Have you ever wondered what it would be like if they did online reviews of churches in the same way they do of restaurants and shops?
Scour the internet and you’ll actually find a few, but reviews of this type tend to be emotionally or politically-charged rants more often than they are thoughtful, objective reviews.
But do you ever wonder what visitors say when they walk away from your church? What was their experience there, and was it good enough for them to ever wish to return?
Whether as a part of ministry or just while travelling, my husband and I have visited quite a few churches over the years. We even go to church on vacation, even if that means we visit a church that (gasp!) isn’t of our own denomination! We’ve visited northern, southern, eastern, and western churches, some barely bigger than our own family and some that fall into the category of mega-churches.
And wherever we go, I always observe how we are treated.
Listen, you can’t get away from the role a visitor’s personal preferences may play in the way they view your church. They may consider the music too loud or too traditional or too progressive, or the service too casual or too formal or too long.
But, generally speaking, people will remember the way they were treated. We can focus so much on providing beautiful facilities, great programs, excellent teaching, and dynamic music, but, when it’s said and done, it’s likely to be the way a visitor is treated that stands out in their minds the most.
I can’t say I’ve always treated visitors the way I should have, but becoming a visitor yourself can certainly offer some insight into areas you need to do better! So here are just a few ideas for making visitors to your church feel welcome.
Leave your prejudices behind
I don’t care how open-minded and tolerant you claim to be, everyone has prejudices.
As much as we may wish it wasn’t true, preconceived notions and past experiences will sometimes taint the way we view people. It’s human nature. But pushing past our prejudices to treat people kindly is important if we wish to make visitors feel welcome in our churches.
And prejudice can take a lot of forms! It’s about more than skin color, financial status, or nationality. Sometimes prejudice can even work backwards from the way we think For example, in some churches a person in more edgy clothing would be welcomed with open arms, while someone in very conservative dress may be eschewed almost suspiciously. A man in a suit and tie might be as unwelcome in one church as a woman with tattoos and body piercings might be in another. And both forms of prejudice are wrong and unwelcoming.
|We got this Christmas ornament in a gift bag after we dropped in at a church in Tennessee.|
Greet visitors and tell them you’re glad they came
This seems so basic and yet it is so neglected.
Honestly, we’re very appreciative if a pastor speaks to us when we’re visiting, but we also understand pastors are often pulled in many directions and, particularly if a church is very large, he may not have the opportunity to come greet us personally.
But that’s where church members should step in.
We have visited churches where no one came to speak to us. No one. Once we even visited a church where we knew a few people, (vaguely at least,) and while a couple of men did approach to greet my husband and I, not a single woman in the church spoke to me. Not even one.
That should never, ever happen. I realize sometimes visitors like to slip in late and slip out again early and there’s not always a lot you can do about that, though I recall at least one church where we had people coming to greet us right in the middle of service! I also realize visitors can sometimes get “lost in the crowd”, particularly in a larger church, but at the same time we have been to some very large churches where we thought surely we would blend in and not be noticed, and yet we were immediately recognized as strangers. Being acknowledged and welcomed like that helped us feel more comfortable for the service.
Make them aware of available programs, but don’t push
If there is a couples’ class, children’s church, teen program, or a nursery service you think might interest visitors, by all means let them know, either personally or via church announcements. But if people seem hesitant or uninterested, let it go, even if you think your youth pastor offers the best teen program ever!
Some people will want to be a part of whatever program you have to offer. Others may prefer to sit in one place and go mostly unnoticed. Just be careful that you aren’t pressing people to do what they aren’t comfortable doing.
Send visitors away with a tangible gift
I realize this can involve some thought and expense, but what a kind gesture! A few times we’ve been sent away with gift bags filled with little things like candy, pens, bag clips, and key chains with a thank you and the church’s name on them. These are items we keep, and every time we see them, we’re reminded of the church where we received them. And you want your church to be remembered, right?
|This cup came with a welcome letter, a really nice pen, a coffee coupon, and mint chocolates inside. I can’t look at it without thinking of the little church in Virginia where we received it. The pastor offered to answer any questions we had about our planned visit to Williamsburg, and his wife was so kind to me as I peppered her with one question after another. (We were such pesky tourists!)|
Make contact with them again
Have visitor cards available in the songbook rack or include a perforated section in the church bulletin where visitors can share their names and addresses and drop them in the offering pan or a box provided for the purpose.
Of course collecting names and addresses is only useful if you put them to use! Sending a brief note thanking them for their visit and inviting them again is a kind gesture. If they’re local, a brief home visit from someone in the church with homemade cookies in tow might be even better! The important thing is showing a visitor that their visit was appreciated.
Who knows? They might decide to come back next Sunday!
But even if they don’t, it should be the goal of every churchgoing Christian to make visitors feel so welcome and so at home that when the day comes they see their need for God, they know just the church to go to for help.