Many visitors make up their mind about a church before worship begins. Even as they walk to the church (we wish!), or more likely drive into the parking lot, visitors have an idea of what the experience of the church will be. Most visitors decide whether the congregation is friendly even before any worship has happened. They can feel it. There is a small window of opportunity for the congregation to communicate its identity and welcome guests. Are there greeters at the door (or better still out in front of the church) that are genuinely practising intentional hospitality? Are the greeters making eye contact that is sincere but not desperate? Do we have a good bulletin to describe not only about the worship service all well as helping with any language that needs unpacking, but also what is happening in the community during the week?
Before we welcome newcomers into our congregational “living room,” it is important to think about the whole equation: If we attract these people and they become partners in faith with us, how will we change as part of the body of Christ? Are we okay with that change?
For example, we want to attract young adults, those who will be the bridge between the church as we have known it and the church of the future. We know “Millennials” want to be an active part of any organization with which they associate. They don’t want to do something just because it’s always been done in a certain way. Welcoming young adults means welcoming guests with new voices and new gifts to share. This can mean change.
Welcoming newcomers means initiating relationships with people who will become members of our faith family. Our welcoming ministry begins with laying a good foundation to attract people but also encourage them to return as well as having them feel comfortable as they become a part of the family.
Identifying different types of visitors can help you to understand what each seeks.
- Dissatisfied visitors are looking for a “better church.” Either ours has what they are looking for or it doesn’t. Their decision about returning will be based on these criteria.
- Invited visitors come at the request of someone they might know in the community. They may not be looking for a church, but they hopefully may find a reason to return and stay.
- Seekers want something spiritual. They look for real people with genuine smiles. They want authentic answers to their questions. They want a reason for being and a community that cares on many levels.
- Shoppers are similar to seekers but are really out looking. Some like to meet people or network. Make sure they are welcomed in a way that shows this is a place for them to take root!
- Deep-rooted visitors are active in their church and looking for a place to settle in for the long haul. When they move into a community, they are usually ready to serve but they need to see that the community is involved, committed, and genuine.Knowing these categories can be helpful. Understanding what different visitors seek can guide us as we get to know them and help them understand that our congregation is a good spiritual fit.
Different welcoming churches
- Stationary churches say, “You are welcome to join us.” If newcomers fit the existing culture, they become members. If not, they usually leave.
- Medley churches welcome diversity because they know they should. This model looks and sounds beautiful. However, if the church does not welcome the rituals of different ethnicities and nationalities, eventually visitors will look for the exit sign. This is subtle and needs the congregation to understand how to move forward with intentionality in the work of hospitality.
- Transformer churches welcome all newcomers along with their unique gifts from God. They like new ideas, advocate for people and aren’t afraid to change the culture and their community. This is good! Usually the congregation has a strong sense of who they are and where they are headed.
So, what do we do?
It is good to know our identity as a local body of believers amid the larger community around us. However, if we want to grow, if we believe that’s part of God’s calling, our identity may change as our membership does. Ministries never envisioned may suddenly be a volunteer away. Discussions never had may be happening in the hall. Ideas never challenged may be questioned. Leadership roles may be filled differently.
As we consider welcoming newcomers, we need to consider the entire cycle of incorporating new people into your fellowship. We need to tend to first impressions, but know we also are initiating potential family relationships. Imagine what the congregation can do with new energy, new thoughts and ideas. Suddenly a world of abundance dances at the altar and we are changed forever!