As you gear up to welcome visitors to your church for Back to Church Sunday and other fall events, consider how your church can greet them, and make them feel comfortable and welcome so they will want to return.
And while we all would like to think we’re good at assimilation, it’s easy to fall back on old habits or forget that the church world can seem strange to people who didn’t grow up in the culture. So consider these 5 Visitor “Don’ts” as you plan your ministry year:
#1 – Don’t make a spectacle out of your new guests.
Guests don’t want to stand out in the crowd so don’t make them feel awkward by putting them in the spotlight. It may seem innocent but don’t make them stand up and wave, give them a special “I’m New” name tag, or make them carry around the “secret” gift bag.
Instead, greeters at your front door should welcome church visitors with a friendly hand shake and guide them around your building. During the message, the pastor should extend a warm welcome and invite guests to pick up a visitor gift or meet a staff member after the service ends if they have questions. Let visitors discover how friendly and warm your church is without shining a huge spotlight that will make them feel uncomfortable.
#2 – Don’t use awkward church lingo.
Guests to your church are already intimidated enough just walking through the doors of your church. Hearing strange Christian expressions is a sure signal that they “don’t fit in”, and often we don’t even realize the words we are using will sound strange to an outside ear.
Think about it…for people who don’t attend church, some of the regular things that happen on Sunday are strange enough: Where else do you go, stand around and sing together for 20 minutes? Or where else will you be served tiny bits of cracker and itsy cups of juice? It all makes sense and has beauty and significance to us, but don’t add to the strangeness of it by ‘giving a praise offering’ afterward.
Instead, try to use everyday language to talk about spiritual things, for example, encourage people to change their ways and follow God instead of “repent”. But if you do use language like “Born Again” “Lord’s Supper” and “Spiritual Gifts” be sure to explain the meanings so newcomers don’t feel confused or left out but instead, learn more about the tenets of our faith .
#3 – Don’t Make Your Children’s Area Scary for Parents.
Don’t decide that Back to Church Sunday is the perfect Sunday to have your cousin, who moonlights as a clown, show up as Mr. Purple Pockets and greet all of the children.
Instead, prepare your children’s area to receive new families by keeping the area clean, and having fun, playful decorations and signs. Train your volunteers to answer hesitant parent’s fears about safety, security and allergen-free snacks. Happy children who have fun at church leads to families who attend more regularly.
#4 – Don’t launch a capital campaign or hard sell the offering.
A lot of unchurched people think that churches just want money from their members. When you know you are having a lot of visitors, don’t reinforce that stereotype by taking more than one offering or lecturing on the spiritual gift of poverty.
Instead, talk about the gifts God has given us and then emulate Him by blessing your visitors with a free gift book, coupons to a local restaurant or coffee shop, or an invitation to an upcoming lunch or event with the staff where they can find out more about your ministries.
#5 – Don’t bore your visitors.
Back to Church Sunday is not a good day to launch a new sermon series on the Levitical Laws of Ancient Israel (or show endless slides of Elder Bob’s latest trip to the Holy Land). Instead begin a series that talks about the beauty and power of coming together as a community in Christ. Try to send visitors home with relevant truths that can help them in the week ahead and then be sure to invite visitors to the following week’s sermon to learn more.
Bonus Tip – Ditch the sock puppets and flannel graphs and anything else that says your church is lost in the 1990’s – instead show compelling videos that will grab and keep your audience’s attention.