9 Ways to Make the First Sunday Great for that New Guest

Creating a Place Where Your Church Guests Feel Welcomed

by Ben Crawshaw

Have you ever been the new kid on the block? I’ve been that kid many times over the course of my life as a kid and even as an adult. Maybe you moved to a new city or maybe you started a new job. You didn’t know the routines of the office or where to put the mail or where to find paper clips. And you certainly didn’t have anyone to eat lunch with. No matter what age you are when you experience being the new kid the feeling remains the same. You feel left out. You don’t know the lingo. You feel clueless. You don’t know the best routes to take or the best stores to find things. Everything feels unknown and when that happens, it’s easy to feel discouraged and alone.

Feeling like the newbie is intimidating.

So imagine what it must feel like to walk into the doors of a church for the first time. It’s likely that as a church leader, it’s been a long time since you’ve done this. Walking into church for the first time feels the same as being a newbie anywhere else. Just because it is church doesn’t make it any easier. Sometimes, it actually feels worse because everyone knows everyone. Everyone knows where to go. Everyone is doing their thing. Everyone knows a certain language. And there you are alone, discouraged and unknown. And you immediately regret the decision to attend.

So what should you do as a leader? When it comes to creating a place where guests feel welcomed, there are some things you can do with them in mind.

1. Put Yourself In Their Shoes.

In order to create a welcoming space, you need to put yourself in a guest’s shoes. See your building, environments and people from their eyes. Maybe even offer something that feels familiar to people like coffee. Being able to stand around and dodge eye contact helps when you have a cup of coffee in your hand. Or it can serve as a conversation starter. Either way, it’s something familiar when someone finds themselves in the middle of a new place. Nobody likes feeling like an outsider.

2. Be Intentional About First Impressions.

As you look at your church through the eyes of a guest, think about what they will experience for the first time. In life, we all know that first impressions speak volumes. If you meet someone who brushes you off, then you are likely to not want to pursue a friendship. The same is true for guests at church. What and who do they see first? Is the entrance easy to find? Are there signs throughout the building helpful to find their way easily? These things can easily serve as distractions and frustrations to newcomers.

3. Parking.

It’s easy to spend time thinking about the building, but often first impressions begin in the parking lot. Is it confusing or difficult to maneuver? Make it easy. Have volunteers helping people park. Consider having preferred parking, not for the senior pastor, but for parents of preschoolers. These are the people most likely to give up when they have to lug a 30-pound car seat and wrangle toddlers while dodging cars.

4. Friendly Faces.

First impressions don’t end in the parking lot. Who will they see first? Volunteers will speak volumes sometimes without saying a word. Make sure that they understand the mission and values of the church in a way that they can easily communicate it through both verbal and nonverbal ways.

Make sure your team knows how to be kind and respectful to everyone. This type of attitude will help people feel at home.

5. Make Their Children Feel Important.

Parents are highly concerned about dropping their kids off with complete strangers. Gone are the days where kids roam their neighborhood as long as they return before dark. And because times have changed, parents no longer naturally trust people, including the church, with their kids. Their kids are their prized possessions. If you take the effort to make their kids feel welcomed, loved and safe then you will be winning in parents’ eyes.

Be prepared. Have enough volunteers in place. If there is an obstacle to tackle, don’t show fret in front of parents.

6. Customer Service.

There is a common thing that we all know is true that determines whether we go back to a certain store or restaurant and that is customer service. If people go out of their way to help you, then you return. The same is true in church. Approach your guests as customers. Go out of your way to meet their needs, hear their concerns, answer their questions and to make a lasting impression.

7. Think About Details.

We believe that everything communicates something—even your environments—everything from the signage, lighting, décor, furnishings, and even your restrooms. Consider what they will experience in your environment. What does your environment say to people? Make sure children’s environments are clean. Are the bathrooms clean and well stocked? I once visited a church that had mints in baskets at the sink in the bathroom. That’s a small detail, but it spoke a great deal to me. Maybe include changing tables in the bathrooms for those parents of small babies who aren’t quite ready to drop them off in the nursery. Consider walking through each environment and use your five senses. What does it communicate to your senses? No one has ever been disappointed that someone was intentional about the details.

8. Common Language.

A new guest, especially if they are new to church all together, may feel completely out of place or lost. Imagine hearing churchy words like “salvation” or “sanctification” or “blood of the lamb” for the first time and not having a point of context for them. Think through the words you say from stage and from your environments. Make sure that everyone is on the same way with your mission and know how to say it. Everyone from your paid staff to volunteers should be on the same page with how to help people feel comfortable and welcome.

9. Engaging Experience.

One of the biggest reasons why people don’t return is because they weren’t engaged. Why come back to something that was boring or not relatable or not applicable? Think through all your environments—children’s, students, adults—and make sure that you are engaging your audience.

These are a few simple things to think about when creating an place for guests. Creating an environment where people feel welcomed, comfortable and free to be themselves helps guests feel at home.

What have you learned about creating welcoming environments from being a newbie?

Speaking of engaging guests and creating an awesome experience for them … Did you know that this year I created a resource to help churches do just that, consistently and without having to reinvent the wheel?

It’s called the Guest Services System. You can find out more about it here.