Seven Things Church Members Should Say to Guests in a Worship Service

One of the more common questions I’m asked relates to growth barriers. For example, church leaders may want to know how to move past the 150-attendance level of the past five years. Or other leaders desire to know how to break though financial giving barriers.

Those questions are tough because they often presume a brief response to be adequate. In reality, there are many theological and methodological issues at work in growth barriers. Today, I am looking at a very basic barrier: lack of friendliness to church guests.

In a previous blog post, I noted things we should not say to a guest in our worship services. In today’s post I look at the positive perspective: seven things we should say to guests.

  1. “Thank you for being here.” It’s just that basic. I have heard from numerous church guests who returned because they were simply told “thank you.”
  2. “Let me help you with that.” If you see someone struggling with umbrellas, young children, diaper bags, purses, and other items, a gesture to hold something for them is a huge positive. Of course, this comment is appropriate for member to member as well.
  3. “Please take my seat.” I actually heard that comment twice in a church where I was speaking in the Nashville area. The first comment came from a member to a young family of five who were trying to find a place to sit together.
  4. “Here is my email address. Please let me know if I can help in any way.” Of course, this comment must be used with discretion, but it can be a hugely positive message to a guest.
  5. “Can I show you where you need to go?” Even in smaller churches, guests will not know where to find the nursery, restrooms, and small group meeting areas. You can usually tell when a guest does not know where he or she is to go.
  6. “Let me introduce you to ___________.” The return rate of guests is always higher if they meet other people. A church member may have the opportunity to introduce the guest to the pastor, other church staff, and other members of the church.
  7. “Would you join us for lunch?” I saved this question for last for two reasons. First, the situation must obviously be appropriate before you offer the invitation. Second, I have seen this approach have the highest guest return rate of any one factor. What if your church members sought to invite different guests 6 to 12 times a year? The burden would not be great; but the impact would be huge.

Let’s look at one example of breaking attendance barriers by saying the right things to guests. Presume your church has two first-time guests a week. Over the course of a year, the church would have 100 first-time guests. With most of the members being genuinely guest friendly, you could see half of those guests become active members. Attendance could thus increase by as much as 50 persons every year.

Good interaction with guests is a huge step toward breaking attendance barriers, but it is obviously not the only step. We are launching a new subscription ministry called Church Answers. One of the three resources you will get every month is called “Breaking Barriers.” We are so excited about the response so far. You can register here. But registration closes in a few days, so hurry.

I always look forward to your comments and questions.

Posted on May 20, 2015

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • thought provoking. Thanks.

  • Great point about practicing these on regular attenders. Smaller, rural churches like mine may not see many visitors, but we could still benefit from treating each other this way.
    Good word!

  • David Clegg says on

    If you are not sure whether they are a guest or not, you can always say, “I don’t think we have met before.” You will end up either welcoming a guest or meeting a member that you have never met.

    • I like this! Thanks fo sharing!

    • Visited a large church one Sunday on what I thought was a whim. Turned around to chat with the person who slipped in behind me. We were both guests – she, visiting a critically ill relative in the hospital up the street. Had opportunity to be a listening ear, provide support and encouragement and offer prayer. Members greeted us both during the more formal greeting time in the service. Wasn’t a whim after all, but a divine appointment….thank you Lord!

  • That is a great story!

  • I visited a church one Sunday and it turned out to be the minister’s last and they were having a good bye meal afterwards. I was invited to stay. I was given a place near the minister and someone asked him if he had sold his house. My ears pricked up as a few days earlier I realised it was time that I moved further away from the man who had divorced me. I asked if it was in my budget and was told where I could find the details online.

    I looked at the website and liked the house. I arranged a viewing as soon as I could organise it with the agent. To cut a long story short I bought that house and lived there for 8 years. God solved two of his children’s problems with that invitation. I believe I was the only person who even looked at the house and the minister’s new job started the day after I first looked around.

    I joined the church but left that area 6 months ago as I wanted to live closer to my family. Strange what can happen when you invite someone to stay for a meal.

  • Lisa Muncy says on

    Another good one is, “Please sit with me”.

  • Pastor Ed Pomelear says on

    Often it’s the simple things that we neglect to do ourselves and likely never tell our congregation. Thanks for these reminders, Dr. Rainer.

  • Eric Price says on

    I am glad you included #7 on this list. I think it is valuable, but I have always been a little conflicted about it as well. On the one hand, inviting a guest out to lunch with you is a great way to immediately extend hospitality and seek to build a relationship with them. I know a man who speaks fondly of a church he attended 20 years ago because, on the first day he went to that church, he was over at an elder’s house for lunch that afternoon. On the other hand, though, some guests might prefer to remain somewhat anonymous at first and might feel that the invitation is too forward. I suspect it depends partly on the guest’s personality and relationship with the Lord (i.e. are they a committed believer, seeker, etc.). Does anyone have thoughts on navigating this tension?

    • well, you can invite and they can always say “no, thank you, not today, I already had plans”

    • Our church hosts a “Discover (church name here)” lunch every other month. We hold it directly following the church service in another room. It’s usually something simple like sub sandwiches with chips and salad, a baked lasagna with bread and salad etc. and a dessert of some kind. It is announced during service that anyone who has started coming in the last couple of months (even if that day is their first visit) is welcome. We can let new visitors know it is coming up, and suggest they sign up as it is helpful to us, but they are welcome to just show up too. They are invited to bring their whole family, as well as regular members who invited them or have befriended them if they feel more comfortable going with someone else.
      Different pastors, board members or other leaders and their families are spread out at different tables and guests sit with them. While they are eating, each member of pastoral staff/leadership is introduced, then each new family is introduced. It lasts about an hour and at the end, they are given gifts like books and water bottles.
      People have really reacted positively to the lunch and have formed connections with at least a couple more families by the end. Most of them continue to attend afterwards.

    • Regarding #7, sometimes a few members have already talked of going to a local (walking distance of 2 blocks!) deli-type restaurant and they invite the visitors to join them. And, we always have a “Second Sunday Lunch” where most members bring a potluck lunch item: visitors are urged to join with us and accept unless they had other plans. We also do a lot of greeting visitors as they enter and while they are getting settled.

  • Great post Dr. Rainer! I will be sharing this with my church, esp. our outreach team. We has some first time guest this past weekend. I introduced myself when they came in to the church and welcomed them. I went to talk to someone else and as I walked back into the sanctuary they were looking around. I asked if there was something I could help them with and their reply was we are looking for a place to sit, we don’t want to take anyone’s seat. My response was it doesn’t matter where you sit here. Our people don’t mind if you sit where they normally sit! I have also watch some of our members ask the first time guest to sit with them so that they wouldn’t have to sit alone. I am thankful for a church that is willing to make first time guest feel welcome! Once again Dr. Rainer thanks for you love for church!

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