Welcoming visitors to church

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

The primary purpose of a Sunday church service is to enable God’s people to gather together to worship God, hear Scripture, pray, receive teaching and use their gifts to encourage and build one another up.  I say this because in recent years there’s been a bit more debate about what The Church is trying to do on a Sunday. 

For a period of time, seeker friendly services were in vogue. The trend started with Bill Hybels and Willow Creek Community Church. The idea was that you used the Sunday morning gathering to draw in unbelievers, gave them a quality experience with good music, interviews and a shortish, practical talk.  If they became Christians and wanted to be part of the church, then they were encouraged to join in with midweek events where there would be opportunities to serve and to receive deeper teaching. Sunday morning was a shop window into the life of the church.

However, not everyone agreed with this and so for some, there was a reaction the other way. Emphasising that Sundays were for the church, they argued that if you wanted to evangelise to your unbelieving friends, then inviting them on a Sunday wasn’t the best thing. Instead, you should find other contexts in which to introduce them to Jesus. Only if and when they had professed faith should you invite them to come along with you to the church gathering.

Now, my opening paragraph might suggest that I incline towards the second position but I don’t and here’s why.  First of all and most importantly, because Scripture expects unbelievers to be present when we gather to worship.

Secondly, because whilst we may engage with our friends and share the Gospel with them in other settings, there are many people who don’t have Christian friends who need to hear the good news.  There is still a possibility that they are more likely to turn up at a church service either because something prompts them inside or because they were invited. Sunday morning remains the most public and accessible aspect of Christian life.

It is also worth considering that even if we followed the second approach strictly, a day will still come when the people we had been sharing our faith with should want to come to church with us. Therefore, we need to be ready for people to come to our meetings who are new to church, not just new to our church. 

For those reasons, I believe that it’s important to have newcomers in mind as we plan our Sundays.  So here are a few thoughts about how we can do this.

  • Signpost where you are and when you meet clearly.  This starts with publicity. Remember that the real shop window for church these days is often the internet.  Do you have a clear, visible presence, not just a website but through social media: Facebook, Instagram, TikTok etc.[1]
  • Greet warmly.  Find people with a gift for welcoming and have them ready to receive people.   You may want to put some people out at the front of the carpark in hi vis vests as well as on the doorway.  Give clear guidance about the role. Their priority is to look out for newcomers and make sure they are okay.  Provide a welcome desk with information about the church, an opportunity to leave contact details and some free goodies including good quality Gospel literature to take away.  Make sure people know where fire exits and toilets are. Serve refreshments at the beginning not at the end -and don’t scrimp on them.
  • At the start, welcome people and talk through the key components of the meeting including timings.  Stick to time commitments.
  • Talk as though you expect visitors to be present, even if you cannot see any or many.  This helps anyone who has snuck in to feel welcome and it gets the church into the habit of expecting visitors.
  • Explain things including song lyrics, liturgy, gifts of the Spirit so that people know what is happening and why.
  • Think about how you are going to run -and announce- children’s work in a way that shows that their children will be safe, well looked after and have an enjoyable time. 
  • Finish well.  Be clear that this is the end of the meeting and that they are free to leave!  Build connections to encourage them to come back.  At a minimum, identify one specific thing that they may be interested in looking at in the week and tell them what is happening the following Sunday.

Most of all though, I think the best thing we can do for visitors is to remember the purpose of the church gathering that we described at the start.  They are more likely to come back again if they see that we value the gathering of the church and enjoy being together with God’s people, worshipping Him and feeding on his word.

[1] I’m not so convinced that Twitter is essential for churches. The nature of it means that it isn’t the best place for advertising and connecting for local community events and activities.

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