Keep Visitors Coming Back

Keep Visitors Coming Back
By Rebecca Barnes

I stepped through the flap of tarp that separated the widow’s tent from the rest of the refugee camp. She rose quickly, grinning and bowing to me with her hand over her heart. She invited me to sit and spoke quickly to her oldest son.

He tried to translate. It was a halting apology for not having any tea to offer me. Though a stranger, a foreigner, an outsider, I was still her guest. She wanted to make me feel welcome.

Traveling teaches you a lot about hospitality. Being a stranger teaches you about friendliness.

How do you see strangers? Most Christians think of themselves as friendly.

How does your church see them? Most people think their churches are welcoming even when they are not.

According to Dr. Gary L. McIntosh, Christian ministry and leadership professor at Talbot School of Theology and church consultant, the friendliness most church members say they feel may be a result of having the people they already know around them.

“People who attend a church regularly look at the issue of friendliness from the inside out,” McIntosh writes in his book, “Beyond the First Visit: The Complete Guide to Connecting Guests to Your Church,” (Baker, 2006). It is a matter of perception.

Welcoming Guests

According to McIntosh, the best way to welcome visitors is by modeling the welcome of God, who instructed the Israelites to welcome strangers. And, His Son, Jesus, who welcomed sinners.

“When we welcome newcomers to church,” McIntosh writes, “we are demonstrating the gracious love and care of God himself.”

This task gains even more weight in the view of church leadership trainer, Nelson Searcy, who founded The Journey Church of the City in New York shortly after September 11th, 2001. Since then, it has grown to more than 1,000 members. Searcy says churches should view visitors as gifts from God.
“God isn’t sending a single person through our doors haphazardly, so we have a responsibility to treat each guest in a way that will make him want to come back again and again,” he told Church Central.

Once a right perspective of visitors is in place, McIntosh and Searcy offer practical steps churches can take to prepare for newcomers.

Company Is Coming – Plan For It

McIntosh writes that churches should prepare their facilities as though they were preparing their house for company. For churches he says this involves “preparing an attractive worship service, organizing teams of greeters, cleaning the church facility, offering refreshing snacks, and, most important, creating a welcoming environment.”

Searcy also advises churches to prepare for guests by thinking through the experience they will have upon arriving at your church. When it comes to guests, he says the biggest mistake churches make is failing to plan to properly welcome and follow up with them.

Searcy’s new book, “Fusion: Turning First-Time Guests into Fully Engaged Members of Your Church” (Regal 2008), delineates a complete system that any church can use to help move each new attender along the continuum to becoming a fully-engaged member and a fully-developing follower of Christ.

Then the process of welcoming guests begins all over again as new church members are educated in welcoming. This is an important aspect of discipleship and evangelism, according to Searcy, who says preachers would do well to prepare sermons on how to be a welcoming church.

“By spending a little time preaching on the importance of biblical hospitality, you can ensure that your people exude a warm and welcoming spirit when your guests arrive,” Searcy says.

Remember Holidays

He also suggests church leaders encourage their members to invite un-churched friends by preaching on the importance of reaching out. “Remind your people that their friends will be more open to coming to church on holidays, Easter, Christmas, than at any other time of the year,” Searcy says.

With this reminder in place, Searcy recommends outfitting church members with tools and invitations to help make asking friends and acquaintances a little easier.

Chuck Warnock, who blogs under the title, “Confessions of a Small-Church Pastor,” wrote about an idea for invitations he used last year. Each family in his church sent invitations to 10 individuals or families they knew and included a handwritten note. The church also encouraged them to follow up these written invitations with a phone call to their potential guests, inviting them to worship on Easter.

“Our members offered to pick up their guests or meet them at the church, and sit with them during worship,” Warnock wrote.

He reported Easter attendance ballooned from an average Sunday attendance of 300 to 714. “Not only that, but those numbers also meant new conversations had begun between church members and their un-churched friends, acquaintances and relatives,” he wrote.

What Will Your Guests Say?

The day I visited that refugee camp, when I turned to depart I found myself longing to stay, or at least to return. I felt parched in the dust and heat, and the widow had nothing to share with me but her welcome. It was enough. I was a stranger and she invited me in.

This Easter, will guests be saying the same thing about their visit to your church?

Ratio Insights
By Rev! Magazine

Does your ministry do check-ups? Look at these baseline ratios to assess if your ministry is healthy.

5:100 Your church should average five visitors for every 100 in worship attendance.

1:4 One of every four visitors to your church should be a regular attendee within a year of his or her first visit.

1:7 Church members should have at least seven friends in the church.

1:10 One of every 10 dollars in your church budget should be spent on community outreach.

This article “Keep Visitors Coming Back” by Rebecca Barnes is excerpted from February 2008.