Easter Sunday usually arrives with great energy and expectations and with many new guests in worship. It might be difficult for many of us to remember that every Sunday is a first impression…for someone.

Here are nine thoughts on welcoming guests to Bethesda. This list is not exhaustive – there are many other things not on this list that are part of a warm welcome – clean restrooms, well-kept grounds, clean and safe nursery, etc.

Try to put yourself in the mindset of a guest. Reflect on a time when you were the new person somewhere. Generally, guests appreciate being personally welcomed but can also get overwhelmed or feel disoriented.

“Don’t leave it to the greeters!” We are grateful for our name-tag-wearing official greeters, but we shouldn’t leave the work of welcoming guests entirely in their hands. Guests expect greeters to be friendly, but the real tests come before/after worship, during the Passing of the Peace, and at coffee hour.

“Pastors are supposed to be nice, but…” Barna Research found that 40% of guests make up their minds about a church before they have seen the pastor. Within two minutes of entering a church, most guests have formed their impression of a church’s friendliness.

“I’m not sure that we’ve met before.” This is a great line to use with anyone unfamiliar. This works better than “Are you new here?” which spotlights the guest’s newness. It’s ok to forget a name and need help jogging the memory.

“Can I introduce you to…?” Introducing guests and members to each other not only makes guests feel welcome but also models a welcoming spirit to members.

“Kids will be kids.” God put the wiggle in young children. Guests with young children can feel on edge in a new setting. We need to go out of our way to express how much Bethesda values kids in worship. The parents I know appreciate how many “honorary aunties and uncles” a church family can provide. We also value families worshipping together as a family. Kids learn to worship by mimicking us. The nursery or cry room should be seen as the last resort or a temporary place to wiggle before returning to the sanctuary.

“It’s about people, not programs.” We have no idea what circumstances have drawn each guest to worship, but we do know that most people are looking for a connection to God and to other people. Guests are savvy as to whether we appear more interested in their lives or in their attendance at our programs.

“But it’s ok to invite!” Having said that, personal invitations are the key to any program or event’s appeal. Genuine interest in guests will naturally lead to opportunities to invite them to something that might fit their interests or needs. This can be as simple as inviting guests to stay and sit with you during the coffee hour.

“Avoid the church business trap.” It’s tempting to catch ‘that one member’ you needed to ask about ‘that one thing,’ and easy to find yourself in a longer-than-expected conversation. Welcoming guests should take priority before and following worship. Most church business can be saved for another time.

“Ask a newer member about their first impressions.” The most helpful feedback comes from the fresh perspective of newer members and worshippers. For example, did you realize when you walk in the main doors, there is no way to see where the sanctuary can be found or if a large room with coffee even exists? This can create an initial feeling of disorientation.

I’ve personally broken every one of these suggestions, but I hope it’s a helpful reminder as Easter approaches.

Grace and Peace,
Pastor Tom