Too many people visiting your church? Need to do some things to discourage them from coming back a second time? Be careful: If you do the opposite of even six or seven of the items on this list, you might discover that guests are returning for a second visit. Some will even enroll in your Sunday School or join the church.
To keep that from happening (with tongue firmly in cheek) try a few of these ideas.
1. Make first-time guest parking inconvenient
Welcoming churches have parking spaces close to the main entrance of the building, marked clearly "For First-Time Guests." Some even have a special team of volunteers whose job is to warmly greet first time guests and give them immediate directions, perhaps even providing a map and marking the parking are on it. You can only imagine the positive impression this makes.
2. Use grouchy greeters
A friendly smile and a warm hand-shake at the door go a long way to make guests feel welcome. You could just get rid of greeters altogether, of course. but it is actually more effective to use grouchy greeters. Train them to carry on conversations with other greeters and grunt at people they don't recognize.
3. Forego a Welcome Center
Even a clearly marked table or desk exclusively for guest information can make a really big positive impression.
4. Treat guests like a doctor's office treats new patients!
Ignore the guest for a few minutes. Act like the guest has been there before and knows what to do. Post a lot of signs. And best of all, hand them a clipboard and ask them to fill out some forms!
5. Don't escort guests to their classrooms
Really welcoming churches don't send people to their classrooms. They escort them. A greeter introduces the guest to a class member and asks him to get to know the guests better and introduce them during the class session. Cut out this step if you want guests to feel unwelcome.
6. Make parents question the safety and security of their kids
The door of a preschool or children's Sunday School room may be the most critical place when it comes to making parents - and children - feel welcome. In fact, mess this one up, and you can probably ignore the other nine ideas! Unprepared teachers, lack of information about security, and a general attitude of uncaring will keep returning families to a minimum.
7. Make finding a seat really hard
All members can participate in this one! Don't save any seats at the back of the room or on the aisles. Face chairs away from the door so nobody sees newcomers enter. If you can make a guest come to the front of the room, or crawl over several people to find a seat, you'll almost guarantee they'll feel unwelcome.
8. Have guests stand while everyone else sits
. . . or sit while everyone else stands. I am not sure which of these works better. I almost think the practice of having guests remain seated while everyone around them stands is better if you want to make guests feel unwelcome. It is sort of like being a little baby in a crib surrounded by doting relatives! You can probably come up with some other ideas for putting guests in awkward positions.
9. Randomly call on people to read or pray
You don't even need to pick on guests! Just call on random members to pray or read Scripture. That will serve to create anxiety in your guests that they may be next!
10. Don't contact guests after their visit
This is your "hold card" for making guests feel unwelcome. An impersonal computer-generated letter will work nearly as well. Just be sure not to include a hand-written "P.S." that sounds personal! Don't call. Don't email. And by all means, don't drop by for a visit. Even a quick, "don't won't to come in" visit at the door where you communicate, "We're glad you came; here's some information about our church," might be enough to generate a second visit. Especially if you make the contact early in the week. So do everything you can to rationalize or talk yourself out of making a personal contact if you want to ensure guests feel unwelcome.
David Francis is LifeWay's director of Sunday School. His latest book is Extreme Sunday School Challenge, with Bruce Raley. David has previously served as Minister of Education at First Baptist Church, Garland, Texas, and is involved in children's ministry with his wife, Vickie.