I recently came across this article from Ministry Matters called Welcoming Visitors without Scaring them Away that lifted up an important principle in creating a welcoming environment in local church for guests: there is a thin line between providing a great welcome and offering radically hospitality and mauling first and second time guests so they never want to come back because they think you are weird!
There has recently been renewed emphasis on welcoming guests to worship and other events at the church. From parking lot greeters to websites that answer critical questions the guest is asking, many churches have come a long way in offering radical hospitality. But there is a danger in offering such hospitality that we go overboard to the point where we maul our guests.
I have experienced this at smaller churches including ones where I have served as a pastor. A new person comes and some of the people are so excited that they just can’t contain themselves and run over and warmly welcome the new person. This would be great if it ended there. But often it doesn’t. The well meaning member then grills the new person with 20 questions or forces them to sign the church guest book (does any church still think they can successfully gain guest information for follow up with a guestbook!?!). The well meaning member then says something like “you are the first new person in a year and a half and we are so excited!” Or, “we love new families with children because we need more parents to help staff our Sunday School and Nursery.” Nine times out of ten the new person doesn’t come back.
Here are three suggestions for staying on the right side of welcome and away from mauling:
- Smile, speak and leave them alone. Do indeed smile at the guests, share a word of welcome, and maybe even chit chat for a minute but don’t interrogate. Read their body language and the quality of their interaction with you as to whether they want to be left alone or engaged in conversation.
- Always make a point of welcoming guests publicly without singling them out. Always give them permission to sign or not sign the pew pad or communication card providing the information they are comfortable sharing. If they want follow up they will give you permission by leaving their contact info. If they don’t leave their contact info don’t go searching for it on a check or taking hair samples from the pew they were sitting in and running the DNA in the church guest database maintained by your apportionment dollars.
- If you do use volunteer greeters use the ones that have some people skills and can read a guest and the level of welcome the guest might desire. It is not always easy. Sometimes though you just have to redirect the well meaning persons who end up mauling guests.
I truly believe that every guest that comes through the door is a gift from God. Choosing to welcome instead of mauling them then becomes an issue of stewardship.
Christmas Eve will soon be here and most churches have made their preparations. Here are three quick things you can do to make this evening even more special for your guests and regular attendees by creating an environment that is welcoming and memorable and puts persons in a position to receive the good news of Jesus this Christmas. These ideas have to do with the entrance of the church.
- Consider using luminaries. Luminaries are always a great touch, have great effect and are easy to do. Get those small white bags at a party store, get some tea lite candles and some sand or cat litter. Fill the bags with sand, put in the tea light, light your candles and arrange your bags up the walk to your church, along the drive or on your steps.
- Have some music playing as people approach the church and as they gather in the gathering space outside of the worship space. This is as simple as setting up your phone and connecting to speakers or getting one of those relic things called a CD player and playing it as people enter. The music doesn’t need to be too loud. It should leave room for conversation.
- Continue this multi-sensory experience with a scented candle. Pine scent, apple pie or cookie dough are all great scents that make people feel “at home.” Obviously this needs to go in a safe place and persons’ allergies considered, however, it is a short time in a limited space. Like the music, less is more when it comes to the candles.
All three of these ideas are some simple last minute ways to create a more welcome environment. It goes without saying that all this is for naught without a great greeting team and other efforts by the church to be welcoming.
What ways is your church creating a welcoming environment this Christmas Eve?
There are a thousand and one different things the church tries to get people to sign up for: new Bible studies, help with the nursery, the senior high youth trip, the mission team to Haiti and many, many more. Does your church make it easy for people to sign up?
Here is how it happens in most churches.
- An announcement will be made from the pulpit about an event, ministry or program and to sign up one is told to see Mary Jones. The problem with this is not everyone knows Mary Jones and even if you have Mary Jones stand will a person be able to find Mary after the service?
- Or an announcement is made from the pulpit or printed in the bulletin directing people to sign up for something using the sign up sheet located on the table by the men’s room down the children’s wing. The problem with this is obvious, one has to go through the trouble to go and find this table that is hidden like a needle in a hay stack.
- Then there is the always ubiquitous “call the church office to sign up.” Again, even if one remembers to call the church office they have to go through the extra step of picking up the phone to call after googling the church number.
The problem with all these ways to get people to sign up is that they require too much effort. In the church, we use these ways and then we wonder why no one signs up.
