How do you feel when you walk into a room full of strangers? I feel nervous, shy, and apprehensive. Probably you do too. It can be hard. Will anyone speak to me? Will I be able to figure out what these people are doing? Will I fit in? What if my child screams? These are the same feelings that people visiting your church have.
What can your church do to make them feel less nervous and more welcomed? Below are my top five things NOT to do. There are lots of lists like this around on blogs and twitter, but these happen to be my favorites…or should I say pet peeves?! I work for an Episcopal church and one of my two main areas of focus is evangelism so I think about welcoming and visitors a lot!
Number One: There are no signs in the building to tell visitors where to find important rooms.
Sure you know where the bathrooms and nursery are, but visitors don’t. Put up signs. Simple and clear. Using arrows is okay. The most important ones are: Church/worship, bathrooms and nursery.
Number Two: Nobody speaks to visitors when they enter the building.
Put greeters at all your major entry points. They should smile, welcome people, introduce themselves and provide instructions to major areas of the building. If the visitors have children, ask if they’d like to know about the nursery or child care. Greeters are NOT allowed to talk to their friends during this time. Their job is to talk to visitors. They are to be at their post 15 minutes before the service starts and stay there until 10 minutes after the service has started.
Number Three: Visitors and new members stand by themselves after church and at the coffee hour
This is a seriously bad. Greeters can be asked to speak to them AND introduce them to others. It is not just the job of the clergy or other staff to speak to visitors. We are all called to the ministry of hospitality.
Number Four: You ask visitors to stand up and introduce themselves during the announcement period
Don’t single out visitors. They really just want to blend in. Speak to them after the service and introduce them to others at coffee hour.
Number Five: You don’t follow up with them
If they will give you their contact information, you must follow up with them within 36 hours. That’s by Tuesday. Give them a warm and gentle call, note or email thanking them for visiting and asking if they have any questions.
Finally, none of this matters a bit if they can’t find your church or find out the times of your worship services. So Carolyn’s Number One rule about that is: you have to have a website and it has to be easy to find information on: worship times, nursery times, parking and directions. It should be no more than one click to this information.
Did you know that visitors to a church often decide within the first 11 minutes whether or not they’ll visit a second time? It’s true. Our parents told us that first impressions are important, and it turns out the same are true for our churches.
Carolyn M. Chilton