Our guests are important
Each weekend in America, somewhere between 60 - 120 million people will attend some sort of church gathering. Among those who enter the doors of our church buildings, a small portion of them will be first-time guests. Are you prepared to welcome your guests and help them become engaged members of your church community, so that they will ultimately grow into mature disciples of Jesus?
Fewer and fewer Americans have an affinity for faith. The 60 - 120 million who will attend a church gathering make up only about 20-40 % of our entire country's population. The affinity for faith that people have changes as you move from region to region, but overall there are less and less people who will seek out your church on Sunday morning. Therefore, we cannot wait for them to come to us. We need to go to them. Church leaders will need to focus their energy in helping to train and equip their members to see themselves as representatives of Christ in their workplaces, neighborhoods and schools.
Even though we need to shift our mentality to think more missionally, that doesn't mean we should give up on our Sunday gatherings as a place where people can come and be reached. Sunday morning is still a time that people recognize as the time when churches gather. If the average American was asked when people attend church, they would likely answer Sunday morning. People who are searching for faith are still inclined to find a church service they might want to attend.
My church is located in an area of Minneapolis that has a lower than average connection to faith. Within a half mile of our church building, there are about 21,000 people. The overwhelming majority of whom are young urban professionals. The population block that makes us 70% of our neighbors only makes up about 3% of our country's entire population. Our average neighbor is not looking for a church, and as a result, our church community is considering our current ministry models to ask ourselves how we can be more effective at reaching them. We cannot expect them to come to us. That doesn't change the fact that we still have an average of 3-5 new guests each Sunday, most of whom live within walking distance of our church building.
Bottom line, even while the culture shifts around us and affinity for faith decreases, we still have new guests join us nearly every Sunday. Being intentional to welcome those guests and reach them is important. They have already crossed one of the most difficult barriers to engaging in faith. Be ready to welcome them, get them connected with your community and disciple them into maturity as a follower of Jesus.
4 ways you can be involved in welcoming guests
1. Everyone should feel responsible
Do you feel responsible to welcome guests on Sundays? You should. There might be a ministry at your church that organizes volunteers to help greet people. It can be easy to assume that those ministry volunteers have got it covered and therefore you shouldn't need to feel responsible. But this could not be further from the truth. Being greeted by someone who is supposed to greet you is not nearly as welcoming as having a friendly conversation with someone who is simply interested in getting to know you. Having volunteers committed to welcoming our guests is important, but it should not be a substitute from having a culture of everyone feeling responsible to welcome our guests.
When I was helping to plant a church in Fargo, ND, we intentionally resisted the urge to create a team of volunteers to greet. We did not want to give our current members an excuse to not welcome our guests. Because there was no assigned group to welcome people, everyone in our church felt responsible to be part of welcoming our guests.
If you are a ministry leader, help your congregation create a culture where everyone feels responsible to welcome your guests. Whether you are a ministry leader or not, you should feel personally responsible to welcome your guests. Try it this week. When you gather together this weekend, look for someone you don't know and introduce yourself. You can start with these two question:
Hello, my name is ____________. What is your name? (wait for their answer)
I don't believe we have met before, how long have you been coming to ________________ Church?
From there, you can just get to know them.
2. Don't just welcome, follow-up later
This is extremely important. Don't just welcome the new people, make a habit of following up again later. I recently read that if someone does not develop a meaningful relationship with someone from the church community (that isn't a pastor) within the first six months, they will probably not stick around. And can we blame them? Having meaningful community is central to what it means to be the church. We talk about community and say that it is a value we have, so if someone cannot develop community with anyone in the first six months, they are probably not coming back.
You can do this in a variety of ways. Invite them out to lunch after church with you and some friends. You could also ask for their email address or phone number and then follow-up with them later that week. Or you could just look for them the following week and make it a point to say hello (and remember their name).
3. Know how guests can get involved
Be aware of your church's opportunities for new people. At First Baptist Church, we have a gift bag for all of our new guests. If your church has something like that, be aware of it and direct the new people to where they can get their free gift. We also have a guest lunch every 5-6 weeks and a Starting Point class. Beyond that, we have a goal of getting people connected to one of our Community Groups and help them join one of our Serve Teams. Be aware of what opportunities exist in your church and help connect your guests to those opportunities. And maybe you are part of a Community Group yourself. If so, invite them to join yours and help them connect with a small community who are seeking to grow as followers of Jesus.
4. Join the welcome team at your church
If you really love to greet and welcome people, then consider volunteering to be part of your church's welcome team. Ours is called the Connections Team, and the mission of that team is to help our guests feel welcomed and loved. Find your church's team, and ask how you can help!
I intentionally listed this one fourth, because the best way to welcome our guests is to create a culture in which everyone feels responsible to be a welcoming presence. But that doesn't preclude the need for welcome teams, so consider joining the one at your church.
In summary, here are four ways you can help to welcome your guests on Sundays:
- Everyone should feel responsible (including you)
- Don't just welcome, follow-up later
- Know how guests can get involved
- Join the welcome team at your church
I want to hear from you
In the comments section below:
1. Tell us about a time that you helped to welcome someone to your church and were able to see them eventually get involved
2. Tell us about a time that you felt welcomed when you first visited a new church.