Welcoming new people to your church means walking a fine line. On the one hand, you want them to feel at home, but on the other, you don't want to make them feel awkward by overwhelming them with attention. As a pastor, church leader, usher or ordinary church member, you need ideas that will put visitors at ease, reflecting God's love and hospitality, as the apostle Paul exhorts in Romans 12:13.
Ushers or Greeters
Every church should have people near the entrance whose job is to welcome visitors to the service. A friendly "Good morning" and a smile can make a nervous newcomer feel he is not alone. They can also offer practical help, such as giving directions to the sanctuary or washrooms, and handing out newsletters and service sheets. A "Thanks for coming" or "God bless" as new visitors leave could become the deciding factor in whether they return.
Pastor Rick Warren, author of the best-selling "The Purpose Driven Church," considers parking attendants part of his welcoming team. You need this especially if you have a large church of more than a few hundred people. Newcomers can feel daunted when they arrive in a large church car park, much as later they feel trepidation as they decide where to sit in the large sanctuary. Having someone to show visitors to parking spaces helps a first-time visit run more smoothly, and a conversation with a parking attendant may be the first impression they get of the church.
Create a welcome pack containing useful information a visitor needs to know. Contents might include a leaflet about the church and its beliefs, a list of services, meetings and weekday activities, and devotional material they can take home for inspiration and learning. It could even include gifts, such as bookmarks, fridge magnets or a free book. On a practical note, if a new visitor arrives early, this gives her something to read while waiting for the service -- a pleasant alternative to squirming in her seat with nothing to do.
Greeting from the Front
The pastor or worship leader can greet new visitors from the platform, but do this carefully. Most new visitors want to feel they blend in with the crowd, and will feel uncomfortable if they find themselves suddenly under the spotlight. Without drawing attention to individuals, however, the pastor can say something like, "I'd like to welcome all new visitors this morning. If you haven't received one already, we'd love to give you an information pack you can read at home. Just ask one of the stewards on your way out."
Training Every Church Member
Helping visitors feel welcome is the job of every church member. Set aside a home group or Bible study session to have small-group discussions or workshops to train members how to treat newcomers. Focus on practical ways everyone can reach out, such as greeting new people in an informal, relaxing way or helping a neighbour find a Bible passage or hymn during the service.
Have coffee or light refreshments after the service to encourage people to stick around and get to know one another. Put a note in the newsletter or announce from the front that everyone is welcome, and make practicalities clear, such as where people can sit and whether they have to pay for refreshments. Uncertainty about where to go and what to do can put off visitors.