Church is getting back to normal around here. It’s great to see. Many pastors are reporting near record attendance, and many are commenting on how many new people they’re seeing. Many of these new people are not new to church. Some of them have another church in town, but their church is still not open. Others are using the opportunity of their prolonged absence from church to see what other churches are like. Still others have been reminded just how fragile life is and they’re looking for a faith community and answers. Regardless of the reason why new people are visiting your church, I hope you’re doing all you can to make them feel welcome. Strangely, there is a science to that welcoming process. Some churches do it very well. Other churches haven’t quite gotten it figured out yet.
To help you think through what you’re doing and what you need to be doing, here is some really great guidance from Matt Tullos. Matt is the Assistant to Tennessee Baptist Convention Executive Director Randy Davis. His article was published in the April 7 edition of the state convention’s paper, the Baptist and Reflector. Here are some very important questions Matt says you should be asking yourself as you try to make guests feel welcome:
- How cluttered is your space? It’s so easy to overlook the useless items laying around your church. Whether it is a Christmas tree in late February unsuccessfully hidden behind a fundraising display that ended two weeks ago or a number of bulletins from past Sundays on your pews ready and willing to confuse the members and visitors alike, take a look around and cut out the clutter.
- Who’s the first person they will encounter? You can’t overestimate first impressions. So, be purposeful about your greeting strategy. Make sure that you train your greeters. They must be focused on spotting new people and making them feel at home. By the way, if the first person who speaks to them is the pastor in his sermon, the first-time guest will not be back.
- What will you give them? Your first-time guests should never leave the building empty handed. Find something with value to give them. Ideas might include, a jar of jam, a coffee cup or anything else that works in the context of your culture.
- How does your church smell (really)? I remember a line from a movie a few years back where a teenager commented on a friend’s house: “Her whole house smells like soup.” This was not a compliment. Did you know that the sense of smell has a longer brain shelf-life than any other of the five senses? Think about the smells you remember from your childhood. So, if your church smells musty, funky, or like your grandmother’s mothball clothes closet, you might want to have a meeting about it.
- Do you have a plan to get their information in a non-invasive way? Find a way to connect through an information card that you invite them to turn in at the welcome center or in the offering plate. Ask what kind of information they want to receive and how they want to receive it. Insure them that you’ll protect their privacy with the information they give you. But don’t ask for information if you are unwilling to follow-up with them.
- Does your church know the drill? Welcoming is an everybody thing. Find opportunities other than a worship service to inform people about the welcoming plan and invite them to join you in the strategy.
- Must they meet your expectations? Are there some unwritten rules in your church such as dress, ethnicity, tattoos, hairstyle, car model and year? If these rules exist, growth for your church will not only be difficult but heretical. Don’t expect people to fit your cookie cutter. Jesus never did, and to do so would place you in contradiction to the Great Commission. Here’s our rule for clothes: wear them.
- Can they understand you? Every church has a lexicon of religious terms or phrases. Make sure you speak clearly and stay away from useless religiosity. In other words, be real.
- What’s the follow-up plan? If you don’t know it, you don’t have one. There are plenty to choose from and there are lots of resources to use for training, but you must have a plan that works for your church.
- Have you prayed for connections? Chance encounters don’t just happen at church. We pray them into existence. As deacons, pray for opportune times to connect and get beyond the, “Glad to see ya!” level of interaction.
- Will they know what you’re about? At the very minimum someone should say something about the church’s vision, value, or mission during worship. It doesn’t have to be a power-driven, visioneering keynote, just a simple statement that reflects why your church exists. Example: “If you are visiting with us, we are honored that you are here. We love God and we love people. So you make today awesome.”
- Does your church have a plan for kids? There has never been a generation that values childcare more than this one. Parents value safety and great experiences for their children. By great experiences I don’t mean a life-sized Veggie Tales character and having a super-slide. I mean two leaders in every room who love kids and want to be there. If you don’t have that, the visiting family will be one and done at your church.
- Are there needless cringe factors? I went in the Sunday School class and it mainly sounded like a gossip group. (Cringe!) You can think of a bunch of other cringe-worthy moments. Intentional churches are standard bearers and protectors from cringe.
- Do your people love people? You know it’s true. Some churches don’t want to grow because, frankly, they don’t love people. Churches that want to grow have this crazy love for people. And it’s not even like they have taste. They love everybody! And isn’t that the kind of church that could reach anybody? Isn’t that a family worth joining?
Once you’ve answered these questions, you should have a good handle on how you’re doing and what you need to work on. If you would like some assistance improving anything to make the welcoming experience more welcoming, please reach out to your MTSBC staff. We’ll be glad to help in any way we can.