Do you know how many new church visitors step through your door on any given Sunday? Do you have a strategy in place for when they do? If you’re not recognizing and connecting with visitors, you’re missing out on the chance to show them they are loved and valued by your church. Read on for easy ways to connect with new visitors and show them your church is a place they can belong.
First, step into the shoes of potential new church visitors.
Visiting a new church is intimidating, especially if someone isn’t familiar with church culture. It takes courage to show up to a Sunday service.
Somehow, they’ve heard of your church and are curious enough to walk through your front doors. There’s a good chance they don’t know anyone and are feeling uneasy in a new environment.
But they don’t have to deal with their anxiety alone — you can immediately put them at ease! After all, do you want your guests to arrive, sit through your service, and leave as soon as it’s finished?
Or, do you want them to feel valued when they arrive, acknowledged and appreciated during the service, and eager to connect with you after church is over?
We want to give them a warm welcome and encourage them to connect, of course!
So, how do you create a first-timer experience that leaves a great impression? How do you get new guests to come back next week?
Here are the most important things you can do to welcome church visitors:
1. Have a superstar greeter team.
Greeters are likely the first human interaction guests have with representatives of your church. Since they’re on the frontlines, we can’t emphasize it enough — the quality of your greeter team can make or break a guest’s experience before they even step foot in your sanctuary.
Ideally, you need three main groups of greeters — one for exterior doors, one for sanctuary doors, and one for the information desk.
Think of greeters as the point-people for all things related to your church. Each group should be able to give visitors directions (or better yet, escort them to) any place on your church campus.
Train your greeter team to embody hospitality. Friendly, empathetic people who thrive in creating a warm, welcoming environment will do wonders for your success in connecting with new church visitors.
Greeters need to be good people readers so they can determine the level of connection a guest is seeking. An overly-enthusiastic greeter might scare someone off (especially introverted guests). On the flip side, a greeter who can’t read a guest’s eagerness to connect may leave them disappointed.
Superstar greeters also need to be well-versed in all the extra programs your church offers. They should be able to provide any details a visitor might need to get involved in anything from Sunday school to small groups. This is especially necessary for greeters working at the most important spot in your church lobby: the welcome desk.
2. Make sure your welcome desk serves as a hub for new visitors.
A well-marked welcome desk gives new visitors a clear place to go during the busy rush before and after service.
It might be hard for guests to engage with greeters at the exterior and sanctuary doors. If that’s the case, the welcome desk serves as a clear place to go for anyone with questions. This is also why volunteers at the welcome desk should be the most knowledgeable about your church.
Want to go the extra mile? Stock the desk with Bibles, notepads, pens, bulletins, tissues, mints, and even earplugs — anything a guest may need for the service.
If your church has the space, a VIP section for visitors is a fantastic extra that will really help visitors feel valued. This doesn’t need to be a separate room. In fact, having a VIP section as part of the main lobby is a low-pressure option for guests looking to connect. It doesn’t need to be elaborate. A space with comfortable seating, snacks, and drinks encourages visitors to stop in and connect before they leave.
Bonus tip: if possible, have your pastor waiting in this area after service to greet guests. The personal touch will make them feel extra-valued. Plus, who better to answer their questions about the church?
3. Keep a stack of connection cards at your welcome desk and in the VIP area.
If your church doesn’t have connection cards, you’re missing out on a simple way to keep in touch with guests.
These can be a tear-out part of your church bulletin, a stand-alone option — or both. Your connection card should be simple. This is not the place to overwhelm visitors with information, or ask for too much of theirs.
Here are the three fields your card should have:
- Email address
- Phone number
That’s it! You really don’t need any more information than this. A name and email or phone number gives you what you need to reach out and connect with a guest after Sunday. If they take the time to fill out the card and turn it in, they want you to contact them!
If you want, you can add a “Notes” section with a few blank lines at the bottom of the card. This gives new church visitors a place to write any specifics on how they’d like to connect with you.
4. Connect with your guests during the service.
Remember, a new church service can be intimidating — a first time visitor doesn’t know what to expect from you. There are several ways to help put them at ease, though.
If you have a church bulletin, include the order of service so guests know what to expect. Otherwise, someone should announce each transition as it takes place in the service.
Meet and greet time can be polarizing for new visitors. Talking to strangers can make new church visitors feel anxious, especially when it seems like everyone already knows each other. If you do have a time for this in your service, it helps to train your congregation to look for new people around them. Explain why your church values hospitality, then give them the responsibility of making sure no one in their area goes without a handshake or a hello.
It’s probably best not to make new visitors stand up or raise their hands. Some may not mind the attention, but this could mortify others! A simple acknowledgement from the pulpit will do. Anything along the lines of, “If this is your first Sunday with us, welcome. We’re so glad you’re here!” will do the trick.
This is also a great moment to tell visitors about connection cards. Tell them how to fill the cards out, where to drop them off (have a box at the back of the sanctuary), or to bring them to the welcome desk after the service in exchange for a free gift. Offer them a gift even if they don’t turn in a connection card. Some guests may not feel ready to commit to giving out their information on their first visit. The offer of a no-strings-attached gift will show them their presence is valued, even if your church doesn’t “get” anything from them in return.
5. Use welcome gifts as a special touch.
A welcome gift gives you a chance to connect with visitors before they leave your church. It tells a guest “You matter to us” and makes your interest in them tangible.
Decide on a budget for your welcome gift, keeping in mind that it’s important to invest in quality gifts that people actually want and will use. That said, if your budget is tight and you aren’t able to invest in gifts right now, never underestimate the power of donuts and coffee to make someone feel welcome! A special table of treats set up just for visitors does the trick.
Otherwise, here are a few popular options:
- T-shirts are always a good choice. If your t-shirt is well-made and branded with your church’s well-designed logo, people will want to wear it. Even if they don’t become regulars at your church, they may be wearing that shirt around town. That’s free advertising for your church!
- Water bottles are another great way to do this. Most people use them every day, and if you offer high-quality bottles, they’ll be carrying it with them wherever they go — again, free advertising!
- A mug or tumbler with your church logo will remind visitors of your church every time they use it. You can include a drink mix, a coupon to your church cafe, or a gift card to a local coffee shop for an extra touch.
- Gift books can give new church visitors a peek at what your church believes and values. You can even have your pastor leave a handwritten note inside the front cover as a personal touch.
- Gift cards to local restaurants and coffee shops are always a welcome gesture!
Whichever gift you choose, attach a handwritten note from someone on staff that welcomes guests to your church. This will go a long way to making guests feel valued! You can also have an information bundle that goes with each gift. This could include a notepad and pen, a booklet with information about how to connect further at church, etc.
Connection with new church visitors is vital for church growth. Every visitor that comes through your church doors won’t become a regular attendee, but you can still make them feel valued and appreciated while they are with you. These easy ways to connect will go a long way toward helping your church make a great first impression that might just turn into a lasting connection.