“We are the friendliest church in town.”
That sentence or something very similar is the most common statement we’ve heard in interviews we conducted with church members during consultations. Most people active in a church really do think their church is friendly. These members have relationships and interactions that give them that perceived reality.
But when we interview guests of the same churches, we hear a different story. These guests often think the members are “unfriendly” or “cliquish.” They don’t have the established relationships members have. They are not familiar with the church facilities. They don’t know what to expect.
The church welcome ministry (or whatever your church calls it) has always been important. But the ministry is more important today than it’s ever been. Look at six reasons this level of importance has risen.
1. Church members are returning to church after a long absence. The pandemic kept them away. Many have returned, but not all have. Some are easing back into church cautiously and slowly. It is critical for the welcome ministry to encourage these returning members to get back into a rhythm and habit of gathering regularly.
2. More new guests are arriving. During the quarantine, a number of new residents moved into your community. They have not had an opportunity to visit a church, but they are ready now. For some unchurched people, the angst of the COVID era has them asking questions about God, church, and faith. Some will show up at your church.
3. Context has changed. Yes, the world has changed. The local church is a microcosm of some of the contextual changes of our society. Specifically, the ways we greet people in many contexts have changed. Hugs are mostly out. Handshakes are in some places and out in others. The availability of visible sanitizers is necessary in most churches. Those who participate in the welcome ministry are aware of the best ways to greet guests.
4. First impressions are more important than ever. Because some of the guests have not been in a church for months, perhaps even a few years, the first few moments they arrive on the church property are critical. They could return repeatedly, or they could decide it’s not worth the risk and effort.
5. Few church members are naturally welcoming to guests. They naturally gravitate to people they know. They may be uncertain if a person is a guest or a member they don’t know. Leaders can exhort church members to be friendly, but the challenge for it to happen will always be there. The welcome ministry fills this void, and the void has been exacerbated during the pandemic.
6. It is biblical. While we don’t see a formal welcome ministry per se in the Bible, the importance of hospitality is clear and powerful. For example, “When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality” (Romans 12:13). Additionally, Paul’s qualifications for church leaders include hospitality (see 1 Timothy 3:2-3).
Your church’s welcome ministry has always been important. But it is likely it is more important than ever.
What is your church doing for its welcome ministry? I would love to hear from you.
Posted on January 24, 2022
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.
More from Thom
There should also be an online welcome ministry, especially during webcast services..
I see the welcome ministry important not just for the visitor’s first week, but in their returning in weeks after.
What happened in a previous church I was in, was that people would welcome the newcomers, find out things about them, only to hear of the gossiping during the week about from members of the church. When the newcomers returned, no one would go up and talk to them.
Sadly, this is not an isolated circumstance. I have visited a few churches in back to back weeks, where people talk to me the first week, but don’t even come to say hello in the following week. First impressions count, but I feel the hurt when no one wants to talk with you the second week you turn up.
That’s a good point, Dan.
Thom: I’m a retired evangelical pastor and Christian college professor. Our home church is too far away, so we’ve begun looking for ANY good evangelical church. Our experience has been so disappointing it’s hard to believe. I’ve made personal overtures to pastors and the response has been lukewarm—the lack of hospitality is devastating! We are solidly committed to Christ & his Body, but if we feel unwelcome, Howe must non-believers feel. The church is in serious trouble. Thanks.
I totally agree, Joe.
What material do you suggest to help train your welcoming Ministry with? Is there something that’s on an ongoing basis?
Here is my book I wrote for training members in a welcome ministry:
While I understand that many people will appreciate being greeted and made verbally welcome, I’m concerned about a trend I’ve witnessed personally. As an introvert yourself, I’m sure you have had situations where people were far too friendly for your comfort. I have seen/heard from several people who have objected to being greeted multiple times when coming in to a church. My own youngest child feels quite uncomfortable when greeted over and over in a new place. I think it is important to acknowledge, in a welcome team, that there are some people who would rather be left quietly with the Lord. I would go so far as to say it should be a part of training to communicate to one another on the team that a person indicated by words or action that they prefer to be left alone. It’s far too easy for people to stay home from church these days, with streaming or televised services. Driving anyone away by not acknowledging what makes them feel comfortable is counterproductive as well.
I agree. I remember when I would visit a church years ago with my four children and wife. I would be greeted multiple times and asked my first name, last name and children names. Frankly it was annoying, and all I wanted to do was leave.
Tish, I completely know where you are coming from! I have repeatedly needed to remind people in our church to not “smother” our guests during their first or second visits but to let only a few at a time acknowledge them.
25 years ago almost to the month, we visited our current church as young newlyweds. We were warmly greeted by a gentleman who made us feel very welcome and then we, unfortunately, had to sit in the front pew as the back pews were reserved for families with small children and the others were full. There we were where everyone could see us. We shrunk down a bit. The pastor acknowledged us from the pulpit during announcements. We shrunk down a bit further. And then, the most horrible thing happened at the end of the service: we were *swarmed* by the entire church wanting to welcome us, learn our names, where we had come from and worst of all, I heard someone call us “fresh blood.” At that time in my life, even at my young age, I was already burnt out from serving in my last church and not ready to serve again. I immediately planned to keep my piano and singing skills a closely kept secret.
Whenever I hear anyone say we need “fresh blood” or need to make sure our guests are felt to be truly welcomed, I tell this story and remind everyone they are darn lucky my husband I stuck around due to that kind usher and as it was the only church within 50 miles that shared our theological views otherwise they would have lost a pianist (I couldn’t help myself), administrator, board member, sound technician, librarian, computer operator, and treasurer.
I do not share this story to puff up myself, my husband, or the daughter we eventually had and trained to also serve but to provide an example of what misguided good intentions could potentially lead to missing out on if not done with sensitivity.
Well said, Tish.