How Churches Are Failing Guests

Many church leaders plan the weekend with an eye toward those on the inside: the music we sing, the language we use, and the next steps we provide are often designed for those who are already part of the family. The problem is, we inadvertently overlook those who desperately want to fit in. We fail to give even small cues to help an outsider become an insider. 

Our weekends often bring comfort to the comfortable, but they can heap discomfort on those who already feel out of place. As believers on the inside, we have a choice: we can continue to set up our sanctum of solitude, or we can throw open the doors, set aside our preferences, and welcome outsiders into our circle.

Planning the weekend through the lens of hospitality

In an earlier post, I said that hospitality is the new apologetic. In our increasingly-divided society, the kindness of hospitality sets us apart, begs a question, and demands an answer

When we plan the weekend with an eye toward the outsider, we follow the model of Jesus as a “friend of sinners.” We want them to see the grace of God, feel the love of a family, and be welcomed in rather than elbowed out.

That means we follow the old adage and keep the main thing the main thing. Our main thing must always be the gospel. We dare not substitute any other thing in its place. The good news of Jesus will always draw others in. It will challenge us to put others first. And it will remind us that we were once on the outside, but God’s grace turns strangers and aliens into sons and daughters.

Only the gospel can sustain the weight of our guests’ expectations

When people visit our churches, they walk in with certain hopes, assumptions, and fears. They want a place to belong, a place to find help for their families, and a place to find stability for their lives. 

We can point our guests to any number of programs, ministries, small groups, and next steps, but if we fail to point them to Jesus, we have utterly failed. We dare not connect them to the ministries of the church without first pointing them to the shepherd of the church. 

Early next week, one of your weekend guests will tell the story of their visit to your church. Will it be the story you want them to tell?

In September and October I’ll be offering a series of free webinars to equip you and your team on guest services, volunteer culture, and connecting fringe attendees to the mission of your church. To find out more, click HERE.

Posted on August 27, 2020

Danny Franks is the Pastor of Guest Services at The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, and the author of People Are the Mission: How Churches Can Welcome Guests Without Compromising the Gospel. Read more from Danny at
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  • Face facts, religions are dying out and there is nothing you can do about it. A recent study (don’t have details to hand) indicated that the only religion increasing is Islam. This was put down to Muslims having larger families. This presupposes that the offspring will follow their parents religion. Islamic societies tend to dissuade apostasy so probably many young people are “in the closet”.
    I got here from nonreligious Patheos.

  • Thank you! I’ll keep checking back.

  • I would love to see an article with suggestions for hospitality with the challenges of reduced touch points and masks. What are some suggestions to capture guest information when a church isn’t handing out Connection Cards or gathering their info on an attendance pad? Would you also address how to remember someone new when their face is covered with a mask? I’m looking for some creative and sincere ways to connect with guests again while maintaining safety precautions. Thank you for considering. Looking forward to the webinar.

  • Sometimes I wonder if it’s because people expect the church is the last place they’ll find community. And that’s tragic.

    • I 100% agree with you. I think many times the community’s perception of what they’ll find once they get inside the doors can be misguided…and sometimes it’s on point. As the church, we have the ability to see those perceptions redeemed and expectations reset!

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  • The gospel should be presented at every church service, but the church service is meant to encourage and equip believers. Yes, Jesus spent time with sinners, and so should we. But He also spent time alone with His disciples. That is what church is supposed to be.

  • Guy Earle says on

    looking forward to hearing this story and more, on how to continue the conversation on reaching guest.

    • Thank you Guy! I’ll be talking more about this in posts in the months to come. I’d also love for you to join us on September 15 for the Guest Services webinar! (link can be found above)

      • Agbonyin, Iyiade says on

        Your views are very true. It is high time we ministers of the gospel make a positive change towards visitors to our churches. We need to move closer to them,care for them and make the gospel known to them through our lifestyle.