1If you’ve been a long-time member of a church, then you may have since long-forgotten how it feels to be a church visitor.
You’re already too comfortable being a regular member that you no longer pay attention to the feelings of visiting members. Do they feel awkward? Lost? Welcomed?
You may feel that your church is one of the friendliest churches in the community because you are genuinely friendly towards fellow congregation members. But does this friendship and openness extend toward new church visitors?
Are you really friendly and welcoming?
One of the many problems that most churches face is the plateuing of new membership. There are guests and visitors that attend regular services and activities, but only a few of them come back to become church members.
Why is this happening to a church with members who genuinely feel that they belong to a friendly and welcoming church?
A deeper look would suggest that church members were indeed friendly, but in a cliquish sort of way — they are friendly with fellow regular church members.
Example, after the service, new visitors are given the perfunctory welcome chat, nothing more, and then the members will move on to talk and group with their friends. This is a rather lukewarm way of welcoming visitors and, more often than not, will make them feel left out and not genuinely welcomed.
Eight ways your church can be more welcoming to guests
Outlined below are some ideas to ensure that your church is more welcoming to visitors…
Start in the parking lot. Make sure that your church have ample parking specifically reserved for guests. Consider stationing volunteer greeters into the parking lot to assist first-time visitors.
Have regular church members sit by someone they don’t know. We are by nature creature of habits. Long-time members usually sit, out of habit if not for anything else, to someone they usually sit next to throughout the years.
But if each member intentionally sit beside someone they do not know well, then this is already a huge step towards becoming a more welcoming church. Also, by sitting next to someone new you can easily assist them in case they’re unfamiliar with the order of the service yet or what song / hymn book to use. Gestures like these go a long way.
Institute a 5-minute after-service rule. Have you noticed that right after service, most members would immediately group themselves with friends? Well, this looks cliquish to new visitors.
What the 5-minute rule does is discouraged both leaders and regular members from talking to their friends for five minutes after service ends. This puts everyone on a mission to seek out a new faces and engage them in a conversation. The point is not to swarm visitors, but to ensure that they feel welcome and that their questions and concerns are being addressed to when they need it.
So tip #2 — sitting by someone you don’t know — comes totally handy as you don’t have to seek out new faces after church service as you’re already sitting beside them. Thus, striking a conversation with them will come more naturally.
Preparing an area for coffee and fellowship after service will also give lots of opportunities for regular church members to talk with visitors.
Remember though that not every church visitors wants to engage in a conversation, so it is important that you discern their level of interest. Basically, you want to avoid the following:
invading personal space and asking too many personal questions
being too nosy
not being able to read their body language (you should be able to tell when their body language says “can we end this now” or “leave me alone, please”
When engaging in a conversation, you can break the ice by starting with: “Hi, I’ve not met you yet, I’m Mark…”
Also, here are some safe questions you can ask the church visitor:
How did you find our church?
What keeps you busy during the week?
What kind of work do you do?
Do you know anyone that attends the church?
Do you have any questions about the church or the service?
You can ask follow up questions based on his / her answers and continue the conversation. Again, don’t forget read their body language and discern their level of interest.
Introduce new visitors to someone in the congregation they have common interests with. Having started a conversation, you may be able to pick out some tidbits like where they work to their hobbies. If so, you can introduce them to someone else in the congregation who works on the same place they do or who’s interested in the same hobbies. This can make them feel that they have a commonality with someone outside of worship.
Engage but don’t pressure. Engaging visitors in a light and genuine talk will make them open more. But if you try to push too hard, it may send them reeling away instead. There’s no need to pressure them to attend again or become a member immediately. They’re just new, so a welcome conversation and a light invitation, like a family weekend lunch or snack, should do.
Allow the Visitor Greeting Team to do its job. Some churches have volunteers specifically assigned to assist visitors. So to make sure that the team can function effectively, avoid engaging them, because instead of attending to you, they should be attending to new visitors. If you have any concerns, you can discuss it with them later or you can just talk to another church member about it.
You can also have an anonymous guest visit your church and give you honest feedback.

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