Ten Commandments for Guest-Friendly Church Members

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I travel a lot and spend a lot of time in different churches. I have had a church consulting firm that did “guest” visits as part of our services. Sadly, many times I do not feel welcome as a guest when I visit churches.

The Bible is replete with admonitions of hospitality and servanthood. I just wish our church members understood that the servant-like spirit should also be manifest when we gather to worship. Guests are often uncomfortable, if not intimated, when they visit a church. We are to be gracious and sacrificial servants to them.

In response to this need for more guest-friendly church members, I have devised the ten greatest needs, at least from my perspective. I will reticently call them “commandments” and throw in a little King James English for effect.

  1. Thou shalt pray for people in the services whom you don’t recognize. They are likely guests who feel uncomfortable and uncertain.
  2. Thou shalt smile. You only have to do so for about an hour. Guests feel welcome when they see smiling people. You can resume your somber expressions when you get home.
  3. Thou shalt not sit on the ends of the rows. Move to the middle so guests don’t have to walk over you. You’ll survive in your new precarious position.
  4. Thou shalt not fill up the back rows first. Move to the front so guests don’t have to walk in front of everyone if they get there late.
  5. Thou shalt have ushers to help seat the guests. Ushers should have clearly-marked badges or shirts so that the guests know who can help them.
  6. Thou shalt offer assistance to guests. If someone looks like they don’t know where to go, then they probably don’t know where to go. Get out of your comfort zone and ask them if you can help.
  7. Thou shalt not gather too long in your holy huddles. Sure, it’s okay to talk to fellow members; but don’t stay there so long that you are not speaking to guests.
  8. Thou shalt offer your seats to guests. I know that this move is a great sacrifice, but that family of four can’t fit in the three vacant seats next to you. Give it a try. You might actually feel good about your efforts.
  9. Thou shalt not save seats. I know you want to have room for all of your friends and family, but do you know how a guest feels when he or she sees the vacant seats next to you occupied by three hymnals, one Bible, two coats, and an umbrella? You might as well put a “Do Not Trespass” sign on the seats.
  10. Thou shalt greet someone you don’t know. Yes, it’s risky. They may actually be members you don’t know. And you may get caught in a 45-second conversation. You’ll be okay; I promise.

What do you think of these commandments? What would you add?


Pastor to Pastor is the Saturday blog series at ThomRainer.com. Pastors and staff, if we can help in any way, contact Steve Drake, our director of pastoral relations, at [email protected]. We also welcome contacts from laypersons in churches asking questions about pastors, churches, or the pastor search process.

Posted on March 30, 2013


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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109 Comments

  • Lois Hagger says on

    Why do people need to read from their phones in church? What’s wrong with reading from the paper edition? (I also think we prefer to read from our phones in public than our bibles. I know it’s convenient but I feel like we’re ashamed to bible readers.)

    • For me, holding a book can be quite painful. As the pastor, I read from printouts from my Bibleworks program. In our church, I encourage those who text to send a message during silent prayer, to someone they want to pray for. One member takes notes from the sermon on her cell phone and asks questions afterward.

  • Christine Elston says on

    To the best of the church’s ability, thou shalt ensure wheelchair accessibility, and this isn’t just for the elderly! As parents of a 17-year-old boy with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair, we know how critical access is. We always have to scope out in advance whether or not we can get from the parking lot to the narthex to the sanctuary to the chancel–maybe even to the baptistry and the choir loft–to the restrooms (and are they big enough??) to the UPSTAIRS classrooms. Our church, I’m happy to say, is very guest friendly, the pastors are exceptional, the kids have embraced our son, and we CAN access the sanctuary and most areas on the ground floor, but there’s no elevator up to the youth room (two guys carry our son up, then they carry up his manual chair; his power chair weighs nearly 400 lbs!), nor are there truly accessible restrooms. If we, the Church, want to be Great Banquet people, as in Luke 14:21-23, we might take care to consider these types of needs during new construction, and even be willing to literally break down walls, if necessary, in the older buildings.

  • Don’t take this the wrong way, but I think a lot of these problems with visitors is more about the basic structure of typical churches and the way things are organized. Why do we all sit in pews or rows of chairs, all facing the front? Why do we continually seek to increase the size of the membership to the point that we don’t even know if someone is visiting or has been a member for months or years? Is the Church not supposed to operate like a family where everyone knows each other, encourages each other and grows together? Or is it another concert that we attend, or a seminar where an expert speaks on how to be more like Jesus? I enjoy praising the Lord and listening to good Bible teaching, but at some churches I have been to there’s no interaction with fellow believers, at least not during the service. And when it’s over everyone rushes out to get to their next planned activity. The only way I usually find fellowship is in separate small group Bible studies or getting together with Christian friends outside of church. I can listen to Christian/praise music at home and listen to sermons online, so what’s the point in going to a service anymore? There are some exceptions, of course, but there have certainly been churches that made me feel this way. Don’t think I’m only looking for what I can get out of church either, I’m trying to figure out how everyone can feel more welcome and valued at church. If I feel this way as a believer, how must the lost feel when they finally visit.

    • Your spot on, it seems churches care more about attendance and size than sermons that truly speak the word of God, no matter how hard it may be for those listening to accept (and let’s face it, the truth is hard to hear and accept).

  • Melissa Willis says on

    Thou shat be okay with children in service!!! I LOVE the fact that I can bring my daughter in with me and everyone is okay with it!

  • Peggy Corder says on

    Make sure you have distinct signs showing where restrooms are located. I visited my parents church along with my mother-in-law. She needed to go during services and it literally took us 10 minutes to “find” a bathroom she could use. The first one we were directed to was in a toddler room and needless to say, hard for an 83 year old to use. We had a hard time finding anyone to ask where they were and then had to go a long way to find it. I came home to my own church building to determine how easy it is to find ours. Little things are what keep a guest from returning, but are usually the first things we members overlook.

  • Greetings Thom,
    What about over greeting. I always cringe a little when the whole church swarms on a guest and almost shakes their hand off. It’s almost like “My goodness…. NEW PEOPLE!”

  • David Atkins says on

    Thom, I would love to see a diagnostic about whether or not churches are “Holy Spirit friendly.” Are services geared to be God-centered or man-centered? Is the reading of Scripture, which is mandated and blessed by the Holy Spirit, prominent in worship? Is prayer central? Is there significant time allowed to hear from God, or is what we say and how we say it and sing it of greater concern?

    • KStock says on

      Hear, hear. I think that if the Christians in a church are paying attention to the Holy Spirit, the other issues will sort themselves out naturally.

  • Larry Randolph says on

    I love the 10 Commandments for church members.