I moved several times as a boy and, I’ve got to say, it wasn’t much fun. Each time I had to overcome old fears, break down unseen barriers and make new friends. I never liked that feeling of being an outsider. I haven’t forgotten how that felt to my tender young soul. But it taught me some lessons that have been valuable to me in helping to connect with guests at church.
Visiting a church can be awkward for a first time guest. They don’t know the people, the customs or the expectations. They can feel nervous, intimidated or ignored. They might not even yet know the message of the gospel. But having people at church who purposely connect with them can make a real and lasting difference.
Here are some tips to help church members learn to connect with guests who visit your church.
1. Talk to people you don’t know. Church member, this is the simplest thing that you can do for guests. If you don’t know someone, say hello. Tell them you are glad to see them. I ask almost every Sunday, “Have I met you before?” I’m pretty good with faces and I ask this question if I don’t remember meeting them. If I have met them before, I apologize for forgetting and work to get to know them better.
This is a simple, but helpful step in connecting with guests. Just speak to them. Look them in the eye and say a simple greeting. Welcome them. Care about them. A surprising number of church members never do this. Guests don’t want you jumping on their backs, but neither do they want you to ignore them.
Smaller churches have an advantage in knowing whether someone is a guest or not. But, guests will be less understanding of members of smaller churches that don’t acknowledge their presence.
2. Be friendly to people who aren’t yet your friends. Every church in America thinks they are friendly because they are friendly to their friends. But being friendly to your friends does not make your church friendly to guests! If you want to connect with new people, you will need to be friendly to them.
I love that our members have church friends with whom they can talk and laugh and visit. But, I want them to choose to meet some new people. I want them to choose to briefly ignore their current friends in order to connect with someone who isn’t yet their friend.
One of my dearest college friends was the very last guy I met of all the guys on my dorm hall. Make some new friends at church this week. Maybe they will become lifelong friends. But, even if not, you will help a new person connect with your church.
3. Learn their names. Introductions usually involve us telling each other our names. But, if we aren’t careful we quickly forget. It isn’t that we aren’t good with names. It is that we didn’t really pay careful attention when they told us their name to begin with.
Our small groups have come up with a simple solution for this. We are starting to wear name tags. This simple thing matters. You can’t easily ask the name of a couple in your small group who have been coming for months. It is embarrasing that you forgot. But, name tags help us remember. And, they are especially helpful for connecting with guests.
4. Read body language. If someone looks confused, they are often confused. A simple, “Can I help you find something?” is helpful. With a little practice, you can begin to understand what people are feeling and thinking from their body language. Guests often look a bit apprehensive because they are. Learning to read this allows you as a church member to do something about this. A friendly face and kind word goes a long way towards lowering that nervousness.
Some of our guests want to remain fairly anonymous. They typically appreciate a friendly greeting, but don’t always want deep conversation until they know if they can trust us. You may be able to read that. Perhaps you could say, “If I can help you with anything, just let me know.”
Other guests would really like to have someone offer to have them sit with them. Or, they might enjoy some friendly conversation. Body language is a language that communicates volumes when we begin to understand it.
5. Invite them to take the next connection steps. It is entirely appropriate to tell a departing guest that you hope they come back– assuming you do care about their spiritual well-being and genuinely want them to come back! There is nothing wrong with letting them know about your small groups or the classes for their children. Letting them know about an upcoming membership class or special event is great.
Welcoming a first time guest is just the start of the assimilation process. A warm welcome goes a long way. But we want more than that for our guests. We want them to consider and trust the claims of Christ. We want them to join us on this discipleship journey. We want them to fellowship with other believers and worship with the church family and serve as God has gifted them. We want them to join us in welcoming other guests and helping them to follow the Lord as well.
This week, consider how it must feel to attend your church as a first time guest. Have empathy for the awkwardness that can come with a new experience in a new place.
And choose to be that friendly face who offers that kind word.