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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  • Deborah says on

    I made notes of your blog and intend to somehow bring this to the attention of our congregation.
    Not sure how yet.
    This is very important info that every church should know.
    Thank you for sharing it!

  • The comment about offering your seat is great because churches are some of the most territorial places I know. There are two churches I visited that I won’t go back to because members made a big deal about “their” seats. It’s hard enough attending a service as a single without also feeling like you are in high school looking for a lunch table. It’s a lot easier to just watch on tv.

    • Jackie says on

      Becki, I’m embarrassed to say I have witnessed members come in and tell someone they have their seats and stand there until they got up. It saddens me when others do this but there are bad apples everywhere so I cant judge a church by a few members. There are rude people at my workplace but I continue to work. So sorry you had this experience.

  • Terry Kimbrow says on

    Thanks Dr. Rainer! Excellent and simple to do. TK

  • Scott Orr says on

    I heard a pastor share a story of visiting a church while on vacation. The greeter at the door shook his hand warmly, smiled, and offered him a card. The card, he explained, would cover the cost of the meal that he was invited to immediately after the worship service in the fellowship hall. The pastor thought that was a great idea and said as much. “I think I’ll take that idea back home and try it at our church.” The greeter then said, “Oh, you’re not a prospect?”, reached out and took the card back from him, and left him, mouth agape.

  • At our last church I was sitting next to a new person and found myself sort of paralyzed because I didn’t know what to say or how to introduce myself. So I didn’t say anything. Then, I watched a moment of brilliance as my pastor walked up to her and said, “I don’t believe I know you yet. Hi, I’m Stan.” So simple! And honest and true. Then the conversation got rolling easily. I felt embarrassed that he observed me saying nothing to a new guest, but I was grateful that I saw that. I say that to new people all the time now and it immediately breaks down barriers. I recommend it! 🙂

  • This is a great list. But it could be expanded to include gestures. Among them include: smile. (A cheerful look brings joy to the heart – Proverbs). When I attend my church I rarely see anyone smiling and it makes me feel like people are so serious.

    A more basic one is simply saying Hello. That is as basic as you can get but can start a conversation, or stop it in its tracks.

    One of the most powerful conversation starters I’ve heard came from a St. Benedict a Catholic church where the guests were asked to turn to the person next to them and ask them what they could pray for them.

    These guidelines are all good but really should begin at the top. To instill a culture of welcoming you need to instill the importance of welcoming everyone.. Its not just the ‘greeters’ responsibility. Also, I’ve heard some arguments that suggest people who are new will fell less welcome since they are new. that may be true since they may not be a member of a ministry or group – still the church can make everyone feel welcome by doing as you suggest.

  • I think you’ve developed a good list.

    Number 7 is an important one. In some churches, there really is no time to start making a friend in the rapid turnover between services or the hurried departure of church members after the one service.

    Being a recent church shopper, the question on my mind is “can I make a friend here.”

    Number 7 goes a long way towards helping answer that question..

    Chris Walker

  • This is pretty much what the Hare Krishnas do.

  • Please read and answer the verse in the Holy Bible Exodus 23;20-21, John 5;43, Proverbs 30;4 and Micah 6;9, Isaiah 24;15, Malachi 1;11 KJV.

  • Thomas says on

    #3 really would make a difference in smaller churches cause I’ve visited a few wondering if I was taking someones pew spot lol.

    • Kewanna says on

      I had been visiting a church for a month & wasn’t really feeling welcomed. I actually overheard a member sitting behind me tell another member, “That lady is sitting in my seat so I have to sit back here.” After being welcomed as a “first time guest” for 4 weeks in a row by the same woman, this was the last straw. I got up, told the woman she could have her seat back & I left. Churches who grow actively train their members (not just the greeters) how to make visitors feel welcome. My dad was a pastor for over 45 years & he always taught his members to do each of these seven things. Another one is to actually get up & sit next to a visitor once you have introduced yourself & engaged them in conversation. This makes a visitor feel wanted. Of course every situation is different, but if you truly make an effort to actually speak with a visitor (not just saying hello), then you can gage if they just want to be left alone or if they are really wanting to connect.

  • Coleen Sharp says on

    These are really some great practical ideas. A lot of it boils down to reaching out to visitors. We live in a time where people are so busy. A lot of people are looking for fellowship, relationships, encouragement. That’s one reason some won’t visit a second time.

    Number 7 is right on. There is little hospitality in many churches today. We set up a hospitality rotation in our church. Visitors were always invited to someone’s home for lunch. Families took turns hosting. It makes people feel welcome, and it gives an opportunity for people to begin developing relationships. We did grow after we started it.

    I think one problem we’re facing in the church is where our church falls on our priority list. People show up Sunday’s, but often are not part of one another’s lives the rest of the week. Part of it is that we are so busy. There is also a tendency towards cliques. I realize that’s natural, but there are some that get left out. When people visit new churches, that is some they notice. That’s one of the reasons that more and more I hear people compare churches to country clubs.

  • Coleen Sharp says on

    These are really some great practical ideas. A lot of it boils down to reaching out to visitors. We live in a time where people are so busy. A lot of pe