The fall season usually arrives with great energy and expectations, and many new guests in worship. It can be difficult for many of us to remember: every Sunday is a first impression…for someone.
Here are ten thoughts and triggers for 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 a guest somewhere new. Generally, guests appreciate being personally welcomed, but are sensitive to being pressured.
1. “Don’t leave it to Lon!” We love you, Lon Langford, and expect your warm welcome each week, but we can’t leave the work of welcoming guests entirely in your hands.
2. “I don’t think we’ve met before.” This is a great line to use with anyone unfamiliar. This works better than “Are you new here?” which places the emphasis on the guest’s newness instead of them as persons.
3. “Greeters are supposed to greet.” Guests expect greeters to be friendly. Official greetings are appreciated and important, but the real test is how the unofficial greetings unfold.
4. “Pastors are supposed to be nice.” See #3. Barna Research found that 40% of guests make up their mind 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.
5. “Let children be children.” Read the statement of welcome on the blue sheet’s front cover. Guests with younger children are keenly aware of glares and pointed suggestions about the nursery. We want families to know they are welcome to worship together. They will read about or ask about a nursery if they wish.
6. “It’s about people, not programs.” We have no idea what life circumstances have drawn each individual or family to worship, but we do know that most people are looking for connection to God and to other people. Guests are savvy to sense whether we are more interested in their lives or in their participation in our programs.
7. “But it’s ok to invite!” Having said #6, 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 for coffee at 9:30, or to come a bit earlier next week to grab coffee before 11:00 worship.
8. “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 flagged for another time.
9. “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 creates an initial feeling of disorientation.