|Ministry In Motion
Not long ago, while studying a book on column syndication, I read about a writer who launched a regular column writing church reviews for his local paper. Just like a movie critic, this man visited local churches unannounced and then wrote reviews on them for the local paper. How warmly he was received bore a lot of weight in his articles.
We have often heard it said that you only have one chance to make a first impression and recently this was proven during a visit with a church while we vacationed. Our family attended with a divorced friend, Joye, who was in between churches at the time. We came with our family with the "just passing through" attitude, but Joye, on the other hand, arrived hoping to find a new church home. At the end of the service, I asked Joye what she thought. She indicated that she hadn't felt very welcome. I could sense from her response she probably wouldn't be returning.
When people visit a church for the first time they inwardly ask, "How can you meet my needs?" As a divorcee, Joye most likely felt out-of-place already as she looked at the families surrounding her. It is our job to make visitors feel as welcome as possible so they will return and eventually get connected. Only then, will we be able to meet their deeper needs.
1. Put Friendly, Outgoing People in Charge of Greeting.
The first real need people have upon visiting is the need to feel welcomed. That's why it's so crucial to have the right people in the right places at church. The ideal greeter has the gift of hospitality and enjoys being with people. When someone has the right gift mix for a specific ministry, his/her excitement and enthusiasm will spill over making everyone comfortable.
2. Remind Regular Attendees About the Importance of Connecting with Newcomers.
People often go an entire week without seeing friends, so weekend services are a time for catching up and chatting. This creates a danger of "holy huddles" which can make newcomers feel excluded. One church I know of has a five-minute rule. You are asked to spend the first minutes before and after service and during greeting time greeting people you don't know. After that it's OK to talk with friends.
3. Include a Greeting Time.
The church we attended with Joye either didn't have a greeting time or we missed it because it occurred so early. The only people who greeted us were the designated ushers. Set aside a special time where attendees can greet each other. Make sure it happens at least five to ten minutes into the service so those who are a few minutes late don't miss out. It's not only important to welcome people during your worship services but also in your children's, youth, and small group ministries. Consider ways you can help new comers feel welcome in those ministries as well.
4. Don't Single Out Visitors
People who visit feel very awkward and self-conscious because they often don't know anyone. Don't single them out more by slapping a "visitor" sticker on them, making them stand up when everyone else is sitting, or asking them to raise their hand while other members stay put. Include everyone in your greeting time.
5. Train Helpers on the Fine Art of Welcoming
Station designated helpers in strategic places - inside the front door, near the stairs, by doorways - to help people find the nursery, classrooms or other facilities. Teach greeters and ushers to look for people who might need additional help, those with strollers and small children and/or people who need physical assistance entering the building. Give helpers permission to talk with newcomers asking questions like, "Are you finding everything OK?" or making comments like, "It's really nice to have you." But caution them about talking too long to one particular person so others don't feel ignored.
Smiling, looking people in the eye, giving a friendly handshake, can quickly convey compassion and care. Warm welcomes start with us, the church leaders. By setting the example, we show how hospitality should be modeled.
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