Monday, July 30, 2012

Welcoming Guests

The Young Professionals Sunday School Room at Calvary Baptist Church, Waco, Texas 

Being a church visitor is not a state I particularly enjoy, but it has some benefits. Chief among these is remembering how important it is to make people feel welcome.  Once I find a church in Alabama I intend to stay put--for decades, if possible--and then it will be my turn to watch for new faces and practice hospitality in whatever ways I can. This list is compiled from the ways I have been welcomed not only during my last four weeks of church visitation, but from my experience seeking a church in grad school and college. They are listed in no particular order.

1. Pay attention to names. Repeat the guest's name until you almost feel silly, and then make sure to call her by name if you see her after worship or next week.
2. Invite the guest to lunch. After-worship lunches are good, but setting a lunch date for later in the week can be even better, for this shows that your interest and memory extend beyond Sunday morning.
3. Send a deacon to the guest's house on Sunday afternoon with a warm loaf of French bread. (I'm still a little surprised I didn't join this church on the spot).
4. Make contact after Sunday. Look the guest up on Facebook, send a personal email, and, if you really want to shine, send a handwritten note of welcome. This sort of contact is often standard practice for pastors, but hearing from lay members of a Sunday School class or Bible study can be even more meaningful because it is not their "job" to welcome guests.
5. Ask the guest what she is hoping to find in a church, and suggest other churches in the area she might want to visit.
6. Invite the guest to some sort of small-group activity through the church--this could be as formal as a Bible study, or as casual as a gathering of church friends. If she declines, be persistent. It takes some people (like me) about three invitations to work up the courage to face a group of new people in an informal setting.
7. Share what you love about your church. Don't be shy about explaining why you show up each Sunday morning.
8. If you are a 90-something-year old man, shake the guest's hand each time the congregation stands to sing. At the end of the worship service, say, "I'm so sorry I keep forgetting your name, but I love you in Christ." Then give her a hug.

If you are an established member of a church, how do you welcome visitors? If you are a visitor, what makes you feel welcomed in a church?