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)

Keep the Covid Wins

It has felt liberating to let go of the various covid restrictions on churches, as well as many other areas in our public life, since many restrictions have lifted where I live.

The tendency for many churches may be to go right back to doing what they did pre-covid, leaving behind the new creative ideas they were forced into as they tried to continue doing ministry while respecting the restrictions. This means that there will be some “throwing out the baby with the bathwater”. Some of the creative solutions you came up with to continue to serve your congregation during covid restrictions may be of great value to your church over the long haul. Churches are often slow to introduce new things, but the restrictions required both church leaders and church attenders to be open to try new things because they had to.

Keep the wins!

Each church has made unique changes to respond to and adopt new realities over the last year and a half. It may be difficult to picture what the church will look like going forward, but those who are willing to learn and adopt some new methods for their future will benefit in the long run.

As I have heard stories from various pastors, I realize there have been many creative adventures that can continue post-covid. Here are some examples:

  • Maybe the online option can be continued so that those who are not able to attend on a Sunday can observe from home, or newcomers can check out the church before attending in person.
  • One pastor said they had conducted some services outside on their lawn while adhering to covid restrictions. They bought a transmitter so people could even sit in their cars and listen if they chose. Some unchurched people had tuned in, and joined them when they moved back into the building. This creative idea was so well received that they will continue to have monthly “lawn services” throughout the summer.
  • One church continues to host Zoom small group meetings because they worked so well for them.
  • One children’s ministry volunteer was disappointed that their church no longer requires children to be pre-registered for Sunday School, because this information ensured that there were always enough staff for the number of children attending.
  • Some churches purchased thousands of dollars of gift card to local businesses and then dropped them off for the small business owners. They offered to pray for them as well. This was very well received.
  • One church began a Facebook prayer group for their town. Community member joined the group. They were amazed when the mayor joined the group, but were thrilled when she submitted prayer requests for community concerns she knew about.
  • The church I attend sent little care packages to singles in the church to make sure they knew the church was thinking about them. Many people were struggling with loneliness when quarantined at home, and they knew this could be especially hard for single people.

As you read these examples, you may be surprised at the creativity, or maybe cringe inside – not all ideas will work for all churches. Think through the ideas your church came up with over the past year and keep the ones that worked well, or adapt some for ongoing ministry.

Don’t just revert to the way things have always been done without carefully and prayerfully evaluating the new ideas you came up with, and holding on to the ones that will benefit you long term.

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

Your Church Website is Your New Front Door!

I like seeing houses with a bright front door that stands out from the rest of the building.

Every building, every house, every church has a front door. It is not just a great place to put an accent color for your building, but the place that people enter.

In the past, we saw the front door of the church as the place where newcomers first made contact with  your church. That has changed.

Your church’s website is your new front door. People look you up online before they actually come to your building and take in a Sunday service. They can get a sense of what your church is like before they even show up.

How welcoming is your “front door”?

Here are three of the most important things you need on your website.

1. The Physical Address

Make sure the first thing people see when they open your website is your physical address. I know a number of rural churches have a box number for their mailing address, but this is not what people are looking for. It is important that a potential newcomer knows where the church is. Include a Google map with directions to your church, and check for accuracy before posting.

2. Service Times

If someone is considering attending your church, they want to know what time to show up. Not every church meets at 11:00 am today. Churches with multiple services should also include any differences between services, such as different ages available for children’s ministry. Make sure to update this every time a service time changes. There is nothing worse for a newcomer to show up late because you forgot to update your service time!

3. What to Expect

Some churches have a short description of what people wear. A common example could be something like: “Most people come in jeans and shirts, though suit and tie, or a dress, are fine too.” Here is a personal example: If you have never been to a symphony, you might want to know what to wear. I went to my first symphony with my brother-in-law, and I had not come prepared. I had no suit like everyone else was wearing, and I felt really out of place. People who have never been to your church want to know how to dress.

You might also lay out how the morning works. If you have coffee available, let them know they can take it into the auditorium with them. If you send the children out to their classes part-way through the service, explain how that works. Add anything that you think a newcomer might need to know when they show up.

If you have these three, you are way ahead of many churches!

There are a few more items people look for. Easy to find visible links to the following items allow searchers to quickly identify how to find the information they are looking for.

4. Contact information

Have a link to a page with all the information. This includes the church phone number and email address. It might be good to have the same for your staff. And while I think about it, post your pastor’s name somewhere that is easy for people to find. I am surprised at some websites. It seems the pastor’s name is a secret they don’t want to share, or just assume everyone knows. You might even want to have a brief video welcome from your pastor on your home page.

5. Beliefs and Values

When I moved to a new city, I decided to look for a church by first checking out a number of websites. One of the things I was looking for was a church that believed the same way I did.

6. Ministries and Programs

Have links to all ministry or program pages.

Children: Most families want to know what to expect for their children. Be clear about whether they are included in the main service, or if they are dismissed to their own service. There should be no confusion on this issue at any point for. Also, make it clear that families can choose to keep their children with them in the main service.

Make it absolutely clear that you have a plan to protect children from any harm. Describe exactly what your protocols are and how you screen and train your volunteers who will work with the children. Include links to any outside regulations or certifications adhered to by your church and denomination.

Youth: Provide clear information on what ages these programs are for and when they meet. Include the same safety protocols as with the children.

Small Groups: Most churches have some form of small groups. Explain how yours function and how someone can join a group.

Other programs: Let people see what you offer and where they can be involved.

7. Sermons

Have at least a few recent sermons recorded and available to download on your website. People might want to hear a sermon before attending, so they know what to expect.

There are many other options, but remember that the target audience for your website is new people. Yes, there are some pages that might be for in-house information, but the primary audience should be the newcomer.

If you would like to improve your “front door”, you can check out a Website Audit here. Call me if you would like some coaching help to improve your front door welcome.

Keep looking up!

Andy