“Don’t single out visitors. They really just want to blend in. Speak to them after the service and introduce them to others at coffee hour.”
How do you feel when you walk into a room full of strangers? I feel nervous, shy, and apprehensive. Probably you do too. It can be hard. Will anyone speak to me? Will I be able to figure out what these people are doing? Will I fit in? What if my child screams? These are the same feelings that people visiting your church have. Below are five things that churches do to (unintentionally) make visitors anxious.
1. There are no signs in the building to tell visitors where to find important rooms
Sure you know where the bathrooms and nursery are, but visitors don’t. Put up signs. Simple and clear. Using arrows is okay. The most important ones are: Church/worship, bathrooms and nursery.
2. Nobody speaks to visitors when they enter the building.
Put greeters at all your major entry points. They should smile, welcome people, introduce themselves and provide instructions to major areas of the building. If the visitors have children, ask if they’d like to know about the nursery or child care. Greeters are NOT allowed to talk to their friends during this time. Their job is to talk to visitors. They are to be at their post 15 minutes before the service starts and stay there until 10 minutes after the service has started.
3. Visitors and new members stand by themselves after church and at the coffee hour
This is a seriously bad. Greeters can be asked to speak to them AND introduce them to others. It is not just the job of the clergy or other staff to speak to visitors. We are all called to the ministry of hospitality.
4. You ask visitors to stand up and introduce themselves during the announcement period
Don’t single out visitors. They really just want to blend in. Speak to them after the service and introduce them to others at coffee hour.
5. You don’t follow up with them
If they will give you their contact information, you must follow up with them within 36 hours. That’s by Tuesday. Give them a warm and gentle call, note or email thanking them for visiting and asking if they have any questions.
The Importance of a First Impression
Finally, none of this matters a bit if they can’t find your church or find out the times of your worship services. So Carolyn’s Number One rule about that is: you have to have a website and it has to be easy to find information on: worship times, nursery times, parking and directions. It should be no more than one click to this information.
Did you know that visitors to a church often decide within the first 11 minutes whether or not they’ll visit a second time? It’s true. Our parents told us that first impressions are important, and it turns out the same are true for our churches.
How your Church can Make a Good First Impression
Let’s pretend that I’m a visitor to your church. Answer these questions to see how you’re doing:
When I approach your church in my car, do signs lead me to the parking?
When I get out of my car, do exterior signs lead me into the church and specifically the worship area?
Assuming that I enter the building directly into or near the worship area, am I personally welcomed? (If I enter the building into a hallway or parish hall, am I personally welcomed or do signs lead me to the church/worship area?)
If I have young children with me, does the greeter offer to show us to the nursery? Does the greeter say that young children are also welcome in worship?
Does the greeter give me general information on location of the parish hall and restrooms?
Do signs lead me to the nursery and bathrooms and back again to the church?
Other than the official greeter, does anyone speak to me?
Is there a take-home welcome brochure in each pew that gives me general information on the church, programs and how to contact members of the staff?
Did you notice all the questions about signs on this list? I find that churches often overlook the important role of signage in their evangelism efforts. I remember attending an evangelism conference once and the speaker was talking about the signage at a church he’d recently visited. He said he told that church that it would be easier to get to hell than find the bathrooms in their church! One lady replied, “We know where the bathrooms are, why do we need signs?” Which is the point! Good signage is a symbol of hospitality.
The second thing to notice about this list is the importance of human contact. If you don’t have an official greeter program at your church, get one started now. Visitors like to be welcomed and they appreciate that some of their basic needs or questions are answered right up front – where is the bathroom? Where is the nursery? Can my children stay in church?
And third, speak to visitors after the service too. Many visitors expect that they’ll be welcomed as they enter the door. Going the extra mile in hospitality is speaking to them afterwards and offering to introduce them to others.
Carolyn Moomaw Chilton writes and blogs as a spiritual discipline and an invitation to conversation with others. She is currently on staff at Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia as the Assistant for Evangelism and Stewardship.
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