Nearly every church claims to be friendly. In reality this is not always the case. Often churches are friendly to those who are already members of the church but to the visitor or outsider they are very much aloof. You can find countless stories of people who visit a church on a Sunday morning and no one from the church bothers to speak to them. More than likely, those people never attend that church again.
I have heard stories from some of our church members who visisted our church and didn’t find it friendly and so they didn’t come back for quite a while. Then they did happen to come back and were made to feel welcomed and eventually became church members. This tells me that there was a time when we thought ourselves to be friendly but we weren’t but now we have improved. Still this doesn’t let us know how many people might have come through our doors and then left never to return. The old saying is true: “You only have one chance to make a first impression.” We want to make a favorable one when someone visits our church.
There are numerous ways to make people feel welcome. These can include personal greeters who welcome people when they arrive, clear signage so people know where to go once they arrive, welcome stations where information about the church is displayed, people who are sitting nearby introduce themselves, and a follow up letter or phone call thanking them for visiting and inviting them back. The Membership Committee of our church is working on how we might better greet, welcome, and follow up with people who visit our church. I will keep you informed on what we come up with.
Let me share a few ways that everybody in the church can help guests feel welcomed. One great way is for you to introduce yourself to those sitting near you that you don’t know. Often we are afraid that the person isn’t a visitor but a church member and that we will embarrass them or ourselves by asking them if they are new to the church. So don’t ask if they are new but rather introduce yourself and say that you don’t think that you know them. This is the starting point for the conversation. If indeed you discover that they are new to church you might inquire if they are shopping for a church. If so, thank them for visiting our church and see if they have any questions. Ask them if they would like you to introduce them to the pastor. Invite them to come with you for refreshments following the service. This is important because most first time guest don’t stay for refreshments but very likely would if personally invited. If you learn that they have something in common with someone else in the church, offer to introduce them to that person. The more contacts a guest might make in that first visit the more likely that they will come again. So make a point of trying to meet and talk with people that you don’t know. It is far too easy to talk only with those that you do know and thereby leaving the guest to feel unwelcomed.
Finally I believe it is important to remember that a guest to our church has come that day for some reason. Most likely they feel a need to connect with God or with other people. There may be a crisis in their personal lives or a celebration or maybe even something that they can’t put into words. Still something caused them to leave the comfort of home to enter into an unfamiliar perhaps uncomfortable place. The more that we can make them feel welcomed and accepted the more likely they will come again and perhaps discover that our church is the right place for them. So let us truly become a friendly church.