How do you welcome visitors in worship and make them feel at home?
Not by grabbing and “shh” -ing them, that’s for sure!
I arrived slightly late to the sanctuary as a visitor one day, having struggled to get my infant son’s rainy coat off him in the foyer. Opening the sanctuary door I was literally grabbed by the shoulder, spun around and told to stay put until the opening prayer was over. As a seminary student at the time, my tolerance as an unknown visitor to this church was likely higher than most church shoppers. But needless to say, I never went back.
The following is a list of ways congregations, and more specifically you as a member of a congregation, can love any and all who walk through your doors. This list is adapted from the book Now Go Forward by J. David Eschelman, who says, “Loving unbelievers the way Jesus did is the most overlooked key to growing a church… . The command to love is the most repeated command in the New Testament, appearing at least 55 times.”
Every member is a host and not a guest. Making visitors feel welcome is primarily the responsibility of members, not the nebulous “church.”
The most important person for a visitor to talk to in order to feel at home in a new church is you. It is not the pastor, or the greeter, but a regular attender. Eshleman says, “One of the most impressive gestures we can extend to first-time visitors is for people with no official position to take the initiative and welcome them.”
Treat first time visitors as guests of God, not strangers.
Smile at everyone and offer your hand.
Look people in the eye.
Take the initiative, don’t wait for visitors to initiate conversation.
Learn people’s names and remember them.
Use [only] appropriate and allowed touch, such as a hand shake or a gentle pat on the back.
Ask questions and learn about your guests. It is better to express interest in them than it is to try to sell your church.
Listening is a very effective way to show love.
Greet children at their level.
Let children be children.
Invite visitors to join you at something, anything!
Never let new people sit alone. Eschelman says, “New people should never have to sit alone. Take initiative and go to them without delay.”
Help visitors find seating that suits their family’s needs.
Help first time visitors by being their tour guide and helping them find worship resources. Visiting a new church is like a cross-cultural experience, even for those of us who have visited dozens of other churches.
Invite people to fill out your church’s visitor registration card or information.
Tell people you’re glad they are here.
Pray for them throughout your week.
Be yourself! You are loving! You have a good thing going! You have the capacity to love more people and to love more deeply. Eschelman says, “Practice making people feel special, and what you give to others will be returned to you.”
Hospitality is not a given among Christians, it’s a calling which requires a specific skill set.
Consider yourself called!
Marty Troyer is pastor of Houston Mennonite Church and writes at http://blog.chron.com, where this post originally appeared.