All churches should encourage their congregations to greet people and make them feel welcome. Yet in my work coaching churches, I have found that people often feel overwhelmed in growing churches with many visitors. With all the new faces, it is easier to shrink back than continually reach out, especially when there is the possibility for embarrassment that comes with asking someone if he is new, only to find out he’s been coming for several months.
In smaller churches with fewer visitors, newcomers are usually greeted, but they often don’t feel nearly as welcome as members think. This is because small churches can be polite and welcoming without actually being friendly.
Whatever the reason, it seems we are not as good at welcoming newcomers into our churches as we think we are. In the hope of changing this, here are a few tips for making your church a more welcoming place:
1) Open your eyes. It’s easy for those of us who are regular attenders to focus so much on our friends and family that we become blind and calloused to people we do not know. It is imperative that we open our eyes and look around the room for those who appear alone or lost. We will never make newcomers feel welcome if all we ever do is talk with, hug, and invest in the people we already know. Committed followers of Christ must open their eyes and look for new faces.
2) Don’t assume they’re OK. Once we see someone we do not know, it is easy for us to believe that person has already been greeted or that we have nothing to offer. We falsely assume the other person is taken care of. This is a horrible assumption to make, and it’s the main reason many visitors do not feel welcome in churches. Members and regular attenders falsely believe the visitor has been adequately greeted or feels welcome, when in fact most guests do not feel nearly as welcome as we think.
3) Take the first step. Once we see someone we are unfamiliar with, we should take the first step and move toward them. It’s easy for members to forget how scary visiting a church can be. If we don’t take the first step to make a guest feel welcome, it is probably not going to happen. I realize this is hard for some of us, but we must take the risk and overcome our insecurities, fears, or discomfort in order to reach out to people we don’t know.
4) Ask good questions. As I mentioned earlier, many church members believe that simply saying “hello” to someone and shaking his hand is enough to make him feel welcome. But truly making someone feel welcome usually involves more than a polite greeting. When we ask good questions, people are more likely to feel seen and valued. If the visitor doesn’t want to interact, he will make it obvious with short responses.
Good questions open the door for meaningful conversation. Here some examples of questions I like to ask newcomers: Have I met you before? What brought you to visit our church today? How did you hear about our church? Do you know anyone here yet? Do you have any questions and is there anything I can do for you? You can also ask returning visitors, What inspired you to return? These questions avoid the awkwardness that comes with asking someone if they are new, only to find out they’ve been coming for a several months.
5) Introduce and connect. Once you meet new people, introduce them to others. If the new person has children, offer to introduce them to the children’s director. Flag down the minister, another key family, or a staff member who can connect them in ways that will help them feel accepted and valued. Invite them to your small group, or share with them about classes or upcoming events.
Not every visitor is in the same place or has the same expectations. Some people are introverted and do not feel comfortable engaging. Others are far from God and can be intimidated. Still, it is always better to err on the side of making someone feel overly welcome than merely greeted. With a little bit of training and some intentionality, every church can do a better job of making guests feel welcome. As a result, people’s hearts will hopefully be more open and receptive to the Word of God and drawn closer to Christ.