The way you treat guests is a reflection of your practical theology.
It’s true. One of the Bible’s deepest values is hospitality, and so if your church is aiming to be Biblical… your church must value hospitality, too!
“No one greeted me.”
“The church was unfriendly.”
“They clearly don’t plan to have any guests.”
No pastor wants to hear any of these criticisms. So if you’ve heard some of the criticisms below from churchgoers or you haven’t heard them because guests keep slipping out the back door, chances are you need to take a hard look at your approach to hospitality.
In order to help your church get prepared to serve guests better, here are 11 small things your church can do.
1. Provide guest information online to show church hospitality.
It is almost cliche that the new front door is the church’s website. 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 search for a church online before they attend it.
Is there clear information on your website about your 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 iPhone or navigation system 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 money 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, when is the last time you searched for your church online, without typing in the name (i.e. “Churches Near Me”)? If you don’t show up on the first page or two, 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 online, think about how you would impact evangelism.
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!”
Coming out of the Covid pandemic, attendance habits of guests in your community may have shifted. Be sure to be acknowledging online guests and have hands-free ways to make that initial connection with a guest, so they don’t have to stop by a specific point in your building. Leverage technology and tools like Text In Church to build a relationship through other communication tools with guests.
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).
Most churches today put the words to the songs on a screen or screens in the front of the church, but in more liturgical settings, sometimes only hymn numbers are listed. Be sure to leverage those screens to make guests feel comfortable and included. If you’re streaming your services online, be sure the text is visible there, too and online attenders don’t have to squint.
If your church uses pew Bibles, don’t just place the references on the screen during sermons–place the page number in the pew Bible. This helps those who might not be as Biblically literate to feel comfortable and learn where different books of the Bible are located.
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.
Consider having an online equivalent for those who only attend online or were introduced to your church through services online. Host a special Zoom meeting for guests, but find a way to make it fun, quick, and engaging.
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. Pay special attention to your online services.
New attenders are curious about how the pastor preaches. Even as the world moved past the pandemic, it’s still likely that guests will visit your church online before they step on campus. How does the picture quality look? What about the sound? Does the band sound good in person but the mix is bad online? Enlist help to get this fixed.
You don’t have to have a massive budget or expensive equipment. But you do need to care about the end-result quality.
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. Also, post pictures of what your children’s ministry is like. Be careful that you have photo releases if you include any pictures of real kids in your ministry. However, you can take pictures of your leaders smiling, leading songs, and the fun, kid-friendly environment you (hopefully) have at your church.
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 a while to introduce themselves to someone they don’t know.
Create a culture where welcoming newcomers is an expectation. Have staff and senior leaders model this behavior in how they interact with people on Sunday mornings. Talk about the value of creating a welcoming culture in your membership class. Hold leaders accountable for creating this environment.
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. Also, have a virtual version of your Connection Desk. How will new online attendees find information relevant to them without having to spend 20 minutes searching your website?
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.
Scott Ball is the Vice President and a Lead Guide with The Malphurs Group. He lives in East Tennessee with his wife and two children. (Email Scott).