The Value of Visitor Reception


By Tim Massengale


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Mark North turned into the parking lot of the First Apostolic Church and was immediately flagged down by a waiting lot attendant wearing a bright green vest.

“Pastor North?  Bro. Baker is expecting you.  You can park in one of the guest parking spaces just past the main entrance.”

Mark nodded and pulled ahead to the brightly marked ‘RESERVED FOR OUR GUESTS’ spots located beside the main walkway.  Grabbing his Bible, he got out and paused for a moment to take in the massively attractive building of glass and stone.  It was a modern looking structure with a distinct ‘church’ look to it.  The wide glass front arched up to a high tower, topped by a cross and flame – impressive to say the least.

Walking up to the entrance he was met by the door keeper who also greeted him by name, who then opened the door for him and motioned to one of the hostesses standing just inside the entrance.  The attractive young lady led him down a hall to the pastor’s office.

Sitting in one of the leather chairs positioned before the pastor’s desk, Mark shook his head slowly.  “Mercy me, Pastor – you didn’t need to go through all that trouble just to greet me.  I know this is the first time I’ve preached for you on Sunday morning, but you went all out!”

The elderly white-haired gentleman smiled and leaned back, one bushy eyebrow slightly arched.  “No trouble at all.  But was there something that appeared out of the ordinary when you arrived?”

“Well, just all the special effort you went to in order to greet me – the lot attendant, a door-keeper, the hostesses – I half expected a thirty-piece brass band to start playing!”


Visitor Reception Ministry

Elder Baker chuckled.  “Oh, that.  I just mentioned to my visitor reception director that you would be coming and what kind of car you drove.  You preached here about a year ago during the youth conference so most of them know you.  I just asked them to be on the lookout for you and to make sure you were directed to my office.  Really – we did nothing special.”

Mark nodded slowly.  “Then I’m really impressed.  So this is your normal welcoming process?  I don’t remember you talking about a ‘visitor reception department’ when we discussed leadership positions a while back.”

“Well, it’s not a department per se.  It’s just a part of my Ushering / Hostessing Ministry.  You know how I stress the importance of church visitors and visitor follow-up?  Well, visitor reception is an important part of that process.  You do much the same, don’t you?”

Mark grinned.  He unzipped his Bible case and took out a spiral-bound note pad.  “Okay.  I’ll bite.  Your student is ready for instruction.  To answer your question – no, I don’t have any special guest reception ministry at my church.  But it sounds like I probably need it, so full steam ahead, my friend – I’m ready with pen in hand.”

Elder Baker shook his head sadly and made a ‘tsk-tsk’ sound with his tongue in feigned disappointment.   “I thought I taught you better, my boy,” he said with a mock scolding voice.  “So school is back in session,” he glanced at his watch, “at least for twenty minutes until service starts.  You remember why I stress that visitors are so important to your growth?”

“Sure!  100% of my new converts will come from my church visitors.”

“Exactly. Your church services are the best outreach method you have.  Preaching is God’s number-one method of winning souls.  More souls will be saved as a result of someone inviting their oikos – that’s the Greek word for ‘household’ and it refers to your family, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances – than any other method of evangelism.  Now, you remember the two statistics that explain why visitors are so important?”

“Of course.  First, you told me that 94% of all who receive the Holy Ghost do so in some kind of church service or gathering of saints.  Secondly, you said that 96% of all who receive the Holy Ghost have come multiple times before they receive it – usually at least three to five times.”

Elder Baker nodded.  “Right.  And when you put those two statistics together it shows you two things:  First, if you can increase your flow of first-time visitors, you will increase your converts, and second, if you can get those visitors to come back several times they are more likely to receive the Spirit.  Less than four percent receive the Holy Ghost or are baptized the first time they come.  The best way to encourage guests to return is to have a good visitor follow-up ministry.”

Mark nodded.  “Yes, Elder, I know all this.  We have visitor follow-up working well at our church.  It has resulted in many home Bible studies and many more receiving the Holy Ghost.  But you never talked about visitor reception.”

“Well, forgive me. I should have.  Your guests are the most important evangelism prospects you have.  Like you said, 100% of your new converts will come from those who visit your church services.  It is important – in fact, critical – that their visit experience is a good one.  That way, when we invite them back, they will respond positively.”

Mark was busy making notes. Without looking up he said, “Got it. Keep going.”

“You may have heard of a study that Marriott Hotels did several years ago.  They found that those who visited their hotel made up their minds as to whether they would return within fifteen minutes of their arrival.  For this reason they go all out with their guest reception efforts.  My church tries to do the same.  There are seven key elements we try keep in place.  They are as follows:


Visitor Reception Steps

First is facility and grounds.  We put a lot of effort into making the church look attractive and pleasant.  Building painted, church sign attractive, walks swept, lawn mowed, flower beds weed free, flowers planted in the summer, parking lot without pot-holes and so on.  Churches with limited funds struggle with this, but paint and flower seeds cost little.  Much can be done with a little sweat and attention to detail.  The same goes for the inside – vestibule, restrooms and sanctuary.  I like to have someone from the outside – we use a professional but anyone who will be honest and forthright will work – come at least once a year and do a critique of our facility and services. It is easy to get used to the stained ceiling, the torn carpet and the musty odor.  But outsiders are not so forgiving.

