It can be a daunting task to welcome visitors at church. You want every person who comes through your doors to feel comfortable, even if it’s their first time to step foot in a church.
Whether you’re a brand new church plant or have been around for generations, every church needs to focus on the guest experience. Churches should have a safe, friendly atmosphere that makes people eager to return the following weekend.
These seven tips will help you welcome guests and provide a stellar experience from start to finish. But first, let’s talk about the right balance when it comes to welcoming visitors at church.
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Table of contents
- Find the Right Balance When You Welcome Visitors to Church
- 1. A Strong Digital Presence
- 2. A Friendly Atmosphere to Welcome Visitors at Church
- 3. Safe and Engaging Kids Ministry
- 4. Clear & Relatable Messages
- 5. Personable Pastors
- 6. Authentic Worship
- 7. Post-Service Follow Up
- How Can you Better Welcome Visitors at Church?
Find the Right Balance When You Welcome Visitors to Church
I don’t know about you, but I avoid certain stores because I know that I’ll be bombarded by a salesperson every other minute while I’m there. Although they’re asking me if I need anything (which seems helpful), I feel distracted and pressured, and it makes me want to run for the door!
As a church, you want to ensure guests can easily determine what to do, where to go, and who to ask for help. But, at the same time, you want to give people some space to breathe!
From a guest’s perspective, a church can be an intimidating place. Unfortunately, there are two extremes churches can fall into when it comes to the first-time guest experience.
The first extreme is being too over the top in highlighting your new guests. This can make them feel overly exposed, like a giant spotlight is on them. While some people might love that attention, it can be a nightmare for guests on the introverted side.
Guests sometimes want the opportunity to check out a church a few times without any pressure to make small talk, give feedback, or immediately sign up for a membership class.
The other extreme is when a church is so “insider-focused” that it no longer thinks from a visitor’s perspective. It may be difficult for a new person to navigate your service experience when this is the case.
Church members may be so focused on getting to their seats that they’re oblivious to guests who need help. Or, they’re too busy catching up with their friends and don’t pick up on the fact that newer attendees are hoping to connect with someone.
First-Time Guest Lens
Your church has the responsibility to view the church through the lens of a first-time visitor. That’s important whether you’re welcoming someone brand new to church or a long-time churchgoer who is new to the area.
Do you regularly review your guest experience and focus on ways to welcome visitors at church?
Five of the factors listed below are from a study by Faith Perceptions. This organization has cataloged the experience of mystery visits to over 10,000 worship services and their data collection highlights the most significant factors determining whether a visitor will return to a church.
Get ready to dig in and think about how your church measures up against these seven key impressions.
1. A Strong Digital Presence
Your church’s digital presence is now the front door of your church. Before people ever step foot in a building, they’re going to check out your website, social media, and probably watch a few online sermons.
Your website and social posts should reflect a friendly and welcoming culture.
Try to use authentic photos and videos (versus stock footage) as much as possible in your digital media. What happens if guests come in and find themselves in a completely different environment than what they saw online? When that’s the case, your church can feel inauthentic.
On a practical note, make sure your service times and info are prominently displayed on your social media bios and website. Also, many churches include a “Plan Your Visit” page on their website.
Some things you can include on a “Plan Your Visit” or “What to Expect” page:
- Address and directions
- Schedule of services and events
- Parking Info
- What to wear
- Kids and youth ministry details
- General overview of the service flow
- Contact form for questions
2. A Friendly Atmosphere to Welcome Visitors at Church
People should have a consistent, welcoming experience from the parking lot to the auditorium. That’s why it’s important to have friendly volunteers at every stage who can offer a hand and introduce themselves.
Logistical flow matters. For example, clear signage, sufficient parking, and smiling volunteers available to offer direction are all factors that can reduce visitor stress and frustration.
Furthermore, you can designate specific parking spots, check-in lines, and seating for new visitors.
For one, this will help first-timers who are running late or have extra steps like dropping their children in kids ministry for the first time. This forethought and attention to detail also send a message: you’re not just open to new visitors coming to your church – you are eagerly anticipating them.
When it comes to creating a friendly atmosphere, nothing beats a smiling face. Don’t underestimate the power of personal touch. No, it doesn’t have to be physical touch. However, welcoming visitors with a smile and eye contact is the easiest and most impactful thing you can do to set them at ease on their first visit.
3. Safe and Engaging Kids Ministry
If this is a parent’s first time coming to your church, they want reassurance that their kids will be safe and cared for. After all, they’re trusting you with some very precious cargo.
Your children’s ministry needs to be proactive to build and maintain that trust. You can set parents’ minds at ease by communicating well before and after service, prominently displaying safety policies, and ensuring you have an adequate number of volunteers.