There is a better solution. Have a sign up sheet that is part of your weekly bulletin/ worship program. I have used this with great success in the past. We called our the “Mother of All Sign Up Sheets.” It was printed on an 8 1/2″ by 11″ sheet and cut into three strips with a front and back making three sign up sheets per one piece of paper. On the front were events, ministries and programs that changed on a regular basis. On the back were entry level serving positions that stayed the same. These were put in the worship program/ bulletin every Sunday and when announcements were made asking people to sign up or items were printed asking people to sign up persons were directed to and learned to use the Mother of All Sign Up Sheets. Here were the advantages.
- There was no delay between a person hearing an appeal and then responding. The sign up sheet allowed for a top of mind response. Someone would decide to participate, mark the activity and put their name, and put it in the offering plate. There was no doing it later and thus no opportunity to forget.
- It was easy. No phone call. No email. No going to a website to sign up. Right there, right then.
- Often times persons would sign up to serve within or outside the church. It was appropriate then to put these sign up sheets in the offering plate as a sign of service.
- The sign up sheet was a one stop place to sign up for all activities. No more going to different places.
- It was adaptable.
- It was an easy way for new people to get connected to an entry level ministry. No one had to call or approach someone to express an interest in serving.
Of course it is necessary to ensure follow up contact with persons who sign up. These sign up sheets will need to be compiled and results sent to various organizer or ministry team leaders.
What have you seen work well to make it easy people to sign up for events, programs and ministries?
A few days ago I wrote about some ways to get guests connected in the life of the church. One of the surest ways to do that if you offer small groups (whether they be Sunday School classes or groups that meet during the week on or off campus) is to start new groups.
It is human nature that people do not want to join an existing group, but would rather join a brand new group. If you have a Sunday School and it is not growing then you might want to start some new classes. If your small group ministry has stagnated then start some new groups.
You will of course have to advertise these groups. One of the ways to do this is to hold a Small Group Expo where persons can come to a designated place after worship to gather information about current and new groups. You might also have a description of your groups online with a link to a form to request more information. Among many of the other important facets of small group ministry, it will be important for the leadership to be either leading or participating in group life.
One great way to do groups is to do them on a semester basis. Here you have groups who meet in the fall, winter and spring (and summer if they choose). These groups then have a life cycle and might be encouraged, if a study group, to choose materials that roughly correspond with the 12 weeks or so of a semester. Persons are familiar with the semester concept and it makes sense to them. You might hold your small group expos to coincide with your semester changes.
What ways have you had success in getting persons connected through small groups?
When new persons come once, twice and three times to our churches it is important to help them find ways to connect to the church in a meaningful way. This might happen through a connection with someone they meet or a connection to a volunteer ministry. However someone is connected is not the point, the point is to offer multiple avenues of connection and not just leave it to chance. God has worked to bring this new person to the church and the church has an obligation to welcome and connect this person God has brought.
Here are three ways to help connect the first, second or third time guest.
1. Make it easy for the guest to sign up to be involved in an entry level volunteer ministry or small group. There are a number of volunteer ministry positions persons can get connected to even if they have not been attending for very long. This might be a behind the scenes ministry or if properly trained something like a greeter. Likewise, it is important that the church have a listing of the groups it offers for new people to get connected and an easy way to sign up or get more info. These volunteer ministry opportunities and small groups might be conveyed in a welcome packet or by letter to a third time guest. The point is to offer these connections.
2. Utilize what is called a “connector” in your welcome ministry. The connector serves as a super greeter of sorts and must be adept at spotting new persons and not be afraid to ask them if they are guest. The connector then ensures that the persons know where childcare is and where restrooms are located escorting the guests to childcare if need be. When it is time to for the persons to sit the connector hands off the new guests to a regular attendee who has affinity with the guest. If the guest is a senior citizen they are handed off to an older attendee. If it is a young family they are handed off to another young family. As the hand off occurs the connector introduces the guests to the regular attendees. This of course presumes that the regular attendee who receives the guests will practice great Christian hospitality.
3. Offer some type of newcomers get together. This might be a newcomers or get to know the church class or it might be a coffee or pizza with the pastor event. Whatever it is offer something so the guests can spend time in a smaller group with the pastor.
With multiple opportunities and funnels to connect we help persons take the next step in their journey of faith and in their relationship with the church.
What are others ways you have seen churches connect people who have been attending a few Sundays?
I just posted an article to the Articles page of the site that expands upon my post from yesterday. In this article you can learn how to utilize a communication card to gather info from first time guests so the church can provide appropriate follow up. You can download it directly by clicking here or go to the Articles page.
