by Josh Wester
Every church wants to grow. And more than that, every church wants to think of themselves as being welcoming and hospitable. This is why some churches go to great lengths to cater to guests and new visitors attending their worship services. It’s why churches provide things like food or gifts for first time guests and dedicate ample signage and even entire ministry teams to make visitors have a positive experience. Many of these things are wonderful and can certainly go a long way toward making someone new feel welcome, but even so, there is one essential element of making guests feel welcome that no amount of gifts or extra steps can replace: a friendly congregation.
A lot of churches struggle with hospitality. That shouldn’t really be surprising because it’s not something we spend much time talking about in the first place, especially not in practical ways with the whole church. But engaging new people is important, and it doesn’t need to be intimidating. So, I thought I would offer a few practical pieces of advice that I’ve picked up along the way to help you engage the new folks attending worship gatherings at Redemption City.
Wanted, Not Pressured
This is a first principle for us. Each time someone new walks in the door, we always want to make two things abundantly clear: (1) we are incredibly glad they are here, and (2) we don’t want them to feel any pressure. This is why we try to make sure that new folks know where to go to drop off their kids, or grab coffee, or visit the restroom, or join the worship service, by providing clear signage to point the way. But this idea—for our guests to feel wanted, not pressured—is best communicated by our attitude in the way that we greet them. We want to express our joy and gratitude that they have joined us on this particular Sunday, without trying to sign them up for membership or asking them to give financially. We want to express that they are free to hang around and welcome to come back, without pressing them to serve or show up at small group or Bible study.
We offer invitations to take next steps, but we do this without creating obligations or asking for commitments from those who have just recently decided to visit our church.
Who do I look for?
If you want to be more hospitable, you might be asking, “How do I know who to look for?” First, you are obviously free to greet everyone. But as you are thinking about who to focus on, one of the best tips I’ve ever heard is that you should look for people whose names you do not know. Sunday mornings are filled with familiar faces—and this is great because we want our church gatherings to feel like family reunions—but you should always be mindful of people who aren’t familiar to you. As you notice new faces, make it a point to engage those people. If you don’t know his or her name, or you notice them trying to find their way around, go over and introduce yourself.
What do I say?
I’m convinced that the biggest reason a lot of folks fail to greet those that they don’t know is simply a lack of confidence about how to start the conversation. To help you out, I’m going to offer a few simple statements you can use to start these conversations:
1) What is your name?
It’s always safe to ask someone’s name. (Pro tip: Be sure to listen to the answer.)
2) How long have you been coming to Redemption City?
This is a better question than “is this your first time here?” because framing the question this way leaves room for either answer without making things awkward. If it is their first time, they will feel free to tell you. If not, they can tell you how long they have been attending without either of you feeling bad that you haven’t had the chance to meet. (Pro tip: if they are new, or it is their first time, you can follow up by asking how they heard about our church.)
3) Have you had the chance to check out one of our small groups?
If this is their first visit, the answer is obviously no, but this is usually still a great opportunity to invite them to check out a group. If they have been attending, but haven’t joined a small group, invite them to your group! Or, if you know of a group that might be a better fit, try to introduce them to the group leader or someone else from the group you would suggest. (Pro tip: feel free to walk them to the groups table, or go grab a group info card yourself, circle the group you are recommending, and hand the card over to them.)
That’s it. When it comes to greeting guests, you shouldn’t feel pressure either. Beyond the three steps above, the only other thing I regularly try to do is introduce the new folks I meet to others from Redemption City. Again, the goal is to make them feel welcome and make them feel wanted. Your goal is just to greet them, let them know you’re glad they came, and point them in the direction of a next step without asking for a commitment. It really is that simple and easy.
I think our church is great, and I want our church to grow. Your effort to be intentional about making new folks feel welcome is an important part of seeing that happen. What we are chasing isn’t numbers, but gospel fruit. We want to see Jesus work in the hearts and lives of as many people as possible, and welcoming those who join us is a crucial first step.