“Let’s take this time to turn to the person next to you and welcome them to church this morning.” We’ve all heard these words from our pastor as we enter into that ever-awkward greeting time. For some, this might be the opportune time to take that bathroom break or covertly check your phone to avoid eye contact. But maybe you’re the pastor, or greeter, or social butterfly who just loves this time to meet and greet with others who sit near you each week.
Whether you enjoy the greeting time or not, a smiling face and outstretched hand can do a lot more than you might think. If you are a pastor or volunteer, a friendly attitude is expected of you because it’s your job, but imagine the impact that can be made if a regular member of the congregation opens up and welcomes an unfamiliar person. In this way it’s crucial that each person sees his or her role as a greeter.
The retention rate of a new visitor to your church is much higher when he or she is welcomed by regular congregation members rather than by a pastor or greeter. Think about it: Have you ever met someone who left your church because they felt too welcome? No. Conversely, I’ve met a number of people who have left churches because no one said a word to them. No one took the next step to start a conversation.
Let’s look at some crucial aspects of welcoming visitors that I believe will help you lead your church through this process of growing love.
The Vision of Welcoming Guests
How do you convince our congregation that the greeting time in the service is important? Just like everything else a good leader does, you must cast vision around welcoming visitors. When you start a capital campaign, you don’t just blatantly ask people for their money; you give them a vision for what their money will build. Similarly, you must give people a picture of what the end result will be before you can ask them to take this step of welcoming visitors each week. As a leader, you need to tie this greeting time in with your core values as a church.
One of our church’s core values is to connect in community. So when our pastor asks us to turn to our neighbor and engage in some type of icebreaker conversation, he reminds us that this is just one way to connect in community and meet someone who we may have never met before. Out of this time a relationship could be formed, not just with us, but also with God.
Stories of Guests Feeling at Home
Over the years, I’ve heard countless stories of life transformation in my church with this sentence: “I went to church with my friend, and for the first time felt true love and community.” When you can capture these stories of transformation and communicate them to your church in creative ways, this concept of welcoming visitors will be unstoppable. As soon as it can be seen that this act of welcoming a visitor can be directly tied to life-change, people begin looking forward to meeting someone new instead of avoiding it.
Questions to Prompt Interaction with Guests
Awkwardness is a large barrier, keeping people from welcoming visitors. For this reason, we simplify greeting times so much that it often turns into handshakes and hellos but no real conversation.
As leaders, it’s our responsibility to make greeting others easier by providing conversation questions or topics to break the ice each week. This may sound like an elementary principle, but it’s key in providing your people with ways to begin.
A great place to start is by asking yourself, “What’s relevant in our context right now?” The weather, sports, and food are some great topics to hit on. You might throw out a suggestion like, “The weather is warming up, so ask the person next to you what their favorite spring activity is.” These are simple conversation starters, but they help people find common ground and get the conversation going.
A common mistake attendees make when welcoming people to church is asking, “Is this your first time here?” Especially in larger churches, this can be insulting to people who have been attending for years. A better way to phrase this question is, “How long have you been here?” This can help your regular attendees frame the conversation better, and if they are talking to someone who is a first-time visitor, then they can move forward in the conversation accordingly.
It’s crucial to cast vision for welcoming guests. It’s not just the meet-and-greet time in your services that this applies to. Cast vision to your congregation to start with random “hellos” in the hallways or walking up to someone who appears lost and helping them find their way. Your congregation needs to be aware of new faces and be willing to engage with them. The only way that can happen is if they catch the vision from leadership’s example.
Let’s lead churches marked by love and community. And one way to do that is by making someone feel welcome in your church. It could literally change their life forever.