In a podcast from Michael Hyatt, he talked about some of the changes he made while CEO of Thomas Nelson, including improvements to the front lobby and initial visitor experience when they came to the company.
One of the big things I took away from that podcast is that they stopped calling people visitors and started calling them guests.
“Think about it,” he said. “Visitors implies that somebody doesn’t belong.”
This struck me rather powerfully as a way to improve church experience for newcomers. We should stop calling them visitors and instead call them our guests.
Now, I don’t think I call anyone at our church a “visitor.” I think I usually say something like, “If this is your first time here or your first time back in awhile . . . ” But I don’t think that’s sufficient after hearing Michael speak. I really like the idea of referring to people as guests. It somehow gives them an inherent value and place of special standing.
Being a visitor implies that you know nothing and have come to learn.
Being a guest implies that you can bring a mutually beneficial role to the relationship.
The more I think about it, the more I see how striking the difference becomes. We want people to join our community, to be a part of us, to experience faith and new life in Jesus. For a visitor, this road can be both difficult and scary. They’ve already been told that they don’t belong. So the incentive they have to keep coming back is the hope that eventually they will feel like they do belong.
But a guest inherently belongs. So, in some sense they’ve been invited to join in and participate. Guests are welcomed warmly, like family coming together during the holidays.
As I’ve thought about this over the last several days, I’ve also started to wonder if some of the predicament that the church finds itself in today (lack of interest, decline in memberships and baptisms) can’t, at least to some degree, be traced back to a guest/visitor mindset. Yes, the American church has done a lot of reprehensible things and has done its fair share to isolate people, but I also wonder if we haven’t forgotten that we are told to “practice hospitality” (Rom. 12:13).
Think in terms of traveling. People in other countries very rarely do anything for visitors, but are always welcoming and receiving of guests. They make them feel special, valued and appreciated. Shouldn’t that be said about us in the church?
Justin Hiebert is a Mennonite Brethren pastor in the Denver metro area. He studied Youth Ministry and Christian Leadership at Tabor College and completed his M.Div. at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary. He blogs at empoweringmissional.com, where this post originally appeared.