By Jack Wellman
What are five ways that you can turn visitors into church members?
Make them feel like Family
When people come into our church, we do not overwhelm them by everyone going over to meet them at the same time…and all at once. Instead, we have certain people that will go over and introduce themselves and ask if they need anything or if there is anything that they would like to know about the church. We have many in the church right now who are experiencing health problems, one of them has a family member in Hospice, another has a friend in the hospital in serious condition, and we have some who cannot attend church anymore and are residents in an assisted living care center. We try to keep in touch with members but also we try to keep connected to those who are not in the church but are family members or friends of our congregants. To us, the church member’s family and extended family, whether they attend our church or not, are considered part of the church’s extended and immediate family. We don’t necessarily make distinctions between members and members’ family and friends who are having serious problems, health-wise or otherwise.
When visitors come to our church, we want them to feel at home and feel like part of the family. We want to exude a feeling of hospitality and offer to visit them or pray for them if they ever have need.
I entered a church one time and felt so unwelcome. Everyone sat in huge groups and only one person came to ask my name. After services I couldn’t wait to get out of there because during services, people kept staring back at me, even though I was near the last pew in the sanctuary. I never felt so unwelcome in all my life so that gave me an idea. What if our church had a Response Team or Hospitality Team that could respond to visitors in a way that makes them feel welcome? They would offer them information about the church; service times, Sunday school classes, or any other church activities. You could call them a Visitor Outreach Team if you like because that’s what they’d do. They would reach out to visitors and make sure they don’t go unnoticed. That way the entire congregation doesn’t overwhelm them all at once. Typically, the Response Team consists of a husband and wife but if there is only one person that comes to visit, the man visits the male visitor(s) while the woman would visit with a female visitor(s). They give them a card that says “Welcome to the Brethren Church” and inside is information about the church and a small mission statement. On the back is our statement of beliefs. There is also contact information with names and phone numbers in case they are interested in finding out more about the church or if they have any questions. We also offer them a Guest Registration Card if they want to fill it out which they can leave in the offering baskets when the offerings are taken up. There is a box which they can check if they would like a visit from someone in the church and the best time to call or come by.
First Impressions are Lasting Impressions
I once visited a church when I was out of town and when I entered the parking lot, there was trash all over the property. My first impression was not a good one and I couldn’t help think, if it’s this trashy outside, what’s it like inside? I almost didn’t go in but when I did, my first impression was confirmed. The carpet in the entryway was worn and there were old church bulletins and a sundry of other papers on the table at the entrance to the sanctuary. When I entered the sanctuary, I noticed stains on the ceiling, probably from a leaky roof, and several lights that were burned out and I also had to move some “stuff” like crayons, comic books, and scratch paper from the pew so that I could sit down. There was a mixture of old offering envelopes, old and outdated church bulletins, and what I call “dust bunnies” everywhere. Now I understand that church is not about how good it looks but what is preached but there is still more that this church could have done to improve the place. I wondered how many had come to visit, maybe looking for a new church home, and never came back again. I believe the saying is right; you’ll never get a second chance to make a good first impression. This could be the difference between one-time visitors and new members who are eager to join the church.
The Extremes of Public Humiliation to Ignorance
It is unwise to ever ask a new member or family to stand up and introduce themselves unless you first ask them if it’s alright with them. I’ve heard of some churches that insist the new visitor or family stand up and introduce themselves to the whole congregation and ask them “20 questions” without first asking for their permission. Others have brought the entire family or the single visitor up front to introduce them without their having a clue it was going to happen. Talk about embarrassing!
The opposite of this is totally ignoring them. If a church acts like the visitor doesn’t exist, they’ll likely not exist there next week. You should ask to see if they want to be introduced and if so, to write out their name(s) so someone doesn’t butcher their name(s). Having them remain in church as anonymous is almost acting like they don’t exist.
Even worse would be that they have to get a court order for some members who almost stalk them after church. They might run into the parking lot after services and ask if they could come over for a visit or if they would like to go out and eat dinner with them at a restaurant. Now, I can see why it’s a good thing to invite them out for dinner but you don’t want to freak out new visitors and chase them down and make them feel like you don’t want them to get away.
Information Overload and Interrogation
Some people may have felt after visiting a new church like they were interrogated because someone may have asked them about their beliefs which could come across like this; do you believe in speaking in tongues and the baptism of the Holy Spirit; do you believe in the rapture or not; do you like to study prophecy and end time events; what did the church you last attend believe and so on.
The other extreme if like pulling up to the visitors and having a dump truck unload the entire history of the church on them; all of their statement of beliefs in less than 60 seconds, rehashing old church members who left for various reasons, and so much more. Visitors are usually not interested in past church divisions or their financial statements, or their history. They are more interested in the present. Don’t make visitors feel like they’ve been interrogated by the police and/or just been given the entire history and doctrines of their particular church read by a speed reader. Relax, listen, and don’t interrupt them. Give them the privilege of asking a few questions or not talking if they don’t feel like it. It’s hard enough being the new man or woman on the block.
There are certainly more ways than these to get visitors to return again. Trust your instincts. Have a plan. Have someone trained and assigned to be greeters to welcome visitors. Do the best you can and if there is good, solid biblical preaching there, then trust God to add to the church as it pleases Him.
From: www.christianmediamagazine.com web site. October 2014.
The above article, “5 Ways Churches Can Turn Visitors into Members” was written by Jack Wellman. The article was excerpted from www.christianmediamagazine.com.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”
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