Attracting the Outsiders

Attracting the Outsiders
Don Cousins

Take a low-pressure approach to non-traditional visitors. Hebrews 13:2

Churches receive visitors from two groups: insiders and outsiders. Insiders understand traditional church subculture. They know what to expect before they walk through the door. Outsiders have no idea what takes place during a church service. It’s easy for them to feel anxious about their first visit. Here’s how to give consideration to the feelings of the outsiders, without writing off the insiders.

Anxiety Reduction

Show people where to park and which door to enter. Place greeters at the entrance to direct people toward the auditorium, where they are handed a program that clearly outlines the order of events. Ushers guide people to open sections rather than specific seats, so they can claim their own space.

Keep anxiety to a minimum with the service itself. Use the first 30 minutes for programming such as a short Scripture reading to introduce the topic, a drama, and a short, easy song or chorus. After the chorus, during which people are standing, say something such as, “As you’re seated, turn and greet some of the people around you.” Only after these attempts to reduce the anxiety of visitors should you formally acknowledge them. Tell visitors they are welcome guests you want to serve. If they want to find out more about your church, give them the options of stopping by a counter in the lobby for more information; being contacted later, which they can arrange by filling in a section of the program and dropping into the offering plate; or calling the church. Don’t pressure visitors any further.

Intangible Overtures

Strive to achieve two important intangibles. The first is warmth.

Greeters. Train greeters and ushers how to make people feel comfortable, and to be comfortable themselves. Avoid perpetual scowls, arrogant attitudes, or overbearing dispositions.

The building. Warm up the church through interior appointments, plants, and auditorium banners. This is one area where smaller churches can be particularly effective. People also appreciate a clean, well-maintained building. Problems such as cracked paint, litter, dirt, and ugly trash cans can destroy a warm image. Music. Many church music leaders include long, reverential pauses for prayer and brief silences during transitions. But almost any length of silence can be uncomfortable for visitors. Use pleasant background music anywhere else it might reduce anxiety.

Prayer. When congregational prayers are simple, basic, and conversational, God may not seem so foreign to visitors.

A second intangible is electricity created by the power of anticipation. Keep three things in mind:

Creativity. If the order of events is the same each week, people may not try too hard to attend regularly. We want people to walk into our church with a sense of anticipation, wondering what’s going to be different this week.

First impressions. The first 15 minutes of a service are extremely important. Start strong, usually with music, and then vary the intensity level for individual elements of the service.

Scope. Electricity is not the result of trying to do something more and bigger each week. A simple song with piano accompaniment likely will be more effective than an unrehearsed full ensemble.

—DON COUSINS served for 17 years on the staff of Willow Creek Community Church and now coaches Christian leaders within churches and para-church organizations; © 2005 Christianity Today/

1. When we think about visitors, do we tend to think it terms on insiders? Or outsiders? How does this impact our approach?
2. What typically happens in the first 15 minutes of our service? The first 30? What kind of first impression might this give? How does it help to ease anxiety for newcomers?
3. How can we find a balance between catering to the needs of insiders versus those of outsiders?

The above article, “Attracting the Outsiders” is written by Don Cousins. The article was excerpted from March 2012.

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.