“No one greeted me.”
“The church was unfriendly.”
“They clearly don’t plan to have any guests.”
No pastor wants their church to be known for any of these.
We created a list of 11 small things your church can do to make your guests feel more welcome.
1. Provide guest information online to show church hospitality.
It is almost cliché to say that the church’s website is your new “front door,” but it’s true. If your church doesn’t have a website or it doesn’t provide information for guests, you are losing a major opportunity. The majority of people (and young families in particular) Google a church before they attend it.
Is there clear information on your website about children’s programming? Is there a map to help visitors find your church? Do you have the address clearly written so guests can type it in their phone or GPS in the car?
As someone who frequently does First Impressions Evaluations during our Strategic Envisioning process, I am in awe of how little time and effort some churches spend on their website and how much many others spend on theirs. Where does your church fall?
Regardless of the quantity of time, money, or effort you’ve put into your site, when is the last time you searched your town’s name and the word church (i.e. “Church in Omaha”)? If you don’t show up on the first page, it’s unlikely most people in your community know you’re there at all.
To illustrate the value of a strong website presence, if you were to add one family per month because they found you by searching your city name + church, think about how you would impact evangelism. Let’s take a conservative estimate that you could have three families per month find your church online and visit. Let’s dream that just one person each month from that set of new families came to know Jesus. That would be at least 12 souls each year eternally transformed, just because you decided to make building an effective website a priority.
2. Address guests from the stage.
I’m not suggesting that you ask guests to stand up (people hate that!), but I do suggest that you make a reference to newcomers from the stage.
An easy way to do this is to say “Guests, we’re so glad you’re here today. We are honored you chose to spend time with us, and we hope you to feel at home. We have a thank-you gift for you at our Connection Center in the lobby. Please don’t forget to stop by so we can get to know you personally!”
3. Sit in the middle of the row of seats.
Challenge your regular attenders to sit in the middle of the rows at church. When a guest has to walk past 3 or 4 people in order to get to a seat, their discomfort level goes up.
Why not have your leaders sit in the middle of the rows so the seats that are easy to access are available for the guests? This small step may frustrate some, but it also gives your regular attenders a chance to serve and remember that every Sunday is someone’s first Sunday. If these types of suggestions frustrate your congregation, you may want to have a discussion about the high value Scripture places on hospitality.
4. Put the words on the screen.
If you expect everyone to know the words to every song, you also communicate that you expect to not have guests (or at least not have non-Christian guests or those outside of your denomination).
All churches could easily put the words to the songs on a screen or screens in the front of the church. If your church is more liturgical, you may want to explain where the words are found so that someone attending for the first time can easily find the lyrics. (This may be a good option for a church that still uses hymnals.)
5. Make it easy for guests to get connected.
Have a clear next step that you’re asking every guest to take. This might vary from church to church, but a great option is a Newcomer Event like “Pizza with the Pastor,” “Newcomer’s Lunch,” “Donuts and the Down-low.” OK, that last one was totally made up. But you get the idea.
It’s difficult to get guests to move from a big room (weekend worship) to a small room (a class or group). Bridge the gap by inviting them to take a non-intimidating, non-commital next step. From there, use that event to assimilate newcomers into community life. The faster you can get a guest into a group, the more likely they are to stay for the long-haul.
6. Invite your congregation to share your messages online.
Leverage the social connections of the people in your church. For example, if you use hashtags or a hashtag in your sermon, you empower your congregation to share your message and also provide opportunities for non-Christians to learn about what you preach without attending.
The idea is to try new things in order to reach those who don’t know Jesus.
Be careful on this one. Make sure that you have an effective plan in place that someone very familiar with social media has evaluated prior to launching.
Think of it as equipping the people who know, trust, and like your teaching to share something they already love with their closest friends and family.
7. Provide a preview sermon online.
New attenders are curious about how the pastor preaches. It’s never been easier to set-up high-quality video and audio recordings. You don’t have to have a massive budget or expensive equipment. Be sure you’re recording (at least the audio) of every message and posting it quickly on your website.
To get the word out even more, break up part of your messages into 30-60 clips that your church can share on social media. This exposes people to who you are and what you’re about.
8. Provide an example Sunday school lesson for kids.
Parents are curious about what you teach their children. You don’t have to provide all the lessons, but it is easy to simply provide one. Upload a PDF and you’ve taken yet another church hospitality step.
9. Clean the bathrooms.
When guests come to your church, they are evaluating everything even if unconsciously. Their goal isn’t necessarily to put you or your church down. However, they are trying to decide if this is a place they would like to worship.
Don’t let your bathrooms keep people from hearing about Jesus. Don’t just pay attention to the obvious things, but keep maintenance in mind. Are there water stains, mold, or broken paper towel holders? You’ve learned to navigate around these types of things. A guest notices. This applies to your whole facility, and not just the bathroom. But the bathroom is a great place to start since a bad bathroom is something a guest won’t soon forget.
10. Encourage members to greet new people.
If you attend a large church it is hard to know everyone. But regardless of the church size try encouraging those who have attended for awhile to introduce themselves to someone they don’t know.
If you want to take a risk here, rather than have a 10 second handshake time try allowing 2-5 minutes for people to introduce themselves and find a way they can pray for someone sitting near them.
11. Create a clear Connection desk.
Guests wonder where to go to get information and to take their best next step. Make it clear where they can ask questions without feeling lost. If it is clear that you expect guests, you will plan for them and not make them feel awkward. Use a large sign, a certain color T-shirt, lanyards, or some way to make it clear to whom they can ask questions.
Which of these do you plan to take action now? Identify at least one and make a change this week.
What other suggestions do you have to improve church hospitality? Leave any other church hospitality questions in the comments below, we would love to hear from you.
Brad Bridges is a pastor, writer, and former TMG consultant. | Follow Brad on Twitter @bradbridges