There is a danger in being overly sensitive to what people think of your church. The church is to follow the Bible’s teaching, regardless of what people think. At the same time, it is important to understand how people are feeling, thinking, and seeking as they attend a new church. It can help to get inside the head of a visitor and realize what they’re looking for.

  1. Warmth. This has nothing to do with your thermostat setting. Church attitude can be felt, and if a newcomer experiences a detached or clique-like atmosphere, they are not likely to stay long.
  2. Welcome. Closely related is the idea of receptivity. A person wants to feel welcome. The church ought to be a place where people will be welcomed, regardless of they way they look, smell, or act. This can be difficult for some churches to achieve, especially if that church is characterized by uniformity of race or socioeconomic level. Being welcome to all people may be hard, but it is extremely important.
  3. Real people. Some churches can foster a spirit of artificiality. Somehow, people act differently at church, putting on a veneer of spirituality. People can see right through this, and visitors can sense the inauthenticity. Being artificial implicitly encourages others around you to be artificial in turn, creating an entire atmosphere of plastic people and shallow relationships.
  4. Substantial teaching. Most likely, the bulk of a visitor’s time will be spent listening to the preacher. Is the preaching clear? Does it connect with people where they are? Does it faithfully reflect what Scripture teaches? The last thing you want to hear a visitor mutter on the way out is, “I had no idea what that guy was talking about.”
  5. Whole-person care. Churches are rightly concerned with people’s spiritual lives, but this should not mean the neglect of other facets of care and responsibility. Scripture is replete with references to the church caring for the physical needs of others. It is important that visitors are aware that the church is not simply a weekly spiritual recharge, but is a caring community of people eager to help in whatever ways are possible.
  6. Ministry and outreach. The introchurch is a problem. People often leave churches if they sense that the church is not actively seeking to make a difference in the community. It is easy to allow the church to become focused on its own needs, concerns, and preoccupations, but this is something that is neither Scriptural nor inviting to “outsiders.”
  7. Involvement. Does your church afford an opportunity for people to be involved? Many people visit churches, not because they are looking for a place to melt into anonymity, but because they are looking for a place to connect, to use their gifts, and to develop a ministry.
  8. Growth and vibrancy. A church doesn’t have to be big to be appealing to a visitor. What is important is a sense of purpose, action, and life. Few people, if anyone, are looking for a church characterized by sleepy inactivity. A truly welcoming church is a church that puts off an atmosphere of life and energy.
  9. Leadership integrity. Like it or not, churches can be places of abuse—spiritual abuse, which leaves long-term scars and lasting damage. Perhaps one of the most important factors for newcomers is the sense of integrity that they sense from the leadership. They may wonder, “Is this person honest? Will they be willing to meet with me for counseling? Will they be cruel or heartless in the way that they respond to my sin problem?” The integrity of a church leadership is felt, not expressed, and usually, it’s hard to fake it.
  10. Adjustment period. Generally speaking, visitors don’t want to draw attention to themselves. Take a hint. Don’t draw attention to them, either. I’ve been to churches where the visitor stands while everyone else sings a song (bad idea). Another church I visited, all visitors were given a rose sticker and asked to wear it after the service (also a bad idea). Some visitors may love these gimmicks, but for the most part, visitors would prefer to watch, to observe, to sit back and take it in, at least at first. Let them do so. A visitor packet or a word of welcome or something may be appropriate, but try not to be too obvious about out who the first-timers are. Give them some space.

Having a church that is open to visitors isn’t simply a matter of having nice-looking facilities and greeters with smiles. It’s about so much more. A truly welcoming church is a church that is characterized by genuine, growing, Christians seeking to minister to others. This kind of attitude should pervade every aspect of ministry, including the testimony and life of the leadership. Rather than becoming obsessed with the color of the bricks or the quality of the church signage, pay attention to your own heart. People come to churches because of people—people who are growing and loving.

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10 Responses

  1. Joyce Oglesbee

    I enjoyed reading this. I plan on putting copies of this in our church for our members.

  2. Lois

    These are good points. Another to consider is follow-up. If the visitor takes the time to write down personal information, even a short note to acknowledge their visit is a continuing form of welcoming. Also it opens up an avenue of further ministry that may be needed .

  3. wahba

    Forgive my bluntness, but why isn’t The Transforming Presence of God #1 on this list? Do we not believe the Gospel is the most relevant thing we have to offer?

    • admin

      Thanks for your bluntness, wahba. I think you’ve got a point, The Transforming Presence of God is definitely important, and it’s the number one need of all people. You said it correctly: “the gospel is the most relevant thing we have to offer.”

      Sadly, many people don’t recognize their own need of the gospel nor do they want it. The church’s responsibility is to give the gospel, regardless of what people think they need or want.

      This list attempted to focus on what church visitors are looking for, including non-believing church visitors. Often, they aren’t looking for the gospel. Sometimes, of course, they are. Now, if we were to make a list of what church visitors NEED, the gospel would definitely top the list!

    • Mac

      It is, in #s 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 10. The transforming presence of God is love, pure and simple. Those points all are based on showing true love to another person.

  4. Tony

    Good points, I was happy to see that you started out by pointing to the priority of biblical teaching first.

  5. Wanda

    I agree with all points. There’s a part of #10 that I tend to disagree with, but only slightly. Yes, while visitors don’t want to be put on the spot and forced to get up and give a mini sermonette every Sunday that they visit on who they are, where they’re from, etc, I do believe that most welcome acknowledgement in the form of a handshake, a hug or even a nice smile and there are enough “sincere” saints in every congregation this country, who genuinely love people and feel led to do this type of ministering.

  6. Marc McGrath

    Good reminders for us all. As wahba implies, there are several spiritual qualities that we need to have authentic worship that pleases God and does meet the spiritual need of all people. Good subject for another article

  7. Terry

    “Church” visitors are looking for something real…they are looking for what is found in Acts 2:42….Sharing life together! Its about relationships not the “building” we go to on Sunday.

    The last sentence of the article states, “ People come to churches because of the people…”
    People are the “church”…they cannot go to something they are! If the “Church” ever gets a grasp on this Biblical concept and starts acting like an Acts 2 church, I believe that the “Lord will add to our numbers daily” just like He did in verse 47!

  8. Alan

    Nothing about worship on list??? I think Barna research shows that preaching and worship are the top two ways people evaluate a church upon their earliest visit.

    My personal experiences with visitors leads me to believe visitors are no longer just looking for “contemporary” or “traditional” music but are now looking for a congregation with authentic worship that is experienced in a particular environment that could be described as contemporary/modern or traditional.

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