8 Ways to Make New People Feel Welcome

I attended a funeral for the father of a lady in our church. She was from a Portuguese background. Her Dad attended a Portuguese Catholic Church in the city. We arrived at the church, having never been there before. We didn’t understand the traditions, and definitely didn’t understand the language. Even though I had been attending church all my life, the things happening here were foreign to me. We had to work hard to try to know when to stand and sit.

I visited a friend’s home church with him. Just before the pastor entered the church, from the back, everyone stood up, and remained standing while he walked up to the front. I wouldn’t have known what to do except my friend whispered instructions to me.

In one church I served the tradition was to stand when singing. Whether the music leader directed the congregation to stand or not.

I attended one church where the children were sent to their classes part way through the service. The problem was, there was no announcement made, and no direction on the screens. The children, or their parents, just knew at what point they were to head to their classes.

If you have visited a church for a first time, you probably have some of your own stories of feeling out of place. We need to go out of our way to welcome new people and let them know what is happening. We assume that because we know what is happening, and what to do, everyone else does as well. That is just not true.

Here are some ways that we can do better at making new people feel welcome:

1. Informative Website. Make sure that people can learn about your church on your website. (Contact me for a website audit.) The most important information should be on the front home page: your address, service start time, and phone number and email address so they can contact the church with questions. The site should be easy to navigate so visitors can quickly find a description of how your service works and what to expect, as well as what kind of activities and programs your church offers and how they can join. Make sure your buttons or page headings are clearly marked so that visitors can easily find your statement of faith.

2. Parking Lot. Make sure people know where to park. At one church I served, the parking was behind the church building. To find the parking lot you had to drive up a driveway past the church, which was not clear to newcomers. You might even want to have reserved spaces for guests nearest to the front door.

3. Welcome Team. Every church, no matter its size, needs to have a welcome team. These may be formal greeters standing at the door, or simply people who have signed up to be on the watch for new people to greet. This team should be trained in how to say hi to people, how to direct them where to go, or even to assist them with their children. Smaller churches may not need to have formal greeters at the door, if the Welcome Team members are familiar enough with church members to notice when someone is new. In your endeavor to make new people as welcome as possible, you might even want to have one or two people helping people find a parking spot.

4. Handouts. More and more churches are doing away with the paper bulletin, especially as Covid restrictions have affected that practice. While this is a practical response to the restrictions, paper handouts are valuable in providing people with something they can look at while they wait for the service to start.

If your church has decided against paper handouts, then ensure the church website is visible, perhaps on announcement or welcome slides, so people can have access to a digital version of a bulletin while waiting. To support accessibility, make sure your wifi and password information are also advertised.

5.  Clear Directions from Leaders. Make sure the leaders up front on Sunday mornings know how to guide the service and inform the congregation on what is expected. If the music leader wants the congregation to stand, then invite them to do so; if the music leader would like them to remain seated, then ask them to remain seated. When taking up the offering, give clear directions on what is happening and what is expected of guests. Never assume that everyone understands the practices and traditions of your church. If children are dismissed during the service, be very clear about when and what is expected of them and their parents. You might want to give a “heads up” right at the beginning of the service so the parents are prepared ahead of time.

6. Clear Signage. There is a lot happening each Sunday morning and people need to know how to navigate around the building. Make sure you have signs directing people towards the washrooms, nursery, and children’s classrooms. If your children’s ministry uses a check-in system, make sure to post instructions where people will see them, or on the screen at the front of the auditorium. Do everything you can to communicate clearly.

7. Welcoming Atmosphere. Encourage and train your congregation to be on the lookout for new people, and make an effort to initiate a brief conversation with them. Train people on possible questions and conversation starters. Maybe you include brief training on this in the Membership Class or at the Annual Meeting, anywhere you are speaking to the church’s core group.

8. Avoid Insideritis. Jeff Henderson, author of – Know What You Are For: A Growth Strategy for Work, An even Better Strategy for Life – talks about “insideritis”, where the focus is on insiders rather than outsiders. This is evident in how a church assumes everyone knows “their” language, or knows who they are talking about when they refer to Susie or John or Peter. Remember that a key purpose of the church and its services is to invite and include those who are outsiders.

Working hard to welcome guests is of utmost importance if you want your church to grow. People who are not welcomed or who feel offended or left out at some point, will not want to return. Do everything in your power to make new people feel welcome.

Keep looking up,

Andy

*A helpful tool to assess your level of welcome is to do a Welcome Audit. (Contact me to complete one for your church)

The Incredible Value of Checklists!

During one of our breaks from pastoral ministry, I learned to drive a school bus. It was definitely an interesting experience. When I was about to complete the season, another driver commented that I had lasted very well on the worst run in the city. I picked up inner city kids and took them to school. Most of them came from difficult situations, but I tried to find ways of connecting with them and encouraging them.

As I was taking my training for my Class 2 license, which you need to drive a bus, the instructor walked me through a detailed list of what to check each morning to ensure the bus was safe to drive. This is not unique to driving busses; truckers have a similar pre-trip check to do. Usually this is done with a memorized checklist, but when I was later driving bus for a different company, they had a specific checklist I had to go through and sign each morning.

Checklists help you to make sure you remember to check all the important things. This applies to many places in life.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

I go through a mental checklist most evenings before I head to bed:

  • Is my lunch prepared?
  • Have I laid out my clothes for the next work day?
  • Did I brush my teeth?
  • Did I remember to take my medications?
  • Did I set my alarm?
  • Did I plug in my phone?

