How to Make Your Visitors Welcome
Welcome to the Visitor’s Corner! This page contains items of interest that visitors would be interested in receiving when they visit and thoughts on how to make their visit as convenient as possible from a human and facility perspective. These are all part of first impressions, which make a huge difference in the decision making process for your visitors, especially the decision to come back a second or third time.
- Signage in and around your church is important to anyone not familiar with your facilities. Most visitors seem to come a bit late so if they looking for the nursery, Sunday school office, bathrooms, etc., things can get stressful. Signs should be readily visible no matter which door they come in. The Greeters are a big help in this area if they arrive through the main entrance.
- Visitor parking is a must and should be based on historical records of how many visitors normally arrive on a Sunday. Most people will be shocked at how many people actually grace your doors and never come back. I did an unofficial survey one time in a small town and small church after long time members commented we don’t don’t get many visitors. As it turned out over a five month span they had around 40 visitors, none still present. They were not prepared to receive visitors thus they never came back a second time even though they had signed the guest book. There was no meaningful followup and no greeters, as the “old guard” didn’t think we needed them.
- Visitor parking should be at least 2 to 3 spaces for smaller churches (80 or less attending) and the number increasing as the attendance numbers are greater. I would suggest you not put them right next to the handicap parking, but very visible when first entering the main parking lot. If you have two large entrances then have two sets of visitor parking spaces. The reason you don’t put them next to handicap parking is your seniors who don’t have a handicap parking pass will park in them because they are closer. Who wants to create that situation?
- Baby Changing stations
- Here is a true story. This church did not have a baby changing station in any of its bathrooms, yet they had a Day School, Preschool and before and after school child care. During a renovation project I strongly suggested that we do this in one new bathroom that had lots of space and so we did. We had no young mothers at this time. It wasn’t a month or so later when a young single mom attended church and she needed that station.
- A minimum of two greeters should be present at least fifteen minutes before the start of service and stay at their post at least 5 minutes after it starts. A lot of visitors actually slide in a minute or so late and these would not be greeted or recorded in the guest book. If you don’t believe this happens have someone check it out for about four Sundays in a row and make a count.
- If at all possible add to your greeter team teenage members of your church. When a family shows up with children it makes a more welcoming environment, as well as a way for your youth to be of service to your church. Too often we isolate our teens in their own little chubby hole and forget the are actually members. Sorry, my old experiences of youth counselor are creeping in.
- What do greeters do? And perhaps what they shouldn’t do as well. There task is to greet everyone briefly, but pay special attention to visitors. You can’t do that if you are chatting with your good friends about your great score in bowling, or whatever. Other than greeting the other important thing is to get them to sign the guest register. One greeter should do that while the rest of the team is ready to greet the next visitor. If it is a communion Sunday be sure to ask them if they are LCMS in good standing. If they are direct them to the pastor or duty Elder/Deacon, depending on your policies. If not then mention it is a Communion Service and while they may not partake they can go to the Altar to receive a blessing with their arms crossed over their chest.
- Host Families
- Fundamentally, a Host Family is a family that has volunteered be on standby in the Narthex to sit with a visiting family or person during the service. In this role they provide an informal way to help the visitor(s) with the service book or bulletin whichever is being used. Those unfamiliar with a liturgical service will be especially grateful for this help and get much more out of the experience than if left alone.
- Some churches use this initial helping opportunity to team up the host family with the visitor(s) for a period of time, like 3 to 6 months. This develops a closer relationship between them and also provides the perfect way to invite them to the orientation night, etc.
- Pick your host families wisely.
- Orientation Night
- When an individual or family visits you two times in a row it is a clue that they are interested in finding out more about your church, how it functions internally and they are leaning towards making this their church home. If they are from a non-Lutheran background they will have several unspoken questions rolling around in the back of their minds, but are either to timid or unsure of when the right time to ask might be. This is the purpose of orientation night, to make sure they get off to a good start with their experience with your congregation. Without this opportunity for “full disclosure” they will bring with them whatever background they previously had or what other people have told them. Neither option is a good one, so be proactive, even if it is for only one family or person. You only have a small window to make this happen.
- Consider that many would not have a clue about your communion practices, the sanctity of the altar, why the pastor wears robes, the polity of your congregation, etc. So why not preclude them having a bad experience if you can? For a sample Orientation Night agenda click here.
Here is some information on assimilation compliments of Zion Lutheran Church, Lawrenceville, GA that you might find useful. I have edited it to smooth the use of personal pronouns.
An Ongoing Process
A new convert doesn’t find themselves devoted to Christian doctrine, your fellowship, frequent participation at the Lord’s Supper, and routine prayer overnight. First there is the Instruction Class, where all the basic truths of the Bible are studied and discussed. Sometimes a baptism must be performed. Then there is the formal reception into membership during the Worship Service. All these things will happen if the Lord of the Church blesses our witnessing efforts with VISIBLE fruitfulness. But that is only the beginning! Besides those very important matters which we mentioned above, several other things must be brought to our attention which will help the new person feel right at home in our church.
- EACH MEMBER MUST PERSONALLY WELCOME THE NEW PERSON. This is especially true in the small congregation. The newcomer must feel that they are a part of the congregation family. That means getting him involved in church functions and activities. That means treating him as an individual, loving them as a fellow believer, helping when help is needed, etc. One of the most effective ways we can “quench the Spirit” and drown the fire in a new member is to make them to feel left out. A person can feel still left out even when involved in activities up to their neck! We can help people avoid feeling this way by talking to them, having fun with them, visiting with them, and helping them. In short, be a friend.
- BE WILLING TO LISTEN TO AND ACCEPT NEW IDEAS. In many instances new members want to help in some way in the church. Maybe it’s planning for a dinner, or working outside, etc. It is so easy out of politeness to say, “No, that’s alright, you don’t have to do it.” But such a response again kills the fire and enthusiasm in the new member. Another temptation is to correct something a new member has done in the church, or not to listen to his ideas on how something can be done better and more efficiently. How discouraged a person can become when everything he does out of love for his Lord is criticized or corrected because “it was never done that way before!” Let the new person speak up and get involved—isn’t that what we should want?
- BE PATIENT WITH THE NEW MEMBER’S SPIRITUAL UNDERSTANDING. There may be instances when a new member speaks up in a meeting, or in a class, and says something which we know is not quite Scriptural. How easy it is for us to look down on that person, thinking we might have a heretic in our midst! How easy it would then be to accuse the pastor of not doing his job in the instruction class!
- We must remember, however, that men who have been in the ministry for years don’t “know it all.” None of us will “know it all” until we reach heaven. How can we expect the new convert to know everything perfectly about Christian doctrine? When such an individual is willing to learn and listen, let’s be patient, and give God’s Word time to penetrate the heart.