If a church is going to properly follow up with guests at their church who are there for the first or second time it must have a method for collecting information that will help with such follow up. If there is no method for collecting information then it will be difficult to properly acknowledge the guest’s presence and provide great follow up.
I have come across many different methods for capturing guest information.
- Pew Cards- these are small cards located in the back of the pew in front of you that you may or may not be asked to fill out and put in the offering plate. Sometimes there is a golf pencil (usually unsharpened) located near the pew card.
- Pew Pads- these are small pads usually with a blue cover with tear out pages that persons in attendance are asked to pass around and write their names in and pass down the aisle for later pick up during some point in the worship service (usually during the offering).
- Welcome Folder Info Card- some churches will give to guests a welcome to our church folder that has a guest card in the folder that they can then bring to a place to receive a free gift or place in the offering plate.
- My favorite and the one I have utilized with much success is the Communication Card. I got the idea for the Communication Card from @NelsonSearcy and his book Fusion. This small card goes in the worship program and everyone is asked to fill out the card and placed it in the offering plate.
In a later post I will write more about why I think the Communication Card is the most effective means of gathering information in order to follow up with guests.
The most important thing is to have some system of gathering information whether you use pew pads or cards or Communication Cards and that persons are invited to make use of these methods at every worship service. The guests that come through our doors every Sunday are God’s gift. It might be the last time they are giving the church a chance. How we follow up with guests is really a stewardship issue.
Whatever method you use you should allow your guests to worship anonymously. For example, when we used Communication Cards and a guest did not fill one out we took that to mean they did not want to be noticed or followed up with. When they did fill out a card and provided info we took that as permission to follow up.
What methods have worked best in your church for gathering information for effective follow up with guests?
A church that wants to do its best for Jesus and reach persons not yet a part of the church and wishes to move toward vitality and fruitfulness must seek to create a culture of excellence in all facets of ministry. Creating a culture of excellence is not the latest church growth gimmick or even an effort to be “better” than the church down the street.
This new article at ChurchIngenuity.Com explores why the church should bother with excellence, how creating a culture of excellence finds it basis in God’s excellent nature and contrasts two experiences- one with excellence and one with something less than excellent.
Read the article here. Visit the ChurchIngenuity.Com “Articles” page here.
Most every church I know has a time in their worship service when they formally welcome new persons to their church. This is usually done by the worship leader of the day or the pastor and is sometime accompanied by an invitation to fill out a pew pad or a registration card in the pew rack.
While it is a good thing to welcome those new to the church it is important for churches to watch their language when it comes to how it welcomes and refers to those who have come to the church for the first time. Oftentimes, these persons who are coming for the first time are referred to as “visitors.” “Visitors” are welcomed to the church and invited to sign the pew pad. In the worst of all circumstances “visitors” are asked to stand and be recognized.
I have found it more helpful to use the word “guests” as opposed to visitors. The use of the word “guests” to refer to people who are first, second or third time attendees is more than mere semantics or word play.
Let’s use an example from home life.
- The visitor who comes to your door is the one who is coming for a short time for a specific task. This is the insurance salesman. He rings your doorbell and more often than not you grudgingly get up wondering who it is who is bothering you at the door. Once you find out who it is you try your best to get rid of this visitor (politely of course). Or, this is the mail carrier who is dropping off the package that won’t fit in the mailbox. She drops it and goes.
- Contrast these visitors to your home to those who you receive as guests. Guests are the people who are truly important to you. They might be your boss from work coming for dinner. Or, it might be your friend from high school you haven’t seen in years or the parents of your child’s fiance coming to your home. With these folks you are expecting them. They do not come by surprise. You prepare for them. You clean the house and the bathrooms! You might get out your best dishes or find that yummy recipe. You might get some fresh cut flowers. You eagerly await their arrival and warmly greet them when they arrive. You engage them during their time with you and hope they will stay instead of wishing them out the door. When it is time to go you warmly say good bye and thank them for coming.
You can see why in the church we have to treat those who are coming to church for the first time ever, for the first time in a long time, or the first or second or third time for any reason, as guests and not visitors. Like guests in our home we must prepare for their coming, warmly greet them, engage them and thank them for coming.
In the end, do the people who come through our doors really care whether we call them visitors or guests? Probably not. They do care and Jesus cares whether we treat them like guests or visitors, however. Furthermore, by using the terminology of guests it allows for a teachable moment with our leadership and those already a part of our church and serves as a crucial reminder to us to offer radical hospitality to our guests each and every Sunday.
Do you use the term visitors or guests in your church and more importantly do you treat those coming through your doors for the first time as visitors or guests?