When people you invite agree to come to church, we want them to have as positive an experience as possible. These are practices that have been shown to be effective in leading people to turn their visit into attendance.
Before the visit
- Offer to pick them up or wait for them at the entrance
The entrance to some of our churches isn’t obvious and seeing a welcome face makes a huge difference – church is an intimidating experience to many people and our buildings were largely created to feel intimidating
- Introduce them to at least 4 other people
Studies have shown that meeting at least four new people and making a connection with them greatly increases the chance they’ll return
- Offer them your church’s welcome materials
You do have welcome materials, right? Perhaps a brochure outlining your church’s communal life and offerings, the most recent copy of your newsletter, and something they can fill out and return with contact information (if they choose). Please do follow up with folks who leave their information with you.
check out our sample welcome materials
While they are with you in worship
- Be attentive to them (not smothering) as they figure out what’s going on in the liturgy
Trust me its not so intuitively obvious as you might imagine, especially if their previous church experience was unlike yours
- If you use a printed bulletin consider including basic explanations of what’s happening in each part of the service
Your long time members might also find this enlightening
- Sit near the front so they can see what’s going on
Surprisingly, the front rows are almost always empty. Kids especially love being able to see what’s happening
Now let’s talk about the practice of some communities to ask visitors to stand up and introduce themselves. Please don’t – just don’t so this. This practice serves the needs of the existing community much more than the needs of the visitors. A much better plan is to encourage members to go up and introduce themselves one at a time outside of worship.
Secondly, let us consider where we sit. I don’t think many churches still assess pew rents; therefore, nowhere in the church is YOUR seat. There may be spots you prefer and usually sit, but Jesus didn’t assign you that seat so if a visitor sits there, be glad they appreciate it as much as you and be gracious. I bet there’s an open seat in the front pew, after all.
- Invite them to coffee hour (or other regular fellowship time after worship) – this is a good time to introduce them to others
Also, “chaotic” coffee hours usually result in higher retention rates. When people need to move around and get to meet more people they feel more engaged and connected than in a setting where everyone sits down in the same place each week and newcomers are relegated to a table on the margins by themselves
- Ask them what they thought – listen without being defensive
This is great feedback for what your parish is doing right and an opportunity to rethink things that might not be effective
- Thank them for joining you
- Invite them back – accept a no graciously
The above was written with the assumption that visitors are with someone who invited them. Most churches will see visitors who show up on their own, unbidden, thanks be to God. You might want to consider a forming a ministry team whose role is to fulfill the actions above for these visitors.