While change is a necessary part of life, it can sometimes be difficult…especially at church. I grew up in a church where I was related to 1/3 or so of the congregation and I was the 3rd or 4th generation of my family to belong there. Needless to say, I knew how things went – when to sit, when to stand, and what to say when. One Sunday when I was teenager, I remember looking at the bulletin and noticing that all the words to the Lord’s Prayer, all the words to the “Doxology”, and all the words to the “Gloria” were printed in the bulletin. My first thought was, “huh, I wonder why on earth they wasted time doing that? EVERYONE knows the words!”
I soon learned that EVERYONE did not know all of the words! Not only that, I learned that the Church doesn’t exist only for those who are already a part of it. In fact, the job of the Church is to make disciples for Jesus Christ. Jesus wouldn’t have told us (the Church) to make disciples if everyone he intended to be his disciple was already a part of the Church. There are more and more people today who have never stepped foot in a church before.
One of the ways we can help to make disciples is to create worship environments that are as “user-friendly” as possible…and that means making changes that are welcoming to guests.
Did you know guests visiting a church for the first time will decide in the first 7 minutes whether or not they’ll ever return? By the way, those 7 minutes start in the parking lot!
Some of you may be thinking, “Why are you telling me? Isn’t it the greeters’ job to welcome guests?” Well, the greeters are a very important part of welcoming guests (if you don’t have some kind of greeters at your church – get some!), as are others in who are doing “visible” jobs, like food servers and those leading worship. It’s important to be very intentional about commitment and training for those groups within a congregation. However, it takes 7-10 personal contacts during their entire visit in order for guests to feel welcome at church.
Pretend I am a guest. I come in the outside door and meet a greeter. I may stop over at a table where food and drinks are served and meet 1-2 people serving there. Then I go into the sanctuary/auditorium/worship space and meet another greeter. At some point, I may meet the Pastor/Priest because he/she generally does their best to meet guests in the lobby before or after worship. How did I do? Let’s count…1, 2, 3, 4, 5 – Where are the other 2-5 personal contacts going to come from?
I’m sure you’ve guessed it by now – you and me! It’s our job as a congregation to notice guests and help them feel welcome.
Here are three tips to get you started in creating a welcoming environment.
Tip #1: No visitors allowed! Guests Welcome. It may only seem like a change in wording, but a change in attitude comes with it. The term “visitor” brings up images of an outsider in a strange place, while the term “guest” implies someone who has been invited. Let’s welcome guests into God’s house.
Tip #2: Introduce Yourself. This is easier for some of us than others, but it is important in creating a welcoming environment. If you see someone you don’t know, just say “Hi, my name is (say your name), I don’t believe we’ve met.” If you’re an introvert like me, you may want to be prepared with a few open-ended questions you could ask to get the other person talking.
Tip # 3: No Complaining. The Bible tells us in Philippians 2:14 to “do everything without complaining or arguing.” Not everything that happens within a congregation will make everyone happy all the time. If something or someone at church is bothering you, Sunday morning is NOT the time to sit or stand around and complain about it!
You may wonder what this has to do with our guests…well, guests are smart – they know that if you don’t want to be here, they probably don’t want to be here either! Our guests are here for different reasons: visiting family, new in town, or lost and searching. It’s good to remember that coming inside a church building is a BIG step for many people. Out of love and respect for both our guests and our fellow members, we need to find more productive and loving ways to deal with our frustrations. If you are having an issue with another person or situation, the best thing to do is to set up a time to meet privately with that person (or the person in charge of the situation). That way there is an opportunity for reconciliation, if not agreement.
How about you? What successes in welcoming have you had in your congregation? We’d love to hear from you.