What makes you feel welcome when you visit a place for the first time? What makes you want to come back again? Think about going to a store, a restaurant, a hotel…what are some of the hallmarks of a place that will keep you coming back? A friendly, warm greeting; attentiveness to your needs without being too pushy; clear directions and signage so you could find what you needed; a clean and hospitable environment – all these things would likely make your top ten list of places to which you would want to return.
Church Leadership Consultant Thom Ranier has worked with hundreds of churches in his career and provides great insight on how to create a welcoming culture for new visitors and guests to the church. Below are fourteen things that help make a church feel welcoming. Ranier says that Genuinely Friendly Churches (GFCs) have at least eleven of the fourteen items present in their church culture:
1. They are intentional about being friendly. Warmth and friendliness are clear values of theses churches. They are articulated regularly. All organizations, including churches, naturally drift toward an inward focus unless they are otherwise intentional.
2. The leaders model warmth, humility, and friendliness. The friendliness is not contrived or phony. These leaders have prayerfully become genuinely friendly men and women.
3. The leaders are clear that genuine friendliness is more than a brief stand and greet time in a worship service. The efficacy of a stand and greet time was debated extensively on this blog. Regardless of a church’s decision in this practice, leaders in GFCs were adamant that true hospitality and friendliness extends beyond a two-minute welcome time.
4. GFCs utilize a secret guest at least twice a year. One small church of which I am aware budgets $100 a year for a secret guest. They pay the guest with a $50 gift card to come to the church and provide feedback on their experience. I call this process “looking in the mirror” because it gives the church a real opportunity to see itself as others do.
5. GFCs had a guest friendly web site. The web site typically set the tone for a guest. If it did not have obvious information for a guest, such as worship times and addresses, the guest came to the church with a more negative disposition.
6. The church has clear signage. Far too many churches lack this signage. They assume that everyone knows where everything is. First-time guests know nothing about the church or its different facilities.
7. GFCs have a well-organized greeters’ ministry. They have greeters in the parking lot, greeters in the entrances, and greeters in other strategic locations inside. Many GFCs utilize newer members in this ministry.
8. These churches have clear information places. It may be something as simple as a well-marked table manned by a member of the church. The signage points clearly to the information table, booth, or kiosk.
GFCs have clean and neat buildings. It is amazing how much a clean facility adds to the positive mood of a guest. It is equally amazing how few churches pay attention to this issue.
9. They have a guest feedback process. To the best of their ability, GFCs follow up with guests to get feedback on their experiences. They also encourage the guests to be open and frank in the feedback.
The children’s area is clearly safe and sanitary. Don’t expect young parents to return if the church does not give clear attention to this matter.
10. The majority of church members in GFCs are involved in the community. They thus exude genuine friendliness in the worship services because they are regularly connecting with non-church members other days of the week.
11. Small groups are highly intentional about reaching people beyond their own groups. Thus when these group members are in a worship service, they are already accustomed to reaching out beyond those with whom they already have relationships.
12. GFCs have new member classes that emphasize the responsibilities and expectations of church members. Members are thus more apt to look beyond their own preferences to serve others. That attitude shows up in the worship services.
Imagine that you were coming to Burlington Presbyterian Church for the first time this Sunday. How many of the following things would you experience? Where do you see room for improvement? I welcome your comments and feedback. Let’s build up a culture of hospitality in order that we may welcome others in a genuine and intentional way, as a church family.
Peace, Pastor Trina