Do you want more first-time church guests coming back a second time? Of course you do! But what are you doing to help guests feel truly welcome so that they will want to return?
If your church is like most, you do three things to welcome guests. First, you greet them inside the entrance to the building, along with all others attending that day. Second, you have a welcome time in the worship service, during which you invite members to welcome guests. Third, you ask guests to complete a registration card. This is the plan most churches have to welcome guests. This three-point plan is formal. It is predictable. And if it’s all you do, it is not terribly effective.
Why is the typical three-point welcome plan less effective than we need? Because it is a programmed approach that falls short of communicating true caring. If guests are only greeted by the “official” greeters handing out bulletins in the foyer, or at the “official” greeting time when the pastor tells us to welcome each other, guests rightly conclude that this provides little proof of genuine interest in them. Also, formal welcome times can be quite uncomfortable to the guest who is asked to stand, or stay seated, and sometimes remain overlooked as members greet each other.
Is there a better approach to welcoming Sunday guests? Yes! The better way is to develop a Welcome Team that tackles three primary tasks.
First, some on the Welcome Team serve as greeters at the entrance of the church, which is similar to the three-point plan. But welcome team greeters do not merely stand inside the church entrance area. They open the doors as the people arrive. They venture outside to help women and children who are dropped off at the church entrance. A mom with preschoolers can use a hand getting into the building, just as grandma will appreciate a little extra help. Some churches even station greeters in the parking lot to help with car doors. Welcome Team door greeters welcome all comers with a warm smile, courteous handshake, friendly eye contact, and a cheery word. For a first-time guest, the greeter is their first contact with the church. Well-trained greeters, who enjoy making people feel good about attending church, are essential. When I was a full-time pastor I also served as a greeter. I did so because I enjoy it, but also because I highly value the greeting ministry.
Second, the Welcome Team needs a group who can take people to their Sunday school classes and help guests enroll small children in the preschool area. Do not make your guests depend on signage or other kinds of verbal directions to point them to where they need to go. You must have welcomers who take them and help them. I was blessed to pastor a church whose building was so complicated that it was impossible to depend on maps and signs. Yes, our convoluted building was a blessing because it forced to us to employ welcomers to help every guest.
Third, some on the Welcome Team are assigned to various sections of the worship center. Their job is to serve those who sit in their section, paying particular attention to those who might be guests, or those who are sitting alone or demonstrate some particular need. The worship center Welcome Team serves at two times in particular: before the service begins and after the service ends. As guests and members take their seats, the Welcome Team member greets them in a friendly, casual manner. He might say something like, “I don’t think I’ve met you yet. I’m Randy.” If they are guests, you can offer to help with any information they need such as childcare and restrooms. Then, after the service ends, the Welcome Team member will again speak to guests in his or her area, thanking them for attending, inviting them back, etc.
Having Welcome Team members in the worship center is probably a new idea for your church. But it should be a part of your welcome plan. Even Walmart has moved greeters further into the store so that they can offer assistance to shoppers.
Finally, remember that guests are often going through situations that make them more responsive to God. They may be new move-ins, new parents, or recently divorced. A guest may represent years of prayer and effort by someone concerned for their soul. And when a member brings a guest, they depend on the church to partner with them in reaching their friend. Guests are the “low fruit” in accomplishing the Great Commission. They are like the flying fish that jump into your boat before you even cast the net!