When you’re visiting a new church, there’s a rush of thoughts that flood your mind the moment your feet cross through the door. The potential to be seen (or not) is at the top of every newcomer’s mind. “Is this a place of belonging where I might find safety and care?” That’s a common question running through the mind of a visitor. The split-second arrival impression can set the pace of a first-time visitor’s experience and prompt their engagement or turn them away.
The landscape of church engagement has changed remarkably in recent years. It’s likely many first-time visitors are already familiar with your church because of virtual engagement through websites, online service streaming, and social media. They show up having already done their research. They were intrigued enough to come, and it’s vital we put forth an accurate and genuine experience.
The presence of a curious, warm, and accessible team ready to welcome and engage can make a big difference.
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
A new member of our church was recounting an experience visiting another church in a different city, where she remained unnoticed. She walked in, sat in the service, and no one moved toward her. She left with a sour taste in her mouth, as their website indicated there was community, connection, and a faith-formed family. This proved untrue in her brief time that morning, and she moved on, never to visit again.
When putting yourself in a visitor’s shoes, it’s crucial to consider timing. Many regular attendees arrive right on time (or five minutes late). We’re in a rush to get through the door, find a seat, drop off a child or two in class, greet those we know, and that’s it. Often, the presence of an unfamiliar face isn’t even on the radar of a typical church member. Additionally, the pastor and staff are preparing to serve and lead and aren’t always present to greet a newcomer. It’s interesting that most new visitors arrive early (as opposed to regular attendees), and there’s often no one around to receive them. We ultimately want people to encounter Jesus and know they belong with his people. Click To Tweet
The moment after the service ends, when the benediction is given and folks begin to leave, is also a litmus test of authenticity for new visitors. Preparations are over, the service is complete, and people relax a little. Real community is displayed as post-church plans are made, and people head into their weeks. During this time, people often linger as kids run around and adults connect with affection, kindness, and love. This kind of friendly chatter gives hope that belonging is possible.
Here are three questions to guide you as you consider how to best serve those visiting your church.
What are the first moments of connection like for a visitor?
The connection cycle begins long before someone visits. It’s the invitation in the context of a relationship that brings not-yet believers to consider Jesus. They will then visit your website and public-facing platforms for information and a sense of community, tone, and beliefs. These are the windows into your church, and creating transparency, up-to-date information, and relevant language towards the ear of a newcomer can be the difference between bringing someone in and them choosing not to look inside any longer.
When they decide to come to the front door of a church, we need to plan for a warm, inviting, and balanced entry. We want people to be seen and informed, allowing space to take it all in and engage at their comfort level.
What is the experience in and through the service?
Secondly, the in-service experience and the liturgy rhythm should feel like an open door to someone unfamiliar with church. The language we use, acknowledging visitors, and explaining what’s happening all help the person feel like the system is open. We ultimately want people to encounter Jesus and know they belong with his people.Most Sunday mornings are a hustle for church planters and ministry leaders, but it’s essential we not forget to be mission-minded people. Click To Tweet
What follow-up happens once someone leaves the building?
The ten minutes post-service is so important for informal connections. Having an easy pathway for collecting contact information is essential to establishing a relationship. We can follow their pace in communicating and be respectful, but we must not neglect following up with them. No matter their personality, people long to be seen. Receiving an email or text acknowledging their presence on that Sunday and inviting them into the next phase of connection moves a person from unknown to known.
It’s important to take time and reflect on your process of welcoming and connecting with new visitors. Most Sunday mornings are a hustle for church planters and ministry leaders, but it’s essential we not forget to be mission-minded people. Put yourself in the shoes of a newcomer to your church, and recognize the great privilege we have to receive those Jesus sends our way with gladness and care.