Most church leaders are happy to see guests visit on Sunday. Sometimes they come as a result of a personal invitation. At other times, a community ministry contact or a website search prompts a visit. But the more important issue is, do they come back? And if not, why not?
Guests evaluate the churches they visit, and many don’t return when they sense that a church is not welcoming or prepared for newcomers. What do guests notice that gives them this impression? Here’s my suggested list.
1. Inadequate parking
Plenty of available parking—or clear directions on where to find it—is crucial in newcomer welcoming strategies. When parking is not easily accessible, guests will simply leave and go to another church. In urban settings, parking may be a little more difficult, so I suggest posting signs indicating where nearby parking can be found for those unfamiliar with the surroundings. Also consider enlisting volunteers to help people find parking at your busiest service times.
2. Unclear entrances
If your building has multiple entries, signs are invaluable. Let people know which is the main entrance, and which ones are nearest the worship center and children’s ministry rooms. Don’t make your guests guess!
3. Insensitive ushers and grumpy greeters
Unfortunately some who serve as ushers and greeters can over time become guest insensitive, failing to see the importance of their service to newcomers. Effective ushering and greeting ministries require ongoing training and guidance to ensure that newcomers are welcomed and cared for as a priority.
4. Unfriendly people
Newcomers can sense immediately if a church is friendly. Beyond the established ministry of greeters and ushers, our people often need to be trained to “face the door,” to share a personal greeting and initiate genuine, caring conversations.
5. Insensitive welcoming practices
Most newcomers want to check things out without be singled out. Don’t ask guests to stand, and never ask them to wear a guest badge. When I pastored, I finally realized that even asking for raised hands to receive visitor packets makes some guests uncomfortable. Find other ways to make such information available.
6. Unclean or outdated restrooms
Updating restrooms with new fixtures, flooring, lighting, etc., can be expensive. But the benefits to newcomers (and regular attenders) are significant. And if restrooms are too small (and they are in many older church buildings), consider enlarging them. If they are located in out-of-the way places, consider relocating them as close as possible to the worship center, preferably on the same floor.
7. Inadequate internal signage
Regular attenders know where to find the nurseries, restrooms, and worship center, but guests don’t. Place signs throughout the building with clear directions to guide newcomers.
8. Unavailable pastors
Studies indicate that many newcomers desire a personal contact with the pastor when they visit. A sense of connection with a pastor is a key factor in their decision to return. Consider establishing connection events such as a pastor-led Sunday School class for newcomers or a visitor reception (usually following a worship service) where guests can meet church leaders.
9. Outdated nurseries
Newer furniture and equipment in the nursery sends a message to younger families that the church cares about kids and their parents. Trust me on this—they notice!
10. Cluttered hallways or classrooms
After people have attended a church for a while, they probably don’t notice the table at the end of the hallway covered with Sunday School papers from two months ago, or the classrooms with a few old coats and hats lying around on the windowsills, or the old decorations from three months ago still stashed in the back corner of the auditorium. But newcomers do.
11. Dispassionate preaching
Sadly, much preaching today has become stuffy and matter-of-fact. Although often marked—commendably—by detailed Biblical content, it often lacks intensity and fervor. It has depth but little life. In a word, it’s boring! Passionate preaching is desperately needed today, and newcomers want to know if pastors are fully committed to what they believe. Without sacrificing a commitment to solid doctrine and sound Biblical exposition, rekindle the fire in your pulpit.
12. Incomprehensible worship
Corporate worship ought to be unbeliever-comprehensible and newcomer-sensitive. Commit to using songs that are clear in their lyrics, avoid Christian clichés, and explain Biblical concepts to guests with simplicity and clarity. Use accurate, modern speech translations. Exegete the local culture, and consider changes without doctrinal compromise in worship methodology.
Jim Vogel (DMin, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) was a pastor for 30 years and associate national representative of the GARBC. He now represents the Empire State Fellowship of Regular Baptist Churches.