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

May 20, 2015

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.

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61 Comments

  • I am currently looking for a church and I am very uncomfortable in social settings, especially with a lot of people. I can talk to people one-on-one just fine. One thing I’d suggest, is that with all the things listed, please let discernment be a huge part of each offering. Some people will love all the things listed, and some will be chased away by half of them. I was asked to stay for lunch at one church I visited, and they literally badgered me multiple times after I politely declined and thanked them for the offer. I know the intent was good, and I know what they were doing, but I didn’t want to be pressured as a single woman to go to a strangers house, church-goer or not! Make sure to read body language when engaging with new attendees!

  • #4 No. Just no. Don’t offer me your email address…that’s creepy! I went to a church where I was practically forced to sit next to some strangers who wanted to hug me. Please, church people, understand that people have their boundries. I just wanted to walk in and observe, not be disturbed, and decide if I wanted to go back or not. I apprecied the invitation to sit with them, but when I declined, they kept nagging until I did. I was very put-off. Then an usher came and asked for my name and address. I reluctantly filled out the visitor form and handed it to him. By the time I got home from service…there was a “welcome package” waiting on my front door. Kind, but pushy. I didn’t appreciate it. Lastly, when I did NOT go back, the church sent two older men to my house to visit. I was, at the time, a single woman and wasn’t about to let to men I didn’t know into my house. Long story short…don’t assume everyone wants to feel special. I’m an extreme introvert and was highly bothered by the tactics (although I know they were well-intended). I did not return to that church.

    • You make some good points. Sending a visitor to your home, especially to a single person and especially if unannounced, may be seen as intrusive, especially in today’s society. If you want to visit someone at home after they’ve been to your church, call ahead and discuss it. Offer to meet for coffee in a public place if that is preferred.

      One of the best things a pastor did at a church that we were visiting was to send a handwritten note -not a typed form letter- with a word of encouragement and that they were praying for us at their mid-week prayer meeting/Bible study. This same pastor followed up with another handwritten note after we had missed a few Sundays (we were visiting another church).

  • Collin Xavier says on

    i look at welcoming like inviting someone into your home. Greet them warmly ask teir name and give them yours. Ask them if it is there first time to church, visitor or local. Get them a service sheet, name tag and introduce them to someone who will show them a seat and naybe sit with them.
    Tell them where the toilets are and generally make them feel welcome.
    Try to have at least 3 touch points.
    After the meeting ask them to join with us in some light refreshments and just talk in general. Really it is just common courtesy. Simple but effective. However, you do need to discern if they don’t wish to be bothered. But generally most people respond to friendlyness.

    • What do you mean by “touch points?” Physical touch? If so please remember not everyone likes to be touched. Anything beyond a quick hand shake is in my personal space. Don’t try to hug, please! 🙂

      • “Touch points” does not refer to physical touch. It is a term used in business, generally, and refers to topics or important points of information that you want to convey in a short period. For congregations those touch points may be the great Sunday School program, the inspiring worship services, the family atmosphere. Touch points are selling points that you want to be certain to “touch on,” or mention, in conversation.

  • Brenda says on

    I agree with Keith Getty and Stuart Townend on this issue. We need our congregations to be engaged in worship. They should be singing! Our worship services should not be a concert, but a celebration among all of the worshippers.

    I’ve been in loud churches and very frustrated by not being able to hear myself or my neighbor’s voice as we attempted to worship through singing. When the music is overpoweringly loud you cannot join in – you can’t even tell if you are in tune.

    Bottom line – Worship is not a spectator sport. Everyone gets to participate.

    BTW I suffered hearing damage when I was in my 40’s from only 20 minutes of very loud music. Before that, I could hear things other folks couldn’t hear! Now in my sixties it’s very frustrating to have to continually ask people what they are trying to say. We need our ears if we are going to be sensitive to other people’s needs.

  • Pastor Jerry Penrod says on

    Dear Thom, I have been encouraged by the congregation I serve on the efforts they have made to welcome first time guests in our midst. We still have things to work on. I appreciate your good word on this. And it is timely. I would like permission to use your article as part of my newsletter article about welcoming the strangers among us. I await your reply.

    Blessings in Christ

    Jerry Penrod

  • Jill Wecke says on

    Useful list, thank you. My husband is a pastor and he has trained himself to remember visitors names, especially the the children’s names. This has a huge impact on the visiting family. I have heard people say …… he even remembered our names!

  • My family and I have been visiting various churches in the past year as we seek a new church home. This blog post is definitely true. We have experienced various forms of welcome (or not) in churches. However, I also realize that after the initial few visits to the same church, part of the responsibility is on us to get more involved beyond Sunday mornings. Visitors need to be invited to become engaged in the church’s activities, Bible studies, etc. in order to really get to know people.

    Years ago I was visiting a friend out of state. Her church had a visitors’ fellowship (punch & cookies) after each worship service. This was for visitors and the pastoral staff to have a few minutes to chat with each other and make some connections. It was only about 15 minutes long – nothing long or too in-depth. I thought it was a great idea – it encouraged visitors to stay a few minutes and not rush out the door, provided a place and time to meet the pastor and/or other church staff, and made visitors feel very welcome.

  • My brother visits churches when traveling. When visiting, HE actually will ask someone to lunch. He is an active visitor, and enjoys the connections he has made over the years. I love this about him.

    • Kathy,
      That is a great story. It is hard to be a visitor sometimes, and taking the initiative is terrific!

  • Eliyahu says on

    Many of these are things that members ought to say to other members as well, especially in larger congregations.