Kids ministry should be an extension of your mission and values, so make sure the language and environment are congruent with your brand. Although there may be colorful, age-appropriate adaptations when it comes to look and feel, you want the same quality and consistency of experience from adult ministries to the nursery.
Parents are looking for more than a babysitting service. They expect high-quality, engaging programming that will build a foundation of faith for their children.
And remember, this isn’t about putting on a good face for parents at drop-off and pick-up. It’s truly a privilege to help kids grow in their faith. Kids are never too young to hear the good news of the gospel, experience the love of Jesus, and learn biblical truth that shapes their worldview at a pivotal age.
When parents pick up their kiddos, they’re going to ask questions such as:
- How did it go?
- Did you have fun?
- What did you learn?
- Were the teachers nice?
If the little ones have a terrible time in kids ministry and dread going back, that can derail the entire family from attending church. Kids ministry needs to be something parents feel good about and kids want to return to week after week!
4. Clear & Relatable Messages
Everyone has questions about faith and is in a different place on their spiritual journey. When you’re looking out across the crowd, you could have someone who is brand new to the Bible and church culture sitting next to a person who has a Master’s in theology.
Church visitors may be apprehensive about a few things when it comes to sermons, such as:
- Being preached at
- Being made to feel guilty or condemned
- Long-winded, rambling messages that are difficult to follow
- Boring messages that are too abstract or scholarly
It’s true, there’s always an exception. For each of those points above, you can find someone who says, “No, I love that kind of sermon, it gets me fired up!” You can’t please all the people all the time, but you can focus on what the majority of people are searching for.
What kind of messages help you welcome new visitors at church?
It should be more than a motivational pep talk – people come to church to hear teaching that is biblically and theologically sound. However, consider that everyone wants a message they can understand, relate to, and apply to their personal lives.
Pastors should remember that new guests may not be familiar with Christian jargon or Bible stories. Instead of making assumptions, take the time to explain those concepts and stories. Use language that people can relate to and understand, and give them a takeaway that will stick with them throughout their week.
5. Personable Pastors
According to the Faith Perceptions study, a personable pastor was one of the most significant factors influencing whether someone would return to a church. To be clear, people aren’t looking for a celebrity figure with a magnetic personality and huge following.
Instead, they’re looking for a shepherd who is approachable and genuine.
Some simple ways pastors can cultivate their connection with new guests include:
- Making themselves available for prayer or questions after service
- Filming a welcome video or sending an email to new visitors with their personal signature
- Having a social media presence
An authentic social media presence doesn’t mean you have to share a full-length devotional each morning or a picture of your lunch every day. However, having social media accounts has become an expectation in today’s society and can be a way for people to connect with pastors on a more personal level. People appreciate seeing the everyday, human side of their leader.
6. Authentic Worship
Worship is more than singing. Worship is about a deep reverence and honor for God; the literal definition means to “bow down” and it’s described as both an attitude and act.
Knowing that definition will help you understand what visitors are seeking. Based on “mystery shopper” feedback, the style of music isn’t the most critical factor for visitors. Whether you’re singing contemporary hits or traditional hymns, visitors are looking to see if the congregation is engaged.
Musical quality is also a key factor, but most importantly people are looking for worship leaders who are sincere. Visitors want to see that people on stage and in the congregation actually believe and are committed to worship, not staring at their phones or going through the motions.
In the modern church context, when we refer to praise and worship, we’re talking about the time in the service when we sing. But remember that worship is about the posture of the heart. Actions that display worship do include music and singing, but also giving, prayer, baptism, communion, and celebrating the word of God.
7. Post-Service Follow Up
What happens after service will inspire visitors to return. A well-planned follow-up strategy can be a great way to get new visitors engaged and come back for more.
A few ideas of what you might include:
- Have pastors or volunteers available after service to connect with people.
- Offer a follow-up book or webinar on the sermon topic and encourage people to check it out.
- Give them an easy way to stay connected with your church with an email newsletter.
- Connect with them on social media to encourage their participation in your online community.
- If you collect emails be sure to send post-sermon materials out within 48 hours, and a next step to stay connected.
In the event someone has a bad experience while visiting your church, having a follow-up process can help you gain a second chance. Gathering feedback will also help you understand where you have gaps in your welcome process.
How Can you Better Welcome Visitors at Church?
Consider how you can make church feel like a home with open doors. We hope you found these tips valuable for making it a priority to welcome visitors at church. Remember, one of the most vital parts of welcoming someone is taking a personal interest in them – finding out who they are and how to help serve them better.
If you have any other comments or insights about this topic, we would love to hear from you! Please share your thoughts below!
Great advice. I wonder how long a sermon should be or a personal web message. Our pastor send a personal message on web every week but he is into so much detail it gets longer than I care to read. My time for small talk is limited. A sermon can be too long if it makes some go to sleep with too much repetition or details.