend. This lets them know what to expect and makes them feel more comfortable when it's happening. At this time, also encourage the visitors to fill out the guest cards that are included in the church bulletin. Have a basket or box where guests can place the guest cards as they exit the worship center. These cards allow them to ask for more information about the church or upcoming events, inform you of their prayer needs, and any other questions or concerns they may have. You should also have a place for them to provide their email address, contact number, and address.
- Meet & Greet Time: It's nice to schedule a meet and greet time during each service. Ask the members to go around and shake hands or greet friends and visitors. Although many people feel this is awkward, if just one member approaches the visitor with a genuine smile, polite eye contact, a handshake and a “Good morning, I'm Paul. We're glad to have you!!,” it can go a long way in encouraging the visitor to return to the service again. Email the members occasionally and encourage them not only to greet the people to the left and right of them on their pew but also to step away and greet visitors that are within two or three aisles from them. Knowing that someone went to the trouble to do that can really make a first-time guest feel welcome.
- Meeting the Pastor: It's important that guests have an opportunity to meet the pastor — and his spouse — if he's married. Many churches are too large to have a receiving line after the service. If this is the case in your church, invite the guests to go to a designated area after the service where they can meet the pastor and receive a small gift or gift bag. This gift can be something as small as a bookmark with a spiritual theme, or something larger such as a coffee mug. Have brochures available on a nearby table that tells about the activities, Sunday school classes, Bible studies, and upcoming events in the church.
- Follow-up with the Visitors: Since you had the guests fill out a card during their visit, now you have contact information so that you and your parishioners can reach out to them. First and foremost, thank them for coming to the worship service. This can be as unobtrusive as a postcard or a follow-up phone call. If they indicated interest in certain Bible studies, classes, or upcoming events, have a couple of members of the church visit their home to share more information or have a member of the class call and personally invite them to come to a meeting.
Reaching out to the visitors of your church in a friendly, genuine, and engaging matter helps ensure that your church continues to grow and serves your community in ways that benefit all. Make it a high priority for your church to say “Welcome” to all who grace your doors!