We recently moved to a new city and state. I’m regularly a church-attending, church-consultant, and outgoing Christian. It only makes sense that my wife and I want to find a church near our new home. But it’s been hard for us — I can only imagine how hard it is for an unchurched person or family.
We’ve been looking, church-shopping they say, for a little over a month. We still haven’t found a church but we’re not giving up. However, since I work with churches regularly, I’m going to discuss solutions for a few things we’ve noticed:
- Most aren’t aware of who’s visiting. I regularly hear, “I’m scared to welcome a potential visitor because they may be a regular-attender”. So they don’t. It’s evident everywhere we go. Rarely does anyone make us feel welcome. Tip: Teach your members how to welcome everyone! Like, “I don’t think we’ve met! I’m _______ .” This is crucial. Even role play it!
- Visitors are rarely mentioned in services. Perhaps churches rarely see visitors. Perhaps that’s why visitors aren’t welcomed from the stage by directing announcements to them. Tip: A guest rarely likes to be called out but everyone likes to be mentioned if it says “we love that you came”.
- Guest parking isn’t utilized properly. Probably half the churches we’ve visited have special guest parking areas. I’ve been reluctant to use the spaces, but when I do, I can walk directly from the space past a greeter and I get no different greeting. Tip: Train your greeters to watch those spaces and how to talk differently to those parking there (in a helpful, non-pushy way).
- Small groups are rarely mentioned. We often see community happening all around us in services we visit, but we feel excluded. Why? Because we’ve not plugged into a small group or class. I fully understand how important that next step is. Tip: Churches need to make a big deal in every service about how to become part of a small group — even if it’s a short meeting right after the service or at the guest center.
- It’s easy to arrive and leave without talking to anyone. Many times we’ve entered a church, sat for a service, then left in our car — and no one attempts a meaningful discussion with us. It often feels like we don’t matter to anyone. Tip: Remind small group leaders, ministry staff, and your members that they need to be on the lookout for ANYONE that’s walking by themselves and especially if they exhibit signs of a “first-time” guest (looking around, holding brochures, etc.)
- Welcomers aren’t enough. Many churches feel that having a small squad of greeters in the parking lot or foyer is enough. But these people often feel “conscripted” and not very interested. Often they say the same thing to everyone. Tip: Sure, they’re better than nothing, but truly train these people to take interest in people and to be on the lookout for visitors.
- Don’t embarrass visitors; allow them to be anonymous. Ultimately, most love anonymity. No one likes to be embarrassed by calling attention to them in a group. I recently attended a service where a live microphone was put in a visitor’s face and then interviewed by the campus pastor. Yikes. Tip: Be general when talking about guests unless it’s a one-on-one interaction.