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Ways To Make Guests Feel Welcome In Your Church

While I was in college, a local church offered me a hospitality internship. My goal was to attract new guests, create a welcoming environment, and develop a process that ultimately leads guests into membership.

Easy, I thought. I'm studying hospitality management and marketing…how hard could this be?

Sweet, naïve Lindsey.

My confidence was quickly shaken as I realized how hard it is to change an entire church culture. 
I struggled for an entire semester, pushing and pulling and fighting against antiquated ideas of hospitality.

But I can assure you that creating a welcoming church is a challenge that is well worth the effort. Making a positive first impression encourages guests to return next week. The more second and third-time guests, the more likely your church is to see long-lasting growth.

To save you from enduring some of the pain I've experienced, I present my top ways to make church guests feel more welcome:

Be Authentic 

There's nothing more welcoming than authenticity. People crave genuineness, especially while church hunting. So, when you cultivate a church environment that lets people express their doubts, their fears, and their mistakes, you're giving them the freedom to be themselves! They can sit back, relax, and really take in their experience.

By creating this authentic environment, you'll automatically start attracting people who are meant to be a part of your congregation—people who feel like they belong in your church culture—and I guarantee your church will greatly benefit from their time and talents.

On the other hand, if your church is relentlessly striving to project an image of perfection, you're going to unintentionally create surface-level relationships. That's a huge turn-off for most church hunters! So do your best to be true to who you are - mistakes, fears, and doubts included!

Have a Joyful Greeter 
This may seem old-fashioned, but having a greeter at each door is an easy way to welcome guests. It immediately gives visitors a personal connection with a member of your church. Even if they go the rest of the service without speaking with anyone else, they'll remember the pleasant interaction with your greeter.

Having greeters also benefits your church! With welcoming volunteers in place, you'll have a low-pressure, one-on-one touch point with guests every single week. That's invaluable to building relationships!

But don't just let anyone man the doors. Seek out church members who love meeting new people, are exceptionally joyful, and have a strong knowledge base of your church mission and programs. These are the greeters that help make a lasting impression and keep guests coming back for more.

Create Community 
So many churches aim to create an experience: people come in, grab a cup of fancy coffee, watch cinematic-quality video announcements, worship to a light-show and fog, hear a preacher talk to hundreds or thousands of people, and then walk out the door without acknowledging anyone else.

Now, don't misunderstand me; I believe God is working through the worship and the message.

The only problem is that these movie theater-type experiences don't welcome guests. I mean, when was the last time you left the movie theater feeling like you really connected with someone new?

So instead of focusing on crafting the perfect experience, shift your focus to creating a community within your church and let the experience flow from that. It will be far more inviting to your guests if they know that they're walking into a community, not a show.

Pay Attention to the Small Details 
When making your church more welcoming, one of the biggest things you can do is pay attention to the small things.

Offer free tea and coffee, ensure that your seats are comfortable, and always spring for the nicer toilet paper.

While it seems silly that something as simple as quilted TP makes a noticeable difference, keep in mind that we serve a big God who cares enough to count the number of hairs on our head. Your church is lavishing people in a way that exemplifies God's character. Who doesn't feel appreciated when someone goes out of their way to bless us?

When you're putting your best foot forward, even in the tiniest ways, it communicates to your guests how deeply your hospitality runs.

Signs, Signs, Signs! 
Do you know what the best part of great signage is? It’s the way in which you give your guests the opportunity to be self-sufficient.

Long gone are the days of guests wandering around the church building, wide-eyed and timid as they try to find their way. Clear and well-placed signs are here to save the day!

Bathrooms? Check! Children’s Ministry drop off? Check! Coffee and donuts? Check and check!

You've empowered your visitors to make it through an entire church service on their own. If they want someone to know they're a guest, they can simply follow the signs to the welcome table! Guests who want to lay low and soak in the true community of your church without everyone knowing they're new are given the opportunity to do so.

Think About Your Service Through Your Guests' Eyes 
There are many things in a church service that are routine for members, but completely foreign to guests. Keep in mind, not everyone comes from the same church background (if they even come from a church background at all).

Let's take the most common example: communion. In some churches, people come forward to receive the Eucharist, while other churches pass around the elements. Some churches only allow members to take communion, while others are open to all believers.

While this is just one example, there are many other aspects of a service that need to be explained to guests.

Does everyone stand at a certain point? Is there a unified response from the congregation? Do you all read the scripture aloud together? These are things that guests won't automatically know.

The fix? Simply explain in the program or provide a brief explanation before beginning any potentially unclear activity.

Cultivate a Happy Congregation 
Have you ever gone to a friend's house for a dinner that turned out to be incredibly tense? No one was mentioning it, but it was completely obvious that they had gotten into a family fight right before you rang the doorbell. Awkward!

It's not too different if there's an underlying problem with gossip or discontentment in your church, even if no one is talking about it. Your visitors will feel the same tense feeling.

Now think about the best dinner party you've ever attended. You walked through the door and immediately felt like a member of the family. It was warm and welcoming

Your church can create that joyful atmosphere by simply having happy members. No, every single member won't be happy and it's in no way church leaders' responsibility to people-please. But pastors can help set the tone by leading with an example of thankfulness and gratitude.

Have a Pastor Acknowledge Guests 
"Oh! Our church does this really well. We make our guests wear name tags and ribbons and we make them stand up during the service so we can all clap for them!"

No, no, no!

The goal is to let guests know that they're welcome at your church, not to gawk at them in front of the congregation.

Ideally, the pastor will see a new person and make an introduction; in fact, this is how I found my first church home in Colorado. The associate pastor came over and introduced himself on my first visit, and I immediately felt a sense of belonging.

While this is great, it's not always realistic depending on congregation size and pastor availability. But the pastor should at least take a moment during the announcements to welcome guests and point out where more information is available.

[written by Lindsey VanSparrentak