By Susan M. Clabaugh
Did you see me on Sunday?
I walked into your church and looked around, wondering where to go. I saw lots of people eating donuts and drinking coffee, but no one greeted me. I stood there not knowing where to go or what to do until finally one of the pastors came up to me. He asked me to do the usual.
By “the usual” I mean what every church has asked me to do when I visited them: Fill out a piece of paper with all of my information and hand me a “gift” from the church. Then I’m directed to the sanctuary where I can sit anywhere.
All by myself.
After I filled out the form I was directed to the sanctuary, where I sat at the end of a row. I put the “gift” beside me and just looked around. There were people having conversations, but no one noticed me.
This is usually what takes place.
I was there for some time before a man sat in front of me and turned around to introduce himself. He was nice, but he didn’t talk long and I was alone again.
I have yet to go to a church where a member asks me to join them in their row and sit with them so I’m not sitting alone as a visitor. I wonder why this is in a Christian community.
However, when I was a member of a church I never considered taking these kinds of initiatives to make visitors feel welcomed. Now that I’m actively seeking a new church family I’m sharing my experiences because none of us can change what we don’t know.
So what is it that churches don’t know about people visiting?
Some of your visitors are Christians and some aren’t. Either way, they are people searching for something. Searching for a place to belong. Searching for a place to worship. Searching for a family to walk alongside them. Searching for a place to sense God’s love.
Note the last part. It is the most important thing I will say: His love. The most important thing any church can convey to visitors is God’s love. Here are a few ways to do that.
Make sure there are greeters at the door. The first impression people get of your church is the moment they walk through your door. It’s as simple as genuinely saying something like, “Welcome to our church! We’re glad you’re here! Can I help you find anything?”
Walk them to the visitor’s center or to the place they need to go next.
Make your congregation aware of visitors. Consider preaching a sermon about sharing God’s love with church visitors and the surrounding community. Sharing God’s love isn’t only reserved for those outside your church, it begins right inside the doors where His people worship.
As you make your congregation aware of visitors, encourage them to welcome them. If the visitor checked in it can sometimes be evident by the “gift” they were given. But even if your church doesn’t give first-time visitor gifts, remind your congregation to be alert to their surroundings on Sunday mornings.
Encourage your members to have visitors sit with them. Dare your members to go out of their comfort zone to show God’s love to others.
Follow up with your visitors in a personal yet non-invasive way. Have someone from the church call the visitor to thank them for coming and ask them if they have any questions or any prayer needs. The call gives a personal touch without invading their home with a visit, and yet goes beyond the impersonal text or email.
I would never have considered doing some of these things when I was a member at my last church. It was easy to talk to the people I knew on Sundays and ignore anyone else—to be comfortable in my own surroundings and not have to worry about other people. It never crossed my mind to greet visitors, except during the mandatory hand shaking.
Now, when I join a new church, I plan to change my actions.
There are only a few minutes before or after a service and many times it may be the only time we interact with the visitors. Our interaction with visitors who may not know Christ is especially crucial.
May the visitors who grace the doors of your church feel God’s love in such a way that they feel they’re already a part of the congregation.