This is the scenario.
A young couple that fell away from involvement in the church has their first kid.
They think, “We should start going to church, at least for the sake of the children.” A couple years go by and their second little blessing joins the family. After getting over the initial shock of adjusting to a newborn, with a toddler, they decide it’s finally time to go to that church they saw up the street. They put it off for a few more weeks.
Eventually, they are convinced it’s time to take action. They wake up on time, load up the car, and head off to church. It’s been a while. They didn’t anticipate this, but they start to get nervous.
Question like: “Are we wearing the right clothes?”, “Do we have to check in our kids, even if they’re fussy?”, “What will the people be like?” start forming in their minds.
They pull into the parking lot and find a nice spot that is not too far, but not too close to the main entrance.
After gathering up their kids, they make their way to front entrance, walking past two people who are talking to each other. As they stand in the lobby they notice a bunch of small conversations taking place, just not with them. So, they talk with each other and further isolate themselves from the nearby interactions.
But, it’s no trouble. After all, they have a mission. They need to find where the kid’s ministry is. After a little confusion, they see a sign and start heading toward it. At last, they have their first, and only, interaction with a human being.
By nature of her job, the friendly young attendant asks pertinent questions about allergies and ages and special instructions. The young couple leaves their kids with a bit of trepidation. But they must admit, the break is welcome.
They sit through an enjoyable service, gather their kids, head to car, and make a beeline for home.
Church wasn’t how they remembered. They don’t know anyone. The people seem nice, but it’s just not the same. They didn’t make a connection. They couldn’t enter into fellowship.
Instead of going back, they start watching their favorite preacher on the internet.
“You only have once chance to make a first impression”
Or, so the saying goes. While the above scenario is fictitious, it’s emblematic of an all-too-common obstacle for many people trying to reconnect at church.
More and more research suggests that one of the highest motivating factors for people to stay involved in church is genuine fellowship. People are looking for community. People want to know others and be known by others.
When people form real relationship they are more likely to stick around, get involved, and start contributing; all of which lead to life change in the individual and family.
Hosting with Hospitality in Mind
A good impression goes a long way, and a well-trained, friendly welcoming committee is the key to showing visitors and members the kind of hospitality they are longing for. A good welcome begins in the parking lot and is carried all the way through to the end of their experience. To ensure that your people are experiencing the love of Christ, love needs to be manifest in practical ways.
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” -John 13:35
Revealing the love of Christ in practical ways will increase the quality and quantity of transformational fellowship in your church. Here are Four Ways To Make Members Feel Welcome:
Make a Good First Impression
Form a welcoming committee of friendly, outgoing people who are eager to greet and meet new people. Make sure your environment is clean and inviting. Offer quality food and drink to show that people are worth the cost and effort. Station your greeters in strategic positions such as in the parking lot, at the front doors, and at intersections within the church. Have astute ushers inside the auditorium so people don’t feel confused about where to sit. And finally, provide clear information and signage that helps people feel confident in their comings and goings. All these things remove the uncertainty that leads to reclusion.
Vet Your Volunteers
You’re only as good as your team is strong. It’s important to train your welcoming committee to understand the importance of a good first impression. They need to understand how to engage with people in a personal way, asking relevant questions that show they care. Good greeters understand that making people feel comfortable and welcome removes barriers that could get in the way of reception of the Gospel. Giving people confidence and connection is not just so they’ll come back, it’s also a key element in their ability to engage with the life changing messages and fellowship they’ll encounter each week.
Create Space and Time
Providing a warm environment with good lighting and comfortable vignettes for interaction helps people engage in more meaningful ways. When people feel the need to rush off and shuttle to their cars after service, it reduces the opportunities for quality relationship building. At our church, we tell people to stick around in the connection area and meet someone new. Our volunteers are trained in a concept we adopted called the “10/10” rule. It states that for at least ten minutes after service, anyone with in ten feet of you is your responsibility to meet and greet. It serves as a simple reminder to break out from naturally forming cliques, and put in the effort to welcome new people.
Making a good first impression by making people feel welcome is not effective unless it’s genuine. It’s important to train your welcoming committee to ask meaningful questions and intently listen to the answers. We use the acronym FORD to empower our greeters to ask questions related to: Family, Occupation, Recreation, Dreams. Make it a special point to remember names, family relationships, job-related details, and personal struggles. Helping people feel valued by remembering them makes a big impact that helps retain and engage visitors and members.
Removing the obstacles and uncertainty by forming solid connections and making people feel welcome will yield immediate and long-term results. It will immediately help growth in your ministry and will, over time, help people engage with the powerful, transformation vehicle for the Gospel – the Church.