If you were to ask most people in assemblies today whether they thought their church was welcoming to visitors you would probably get a positive answer. The reality is that for many of us it’s very difficult to put ourselves in the shoes of a first-time visitor.
We are so used to seeing what we are so used to seeing that we miss the glaring weaknesses and how we are perceived by visitors.
In his book, Becoming A Welcoming Church, Thom Rainer shares some very practical and helpful thoughts on how we can be as welcoming as possible to a first-time visitor.
It’s the simple things
Some of the things that turn people away are so simple such as how clean or cluttered the entrance or foyer is, being confused as to where to go for children’s programs, restrooms Etc.
One of the big hindrances to a person’s positive experience is a lack of information. People who do not go to church have no idea what the culture of church is like. It’s important for an assembly to have clear and attractive information to help visitors understand more about that culture.
This could contain information such as Services for children, adults and seniors, a mission statement, what the church believes and practices etc. Just don’t assume that a visitor is going to know anything about who you are or what you do.
The first impression
What if you were to walk into a restaurant and no one greeted you and you stood there for quite a while wondering what to do? For many people they would simply leave. This is so important in a church that there is a team of greeters ready with a smile to help those who are coming in for the first time.
These greeters should be friendly, have all the information necessary to answer questions about the church and point them in the right direction for where to take children or where to go next.
A gift for you
Who doesn’t like to get a gift? A very practical way to make a good first impression is to give a gift to first-time visitors. This gift could be something as simple as a mug and some literature or maybe a book explaining the gospel or a CD with a gospel message on it. Giving a gift is just a nice gesture to help people feel more welcome.
Safety and security
With so much scandal going on in the world today it’s imperative that every assembly has a plan for Safety and Security. If people are going to come back to your church they need to feel safe especially when it concerns their children.
Have a clear plan to protect children and those who are vulnerable. Make that plan known to visitors so they can feel safe. If your assembly does not have a plan for Safety and Security then it’s time to start right now.
Just as I am
Does your assembly accept people as they are? If a person is seeking God and comes to your church for the very first time they are going to be confused and turned off if you expect them to conform to your practices before even presenting the gospel to them.
This is a fundamental challenge for the assemblies. Do you ask a female visitor to wear a head covering before you even know if she’s saved? Would you ask a young man to take his hat off in order to listen to the message?
People are all on a journey and as representatives of the Lord Jesus we need to meet people where they are at and accept them for who they are. Showing them the love of Christ is paramount to presenting the gospel.
Not those people!
When someone walks into your church covered in tattoos and piercings how would you look at them? What if two men walked in holding hands how would you look at them? With disgust? Or would you look at them through the eyes of Christ with love? Would you walk up to them and with a smile welcome them and shake their hand? This is all part of accepting people as they are.
So take some time to evaluate your assembly. If you were to walk in the door for the very first time and you knew nothing about church what would your perception be? Would you feel welcome? Would you feel safe? Would you feel accepted? Would you want to come back?