I have been attending church since before I could walk. Yet even as a lifelong church attender I have felt a degree of nervousness when visiting a new church. Like any other church guest, I will ask myself a series of questions before attending: What will the people be like? Where do we park? How long is the service? Where do my kids go? Will I be welcome at this church?
In a healthy church, these questions will be addressed ahead of time, and welcoming others will be more of ‘who we are’ than ‘something we do’. As our society grows increasingly polarized and angry, church should be a place that stands out as different, a place where others are welcomed and wanted. As we seek to reflect Christ in all we do, this will be an inevitable result. These ten ideas are just a few ways we can successfully welcome others to our churches.
1. Build an excellent web presence
If we have learned anything in 2020, it is that the internet is an effective tool for ministry, and it is one we must learn to use well. Church is no longer relegated to a building but can be accessible to anyone anywhere. Most of our viewers will be those in our communities who have been invited to watch by our members via some sort of social media. Be active on social media, be inviting and people will notice. All of your small efforts in these areas will add up to help you say “welcome to our church!”
2. Think like a guest
Does your church make sense to someone who has never been there? Is there a clear ‘flow’ to how things work? Do people know where to park? Is it obvious where to enter the building? Are the restrooms clearly labeled? These are questions we often take for granted, but they can mean everything to a guest checking things out for the first time.
3. Design events with guests in mind
We often design Sunday mornings, and church events in general, for our current church attenders. We don’t mind if visitors show up, but we don’t plan with them in mind. We are most effective and welcoming when we think ahead and design events to include and make sense to those who are visiting, and not just for ourselves.
4. Assume your guests know nothing about you
Someone walking into a church for the first time may not know what it is all about. They may not know our songs, may not own a Bible and may not know what ‘Sunday School’ means. It is more welcoming when we speak in an understandable way and avoid ‘churchy’ words to describe what we do and who we are.
5. Actively live a life of hospitality
Welcoming others to church often starts by welcoming others to our homes and looking for opportunities to be welcoming in everyday situations. How often do we spend time with our neighbors? How do we speak to those we encounter in public? When we are encouraged to be kind and welcoming people in general, it will not be a huge leap to be kind and welcoming to those who visit our church, and easier to invite people to our church.
6. Lead with love
It is heartbreaking that so many people feel uncomfortable and unwelcome in church, because they are often made to feel that way by the church. It is not unusual to hear stories of people who ‘gave up’ on church because of how they have been treated, or how friends and family have been treated. Let’s be honest: in our churches we can find some of the kindest, most welcoming, people right alongside some of the most thoughtless and cruel people. We have all heard horrible stories of lifelong church members saying things to people that send them away from church forever. Decide to be different! Set an example and seek to create a culture of kindness.
7. Let kids be kids
Jesus said, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14).
As a father of five, finding a church that welcomes children in services and encourages families to worship together has always been important to me. Age appropriate Sunday schools and small groups have value, but a welcoming church will also offer equal opportunities for families to worship together, especially on Sunday mornings. Don’t complain about children making noise in church. Embrace the fact that a family is willing to be in your service together.
8. Train your church to be welcoming
Inviting a non-churched friend to church can be a frightening scenario. There are a lot of people in our congregations who love their church but are afraid to invite a friend who may or may not love it. We often worry that they might even have a horrible experience, which can negatively impact our friendship and turn them off to Christ permanently. This leads to church people simply not inviting others.
If each member knows how to be welcoming, knows that our church expects us to be welcoming, knows the process of how others are welcomed, then we will all be more inclined to invite others. If we have confidence that our friends will be greeted with a smile, will be treated kindly, can easily find their way around, and will actually enjoy the experience, we will see many more people invited to church, finding a rare place of kindness in the world, and coming back for more.
9. Emphasize meaningful follow up
How many times have you been to a church and never heard from them again? It happens too often. Following up regularly by a handwritten note, and free gift of some sort, and an invitation to get involved go a long way towards making people feel welcome and wanted at church.
10. Entertain without being entertainers
When we invite people over for dinner, we are technically ‘entertaining guests’. We clean our home, make sure there is a meal ready, plan some games, and generally create an environment where everyone can be themselves and enjoy one another’s company.
Why should church be any different?
We can fall into the danger of trying to have the best music, the best projectors, the shiniest everything, and fall short of the things that truly attracts people to church and invites them to come back – authenticity and living like Jesus! What makes a church different from any other place in the world is that it is supposed to be a gathering of people who have been saved by grace, who live out the love of Christ, who are confident and secure that no matter what circumstances the world presents, we have overcome the world. This is what draws us in and will draw others.