“Are the church people judging me for not being a Christian?” “Are they staring at me because I’m the only person sitting alone?” “What if I’m the only young/non-American/divorced/unemployed person here?”
It’s normal to be nervous about going to a new church for the first time—but if your church makes visitors so uncomfortable that it stops them from coming back, you have a problem. As your church prepares for more visitors than usual on Easter, here are some questions your church can ask itself to evaluate if it is welcoming and some strategies for making better connections with visitors.
At the end, download a free Easter welcome kit for written materials your church can use to help visitors feel valued.
Ask: When our church staff greets visitors, what is the quality of those conversations?
Try this: During your next staff or elder’s meeting, randomly select the names of five people who have recently visited your church. Then for each person on the list, see if someone in the meeting can say something they learned about him or her. If there are several people on the list whom no one in the room knows anything about, your church staff may not be having meaningful conversations with visitors.
What can your church do? The next time you greet a visitor, ask questions that are specific or require longer than one-word answers. Here are some questions you could ask:
- What’s your name?
- Are you from around here?
- What brings you into town?
- How did you find our church?
- What brought you here today?
- How can our church help you?
A meaningful interaction consists of much more than “Good morning! (handshake) Have a blessed week!” Of course, be careful to not get too personal and cause a visitor to feel uncomfortable. Also, some people may not want a deeper relationship because they are in town just to visit family for the weekend. But whether someone is a one-time visitor or is thinking of becoming a member, showing visitors that you are interested in what happens in their lives will mean a lot to them, and it will help them feel valued at your church.
Ask: Are visitors usually left by themselves, or do members of the congregation talk to or sit with them?
Even shy visitors don’t like being ignored. If you notice visitors always sitting by themselves, rarely having conversations, or maybe never making eye contact with anyone, your members may not be engaging with them in the best way.
What can your church do? It may be helpful to designate outgoing members of your congregation as greeters, but some visitors may feel overwhelmed by that. Instead, find a member of the congregation whom you think a visitor may feel comfortable around. Ask the member if he or she would be willing to say hi to the visitor, and encourage the member to sit with the visitor.
The church is about relationships—with God and one another. Truly caring relationships with other people are the most important element in helping individuals feel valued and welcomed into the church community.
Ask: How accepting are our members of people who are different from them?
How do your members speak about people who are different from them when those people aren’t there? Are they kind and thoughtful, or are they harsh and quick to draw judgments? If the latter, visitors may feel like outsiders, and they won’t want to come back.
What can your church do? A couple weeks before Easter, hold a Bible study session in which you teach about Christianity in other cultures around the world. Or ask someone who has gone on a mission trip to present about the trip and how he or she grew from it. Or, if possible, invite a group of people into your church whom your members may feel resistant toward and ask them to give a brief presentation about their culture and faith.
When you engage your members in activities like this, you’ll teach them that Christianity does not equate to a certain nationality, political affiliation, economic status, or social group. You’ll also teach them that God values those “different” people as much as He values your church’s members. When your members see the humanity in people who are different, they may start to view those people with more tender hearts. Then when new people visit the church, your members may be warmer and more welcoming.
If there’s one thing to remember from all of this, it’s to view visitors as people and to make real, personal connections with them. This is how God is with us: He meets us where we’re at, He loves us, and He cares about each of us individually. When you treat visitors this way, you truly extend Jesus’ love to them.