“Second are our lot attendants.  Now, not every church has a parking problem but many do.  Lot attendants can be trained to help people find a parking spot without excessive searching.  But even if a church is small, they should consider having a ‘Reserved for Guests’ area close to the entrance.  Lot attendants can watch for visitors and direct them to these spots.  They can also provide members and guests with umbrellas if the church does not have a portico to drop people off.  Our lot attendants are trained to wave and smile until the lot is about 80% full, then they start helping people find an open spot.  This way it doesn’t feel like you are parking at the county fair. But the guests are flagged down and invited to park in Guest Parking.  This is what happened when you arrived.

Next are our door keepers.  Remember David said he would ‘rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.’ (Ps. 84:10).  We take this position very seriously.  They stand outside and open the door for all who arrive.  This helps mothers with small children and especially the elderly. There is something very classy about it, and it just picks up your spirit to be greeted with a warm smile and handshake.

Fourth is our hostessing team.  We put a lot of effort into selecting and training this group of ladies.  They must be warm, pleasant, and cheerful.  They greet the guests and direct them to our visitor reception desk. They are given a guest packet which explains what our church has to offer.  We put a lot of effort into designing this packet.  They are not cheap – but these visitors are our best prospects and, in truth, our future members; therefore worth the expense. She explains our Sunday school classes and nursery facilities if they have children.  She also gives them a ‘free pass’ to the Pastor’s Reception immediately following service.

“But the most important duty of the hostesses is the guest card information.  We train them to say, ‘Our pastor would love to greet you properly.  Would you mind if we get your names?’  She has the guest card on a clip board and fills it out for them.  This way we don’t struggle with bad handwriting.  She also says, ‘We would love to add you to our mailing list so we can inform you of future events, do you mind if we get your address?’  Very few say ‘no.’ By having the hostess fill it out we almost always get the whole card completed.


Into The Sanctuary

Next is our ushers.  Our hostess will introduce the guest to one of our ushers that are standing at the sanctuary entrance.  The usher’s job is to help them find a seat.  Now this is a critical step.  Our ushers are trained to always have a spot open, about half-way down, on the main aisle.  He works with the members to insure this spot stays open.  I don’t want our guests sitting at the back where all kinds of distractions occur.  I want them on an aisle so they can easily respond at altar call time without having to squeeze past a bunch of people.

“After the guest is seated, the usher then discretely goes to several people and reminds them that a guest has arrived and if they could, to go over and greet them.  This way, until service starts, people are being friendly and talking to the guest the whole time.  We also try to get a couple about the same age to sit by them.  If someone runs the aisles or if tongues and interpretation occurs, they lean over and explain what’s happening.  They also invite them to go with them to the front and pray at altar time.  This same couple will introduce them to me following service and I personally invite them to the pastor’s reception.”

Mark sat back, mouth agape.  “Wow!  I am impressed!  How long did it take you to get all this working?”

Elder Baker smiled lightly.  “This sounds good as I tell it, but believe me, it’s a work in progress.  It’s something we keep refining and improving.  But it took a good year of hard work to get the main pieces in place.  But I still meet with each group regularly to encourage them and go over the key elements.  It’s doing better now than ever.”

Outside the organ began to play, and Brother Baker glanced at his watch. “We better hurry this up.  Service is starting.

The sixth element is welcoming the guests.  Once the guest is seated the hostess writes their name on a ‘guest map.’  This is a simple map of our sanctuary with the pulpit and platform at the bottom and long boxes representing each pew.  She writes their name on the pew where they are seated.  If their name is hard to pronounce, she even writes it phonically.  This is then brought to me during song service.  Later I go to the pulpit, look right at them and greet them by name.  This always seems to impress them.”

Mark held up his hand.  “So do you have each guest stand and let the congregation clap for them?”

“No, we don’t.  Research has shown that guests are uncomfortable being singled out in this way.  They do like to be acknowledged, but not made a spectacle.  So I just greet them and invite them to the ‘Pastor’s Reception’ following service.  We also have a ‘friendly time’ during service where all are invited to step out and greet those around them.  I think that adds a nice, warm touch to the service.”

Mark made several more notes.  “And the last step?”

“It’s the Pastor’s Reception.  We have a room off the vestibule where we have coffee, tea, juice and some coffee cake.  As altar service begins to wind down I make my way back there.  The ushers and hostesses on duty that service go to the vestibule at altar time and greet any guests as they leave and invite them to the reception.  I love to work in the altar but we have lots of trained altar workers.  So after a bit I try to slip out when I see guests leaving so I can speak with them.  We try to keep the conversation light and let them ask the questions.  I don’t want this to turn into an interrogation or sales pitch time.”

“Wow!  I like that,” Mark said.  “But unfortunately I don’t have a room off the vestibule to use.”

“Neither did we.  For a while we used the vestibule itself.  We just set up a table with coffee and cookies.  We have also used the fellowship hall.  Really, I don’t think this need to be all that fancy.  Guests just like meeting the Pastor and talking with other saints.  They want to know that we are real people.  This time has worked well for us.  I hope you give it a try.”


Time to Preach

Out in the sanctuary the singing began and Mark closed his notebook.  Slipping it back into his Bible case he grinned ruefully.  “You seem to always do this to me.  Now I have to get up there and preach the mind of God and you have my mind going a hundred miles an hour in another direction.  I should have known better than to talk to you before service!”

Elder Baker laughed.  “Oh, I’m sure you will do fine.  I just gave you a piece of my mind – and at my age, I have precious little to share!”

Mark laughed and they stood to make their way to the sanctuary.


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