When visitors come to church, what do you do with them? What should you do with them? While nearly every church wants church visitors, the issue of what to do once they come to church is sometimes a perplexing one. As a result of visiting various churches re and observing the good, the bad, and the downright awkward, here are some considerations for how to handle church visitors.
What NOT to Do to Church Visitors
First off, here are some church visitor no-nos.
- Don’t sing a song to the church visitors. Some churches want to welcome their visitors by singing a song to them. Seriously. Unfortunately, this creates a really, really awkward situation for the visitor, who would rather crawl under the pew than have 250 strangers sing him a song.
- Don’t have ushers stalk the aisles, looking for church visitors. Other churches employ the Usher Stalk Technique to find visitors. The Usher Stalk Technique (aka, the UST) consists of several ushers or deacons ceremonious trooping down the aisles looking for possible visitors. Complimentary pen in hand, they approach anyone who looks unfamiliar to single them out and draw attention to them. Again, this creates a potentially-awkward situation for the visitor that may turn some people off.
- Don’t force the church visitors to introduce themselves. Many visitors prefer to stay in the background and just watch during their first time to a service. Although you may encounter gregarious visitors who are happy to introduce themselves, their name, where they’re from, and the name of their favorite childhood pet, but such interrogation isn’t the most tastetful form of welcome for every visitor.
Better Ways to Accept Church Visitors
Some of the best ways to greet church visitors is simply with an appropriate facility, complete with clear signage and a cleanly appearance. You don’t have to have golf-course landscaping and lucious lawns. Simply make it presentable. But presentable grounds and facilities can be sterile and lifeless without the necessity of friendly people. Here are some specific ways and ideas to welome visitors.
- Appoint people to greet church visitors and speak with them. As a first step, your church should have some system in place to greet church visitors and make them welcome. The best way to do this is by having people designated to greet them. It’s ok to have unique-colored t-shirts or ID tags for greeters. The most important feature of greeters is their friendly demeanor, loving spirit, and social skills.
- Greet church visitors in the parking lot. Sometimes, the intimidation begins before the visitor puts his or her car into park. Make sure they know where to park. Then, when they arrive, have someone designated to recognize them, introduce themselves, offer help, and show them where to go. Obviously, the person doing the greeting should have some people-skills and personality gifts that helps people to feel welcome, not awkward.
- Help with the children. If your church has nusery facilities or age-graded classes, show them where these rooms are and guide them through the process of checking in. Don’t force them to take their baby into the nursery. Simply ask. Then, have someone guide them through the sometimes bewildering process of registering a baby into the nursery, getting a pager, etc.,
- Show church visitors into the auditorium. Although the church building may be as simple of a building as you’ve ever been to, it’s a totally new place for the visitor. Show them exactly where the auditorium is, and maybe even direct them to a seat (not the front row!) if seating is limited or hard-to-find.
- Have people talk to church visitors. If the visitors are accompanied by a greeter, other people should notice the greeter with the visitors, come up and introduce themselves and get to know the visitors. Having people to speak with goes a long way in welcoming visitors.
- Give them something by which they can remember the church. Pens are great, but nearly every church has them. How about a complimentary coffee, a booklet, a t-shirt, a mug, or even an iPad. Okay, maybe the iPad thing will get too expensive, but you get the idea. There’s a fine line between cheesy gifts and something truly welcoming and appreciated.
- Take church visitors out to eat. Why not? Get to know your visitors. Offer to take them out for lunch or dinner following the service. First off, you’re offering them a free meal. What’s to lose? Second, you’re engaging them in a relationship. That’s extremely helpful–whether they are nonbelievers or believers looking for a church.
- Send church visitors a letter. If you have their information, jot them a note (a handwritten note) later in the week, thanking them for coming, and providing your personal information and invitation to return.
- Be interested in church visitors as people, not as visitors. Visitors are people, not statistics or potential tithing members. Treat them as people. Ask them about themselves. Ask them if they have any needs or prayer request. Offer to help. Rather than assuming they want to know all about your church, take interest in them.
- Know when to back off. Church visitors don’t want to be smothered. Rather than totally blanketing visitors with attention, you may need to give them some time to breathe and just look around. This takes tact and sensitivity.
Some Umbrella Principles Regarding Church Visitors
Obviously, every church is different. Every area of the country is different. The specifics regarding your reception of visitors will vary according to church size, ministry focus, demographic, etc. Here are some philosophical considerations to keep in mind.
- Focus on love. The Bible has a whole lot to say about love. Love is more important than any amount of spirituality you can muster up (1 Cor 13:1-3). Love is the primary indicator of your faith (John 13:35). Whether you are loving nonbelievers or believers, “by this all people will know that you are [Jesus’] disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love each other, then love your church visitors.
- Live a context of grace. The church is a community of believers saved by grace, growing by grace, and living in recognition of the grace of God. Extend this grace context to visitors Many people view Christians as a judgmental and hypocritical crowd. Allow visitors to realize first that you are people saved by grace, and second, you extend and apply the grace of God in your reception of people–anybody–poor, rich, ugly, dirty, unkempt, offensive, whatever. Grace doesn’t mean that you accept people’s sin; rather, you accept people who sin—and God’s grace is meant to save such people.
- The important thing is who you are, not what you do for church visitors. A list of how-to tips on greeting church visitors isn’t going to make you a great church for visitors. The important thing is who you are as a church. People can often see through artificiality and hypocrisy. Christlike behavior is infinitely more important than some clever visitor techniques.
- Keep the goal in mind. The mission of the church is to glorify God through accepting His grace, walk in in His precepts, and making disciples according to His great commission. Your goal is not to avoid offending church visitors. Your goal is not to increase the size of your church. Your goal is not to improve the church’s reputation. Your goal remains the same, regardless of who comes, who doesn’t and whether or not they come back again.