First-Time Guests


As I’m writing this, we are just days away from Easter. As exciting as that news is for us as Christians, it also means we are heading into one of the busiest times of the year for our churches. The three highest attended weekends for most churches are Easter, Christmas, and Mother’s Day. Chances are very good your church will see a substantial increase in both attendance, and first-time guests those weekends.

While some people/families who come to your church for the first time during those seasons are of course “church” people who only attend a few times a year – somewhere in the mix will be people who are “unchurched” (do not have a home church, may not have been in church for many years…if ever)

After dozens of church consultations, hundreds of mystery guest visits (reports from Faith Perceptions), and reading many books and articles, here are my top ten recommendations/reminders:

  1. Walk outside the church and look at the building from where you expect most new people will park. If you had never been to your church before, could you tell where to enter? New guests need good directional signing.
  2. Where possible, ask your greeters to stand outside and open the doors for everyone. If that is not possible, please open the doors before someone reaches them. Be sure your greeters are not engaged in their own conversations when people are arriving.
  3. Take a good look at the nursery and children’s ministry areas. Are they clean and organized? Have someone remove anything being stored in those rooms. (upright pianos, chairs, etc.)
  4. How long is your “meet & greet” time? This is a very uncomfortable time for many unchurched first-time guests. If it is normally more than two minutes, consider cutting it back at least for this weekend. (see 10 Reasons Guests Don’t Return to Your Church by Thom S. Rainer)
  5. Be sure to welcome everyone, but offer a special welcome to anyone who may be attending for the first time. [Please don’t ask them to raise their hands, or stand and introduce themselves. Yes, those are still happening in some churches.]
  6. Ask everyone to fill out a connections card, pew pad, etc….First-time guests will typically follow the people around them. If no one else fills it out, they will not either. Best Practice: “If this is your first time here, welcome! We want you to know that a $10 donation will be made in your honor to Nothing-But-Nets for every first-time card we receive. That ten dollars will buy a mosquito net which may save a child’s life.”
  7. Review your worship service and bulletin for anything which might be “insider” language. Would someone who has never been to any church before understand what you are doing and saying in worship? Remember, it is not about changing what we do as much as it is welcoming people to join us. For example, many churches really love their times of call-and-response. (The pastor says something, and the congregation responds.) Believe it or not, these are different in every church. So even “church” people can feel lost. Unchurched people tend to feel not included.
  8. What is your plan for following up on first-time guests who leave their information? The 24-48 hours after their visit is critical. If you receive a phone number, that is always the best way to reach out to a new guest. A short call from the pastor, or trained connections person, during a time you expect to reach them. “Hi Kay, this is pastor Mike at First United Methodist Church. I see where you visited our church for the first time this weekend. I just wanted to call and say ‘thanks!’ We would love to have you come back and see us again. In fact, next weekend I’m starting a series on bible myths. Is there anything I can answer for you at this point? – Less than a minute total. (unless they initiate a conversation)
    • If you don’t get a phone number, then an email the next day is good too. If you only receive an address, then a postcard/letter should be the last option.
  9. The time right after the service ends is very important for first-time guests. Church people tend to either run for the doors, or gather with people they already know. Recruit a few people to watch for new faces and be sure they are made to feel welcome.
  10. First-time guests with children often run late. Be sure there are still greeters in place, space available in the nursery and children’s ministry rooms, and seats in the back on the aisle.

There are of course many more, but ten seems to be a good place to stop.

I recently read the book, Becoming a Welcoming Church by Thom S. Rainer. It is very good and I would recommend it to everyone – especially those in charge of the hospitality ministry. It is a quick read, but has many great points.

God is calling us to reach the lost ONE.

Let’s be sure they feel welcome when they come to our churches.

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