The list helps me to remember what I want to remember.

Checklists can help you to train new volunteers at church. Checklists are doubly useful in training, both for the trainer and the new volunteer.  A checklist ensures the trainer knows exactly what training needs to take place. The checklist will remind them of what paperwork needs to be filled out, or what activities need to be practiced. The new volunteer can also be provided with a checklist to remind them what needs to be done.

Let’s pretend you are training a new worship leader. You can have them work alongside a current worship leader like an apprentice for a few weeks. The leader can make sure they are following the current checklist, a copy of which is then provided to the new volunteer. The checklist could look something like this:

  • Get the theme and scripture from the speaker for that Sunday.
  • Choose 5 songs that fit into that theme.
  • Sort/find the music for all musicians that will be leading worship with you.
  • Send the music titles (and music sheets) to all the worship staff and volunteers on your team.
  • Practice the music yourself.
  • Arrange practice time and practice with team during the week.
  • Arrange for all the team to come early on Sunday to do Sound checks
  • Etc.

Create lists according to the tasks that need to be done in each role, and encourage new volunteers to add to the list as they notice things that may have been missed.

I use a checklist like this in creating my sermons. I have a fairly long list that has certain comments and questions that help me think through my sermon from every aspect I think is important. Here are just a few things on my sermon checklist:

  • Who is the original audience?
  • How will this appeal to the 12-year-old boy in the pew?
  • What practical application steps can I suggest?
  • What are questions this scripture answers?

This list reminds me of what I have found to be important in the creating of a sermon. Some of them remind me of certain steps in my research. Other items remind me how to develop a good application at the end of the sermon. This is a list I have slowly compiled over the years, adding or adapting items as I discovered more steps I wanted to remember to use.

Checklists need to be open to adjustment. Sometimes a good book will encourage you to add another step. Over time some steps may be eliminated if they become irrelevant.

Checklists are a great tool to become better at what you do, to develop consistency, and to train new volunteers.

I’d love to hear about how checklists have helped you.

Keep looking up!

Andy

3 Steps to Getting People Back After Covid

Covid restrictions were, well…restricting. This meant that people were not able to attend church in the same way they were used to. Some regions did not allow churches to meet at all. Others, had limits on how many could attend and rules about masks and distancing.

Churches responded amazingly well by providing services online, many of whom had never attempted this before. While this allowed people to stay at home and “attend” services, it produced mixed results. For some people, this kept them connected long enough to want to return to live services as soon as possible. For others, this gave them the sense of “attending” church without leaving their house. These people may still be watching online rather than attending. For many, it just got them out of the habit of attending. Some still watch online while others have given up on church all together.

So how do we get people back who have not yet returned? Churchanswers.com suggests that about 15% or so have no desire to return to church. How do we encourage them to come back?

Whether it is covid related, or because of other reasons, we know there are many people who have previously attended our churches but are now absent. Here are 3 steps to getting people back to church.

1. Let them Know they are Missed

Some people have not returned because they had no one from the church connect with them during the restrictions of the last year and a half. They believe that no one cares that they are not returning, and no one cared for them while they were quarantined at home.

Let these people know they are missed. In smaller churches the leadership probably has a good idea of who has not yet returned. Reach out to these people and let them know you care for them. You could encourage those who are attending to reach out to people they have not seen for a while. Leadership could send notes and make calls to people to let them know they are missed.

Do not put them down for staying away! Instead, make it about showing them they are loved by the church. Do not make them feel guilty for staying home, but extend an invitation to return.

2. Pastor, Be Visible

Some church people feel that the “church” does not care about them. I have been frustrated in the past, by the proverbial hospital patient who believes the church has not visited them, even though they had friends and their small group leader visit. Their understanding of the church is reduced to the pastor.

Well, pastor, there may be a few places where your visit may make all the difference. Your phone call may be just the ticket to invite people back. Be present on Sunday mornings to encourage those who come. Some may very well be “testing” things out, to see if they are truly welcomed back. Take time to walk through the foyer before and after the service, making the effort to genuinely connect with people. Welcome them, make them feel noticed. Sunday morning is not the time to be in a pre-service prayer with a handful of committed members, but a time to be the face of the church to those who need it.

3. Plan a Welcome Back Sunday for September

People are more likely to attend a special event than a regular service. Members are more likely to invite others to a special event. Why not plan a Welcome Back Sunday for early September (or Thanksgiving), with some special fun additions to the morning. You could invite a team of people, including some small group leaders, to plan the event. Develop and distribute some well-designed and printed invitation postcards for members to use to invite friends. Send out email and text invitations. Have enough postcards for people to invite at least 3 people. Make sure that those who have not yet returned get at least one, or more, invitations. And invite newcomers as well.

Announce it as a big event for at least four Sundays before. Give some teasers on some of the special activities planned. Put a big splash on your home page of your website and promote it on Facebook.

And pray! Have special prayer times. Pray about the event and the people being invited. Ask God to bring people back, and for all who show up to feel welcomed and encouraged.

Believers need to be part of a church. Hebrews says, “Do not stop meeting together as some are in the habit of doing.” (Hebrews 10:25) Do all you can to invite people back.

Keep looking up

Andy