Friday, 16 May 2014

Are you welcomed at church?

Recently I was speaking to a very close friend of mine who pastors a busy, growing church. We got on to the subject of engaging new people or visitors when they come to church.  How would you answer the question, “What would you expect to happen when visiting a new church?”

I preach in a wide range of churches and when doing so, have experienced a very diverse range of welcomes. Some have been very good but others really poor. It’s important to remember that not all of the visitors to your church will be Christians. Some may be there as a result of an invitation, others because they are searching for God. Sometimes people visit a church because they are desperate and need an encounter with God. They are ready for Him to speak to their hearts.

Key Point: You need to welcome people in the way that you would expect to be welcomed on a first visit!

The way that we engage and interact with a newcomer plays a huge part in whether the person returns and definitely influences their decision to make your church their spiritual home – or not. You need to welcome people in the way that you would expect to be welcomed on a first visit.

The scriptures tell us very clearly how we are to behave. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Colossians 4: 5-6

There are two ways we could comment on this scripture, but for now let’s consider these words in respect of visitors to your church. We will assume that every new visitor receives a personal welcome at the door of the church, at the very least. We are looking beyond this initial introduction at your church.

These are a few basics:
    *They are met by a happy, smiling person as they arrive

    *They receive a firm handshake

    *They have a good conversation with effective eye contact and positive body language
    *They are presented with details of the church and are given a visitors card
    *They are made aware of the church facilities

    *If they have children that they receive information about young people’s activities
    *They are shown where they can sit, or even better, to a seat

    *They are introduced to someone in leadership (if possible).
I lecture on customer service and how to give customers the right impression. Visitors to your church are not like people who visit shops and businesses, but we must give them an impression of Jesus, after all, He is the reason we are there and as a result we should demonstrate His love and grace.
A few years ago I visited a church not too far from where I live. I like to arrive before the meeting starts, so we entered the church to be met by a greeter who smiled and shook our hands. He gently waved his arm in the direction of the seats and that was it. We sat down and for the next fifteen minutes watched the people arrive. As the church filled up no one spoke to us at all, until the Pastor and his family arrived just a few minutes before the service started. At the same time some other friends arrived, came over and said hello to us. We were pleased to see people we knew but overall, our experience was not that welcoming.

I know people who have visited a church and had the complete opposite happen –because it seemed as if the whole church came over to greet them, so much so, that it felt claustrophobic. They felt pressured and overwhelmed by the attention.

A couple of years ago my family accompanied me to a preaching engagement. We were welcomed in much the same the way I described earlier and of course by the pastor. However, no one else even engaged us, even during the after service refreshments.

It’s obvious that we ought to use wisdom in the way that we act toward outsiders; making the most of every opportunity that comes to us.

I have another question. “Do you make the most of every opportunity?”

At our church, the Pastor and leaders will always make a point of speaking to new visitors as a matter of priority. I am aware that some churches have large numbers attending so it may be difficult for the Pastor to do this. In these circumstances, it is vital that the regular church attenders are mindful to welcome the newcomer with a handshake and a smile as they introduce themselves. Try to avoid saying “I haven’t seen you here before” because they may have been there and you didn’t know it.
When I greet people I smile and say “Hi, my name is Moray and it’s a pleasure to meet you. I don’t believe we have met before…do you live locally?” This simple question should let you know how willing the person is to speak. Some conversations finish quickly because people are a little shy whereas other times the opposite can happen.
If visitors have children with them I will make a point of speaking to them as well. I might ask if they were informed about the children’s facilities and crèche programmes.
I will also introduce them to key people in the church who I know will be welcoming. We have just once chance to make a good ‘first impression’!
Be sure to speak to them after the service finishes. I don’t ask “Did you enjoy the service?” because this question may make them feel under pressure. So instead, I may comment on an aspect of the service which often starts a conversation which can lead on the other things.
The way we do this has an impact on attendance. How welcoming are you?