When you have guests who show up at your church, they’re going to walk away and say one of two things…
“I felt like a guest”
“I felt like an intruder”
Many guests haven’t been to church in a long time. Many of them are skeptical or afraid. Sometimes, they’re just not sure what it’s going to be like and how people are going to respond to them.
You are offering hope—the hope of Jesus Christ.
But for them, there’s a lot of fear and a lot of skepticism.
But we can do some things on our end to avoid as much of this as possible. You can start by asking five questions that ensure your guests feel at home.
1. What’s their story?
Take some time as a team and create a profile—an avatar—of a family or individual who may be coming to your church for the first time.
- How old are they?
- Where are they from?
- Have they been to church before?
- Is this their first time in a while?
- Is this their first time ever?
- How many kids do they have?
Create an actual story or a situation of one or two guests who may show up at your church for the first time. That helps you to get out of your mindset and into theirs.
2. What’s the solution?
What is some potential pain a guest could feel as they show up at your church for the first time? I’ll give you a couple of examples.
Pain: they’re dropping off their baby with a stranger. Well, that’s a legitimate pain. Listen, you know the lady who runs the preschool department at your church, and you know that she’s awesome. Well, your guests don’t.
Solution: S.O.W. – safety, organization, and warmth. As you work with volunteers in the nursery or preschool, this is how you train them to communicate with guests: “Hey, I just want you to know that there is no safer place than the preschool area of this church. There is no place that’s better organized or warmer.” In other words, your volunteers are prepared for this pain.
Pain: they’re tired. You may have people who are used to sleeping in, used to sitting on a lawn chair all Sunday, and now they’re dressed up and at a church, and so they’re tired.
Solution: have greeters who offer them coffee.
3. What’s the system?
I encourage you, however it looks in your church, to develop a system for guests.
As you work with volunteers, they understand their role at each part of this system. Really, for a lot of guests, there are seven things that happen over the course of a Sunday at your church. Now, it could be different depending on your congregation or how you operate, but for most people, it’s this…
- Driving Up
- Walking In
- Dropping Off
- Sitting Down
- Picking Up
- Walking Out
- Driving Off
What is the goal when guests are driving in? This is their first impression of your church. By the way, when you’re working with parking team volunteers, and they don’t feel like it’s a very glamorous job, I would say,
“Hey, there’s no job more important than yours. You are the very first impression that people have of our church, so smile. That’s step one: just smile.”
This is into the foyer, lobby, rotunda, whatever you call it. What is the next step in the process for you? Is it to make everyone feel welcome? To clarify any confusion for anybody as to where they should go? To make sure every new person has someone who introduces themselves to them? I mean, really, what is the goal for you in your lobby area as people are walking in for the first time?
How are you helping people understanding where their teenager goes, where their middle schooler goes, or where their preschooler goes?
What is the goal when it comes to walking into your main auditorium? How will they find a seat? Who will help them? What if they don’t want help?
How are people going to pick up their kids? What procedures should be in place to make that process smooth, safe, and easy?
Make sure there’s a clear and easy traffic pattern for people to get out of your parking lot. Think this isn’t important? I’ll just say this—don’t make people upset when they’re hungry! For some guests, getting to lunch will help your church as much as anything else.
4. What’s their speech?
Another way you can think about this is, “What’s their slang?”
- How do they talk?
- What do they understand?
- What do they not understand?
Here’s what I mean by that—they don’t know you, so don’t assume they do. If you say, “I’m Brian, the director of outreach fellowship,” they don’t know what that means. Instead, say, “My name’s Brian. I work here at the church, and I work with people.” Say it in terms that make sense to them.
Also, they don’t know who you know. I see this a lot with the welcome and connection time on stage. People say, “Oh, you guys all know Austin, he makes incredible barbecue.” Guests don’t know Austin. They don’t know anything about his barbecue.
Inside jokes and references make people feel like outsiders.
They don’t know the names of your environments. Instead of saying, “Extreme just got back from The Elevate Experience,” simply say, “Our middle school environment—Extreme—just got back from their weekend camp.” You have to explain everything in their speech, in their language, in a way that they understand.
They don’t know Christian terms. “You guys all know the story about John the Baptist…” No, they may not know the story of John the Baptist. You can’t assume that they know these things. The more you can communicate in a way that does not make them feel alienated, the better their experience will be.
5. What’s their step?
When it comes to guests, you need some way of gathering information, and some way of helping direct them to what’s next.
Train people at any Information/First-Time Guest desk to first make an introduction—to get to know people. The more relational connections they can make at your church, the better.
Then, inspire your guests. Don’t just start with, “Hey, let me tell you about this environment, you guys would be great here.” Just say, “Hey, you know, one of the things about this church is that we love connecting people to other people. We love giving people an opportunity to not just be spectators, but be participants. That’s why I want to tell you about these life groups, these small group communities that we have.” Or, “That’s why I want to tell you about these opportunities we give people to serve.”
Don’t just talk about student ministry and say, “Yeah, if you have a teenager, it meets on Sunday nights at 6.” Instead say, “Hey, we love teenagers at this church, and we love helping find a place for them to get connected. That’s why we have this at 6:00 on Sunday nights.”
After inspiration, you can give them the information. Now you can tell them when and how things take place.
Then, finally, an invitation. “Hey, can I get your email address so I can email you?” Or, “Can I meet your teenage son or daughter so I can walk them down and show them where the student ministry meets? Is there a way that we can get in touch with you?” It’s a non-invasive invitation for them to give you some type of information, or take some type of step.
Your goal is to move them as quickly as possible from feeling like an outsider to feeling like an insider.
Why Guests Are Afraid
There is a server at a restaurant my wife and I go to a lot, and when we mentioned our church to her, she said, “Only married couples with kids go to church there.” Then a friend of my wife’s from high school said, “I’ve never dropped off my baby with anyone other than my mom.” There are many reasons why people don’t go to church, but oftentimes, they all boil down to one common question:
Will I be okay there?
This is about emotion. This is about how it’s going feel if they attend. They wonder, “Am I going to get struck by lightning? Am I going to feel guilty the whole time? It’s only for married couples – am I going to feel left out? Am I going to feel safe dropping off my baby?”
What people want to know is, “Am I okay?” Just imagine if people left your church saying…
- “I felt welcome when I walked through the doors of your church. I felt acceptance from people of all ages.”
- “I’m 20 and single and people my grandparents’ ages were talking to me and making me feel welcome and accepted.”
- “I felt safe dropping off my baby at the church nursery.”
What an incredible opportunity for you to move people closer to the love and acceptance and grace of God, by simply addressing some of their emotional fears.
In a small way, them connecting to your church emotionally is a step towards them connecting to God emotionally, and you want to make that process as smooth and as loving and as welcoming as possible.
One of the greatest benefits of Service Rocket, our Sunday Morning System, is that it not only shows you how to engage guests, it gives you everything you need to train volunteers to improve your church’s guest experience!