Ten Commandments for Guest-Friendly Church Members

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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  • Lori Martin says on

    Great article! When my husband and I moved to the city we are currently living in, it took us almost 3 years to find a church where people were welcoming. We were already somewhat intimidated by the larger size of the congregations having come from a small town and in most of them no one would even smile or speak to us. It was certainly a lesson for us to file away for future reference, knowing we would be involved in a church plant.

  • From my own experience…….thou shall refrain from rolling your eyes or gasping when someone different from you visits your church. I just happened to walk into a large church with a couple of another race. You could feel the air being sucked out of the building. Since we were all first time guests it was very uncomfortable. Needless to say I never went back.

  • Robert E Pentecost says on

    I was on staff at a church in the past that had to remove all the pews to take up the old carpet and put down new. Unfortunately some overzealous volunteer workers began taking the pews from one section and placing them on top of another section (in no particular order nor did they mark them). Once all 4 sections were moved around all over the place and the new carpet was in place then the process of placing the pews occurred and then it all hit the fan. The floor was slopped and each pew had originally been placed and adjusted to accommodate the slope (each end of the pew and the 2 supports spanning the middle of each pew).
    Due to the fact that the church was going to meet there on Sunday didn’t leave time to manually search and find each pew that should go in its original place…so going to a big box lumber etc. store and buying a lot of shims each pew was placed to the best of the our volunteer work crews capability…some of them were like Weebles, they wobbled but they didn’t fall down.
    I just couldn’t help myself, so on Sunday morning I announced the shocking news – “Many if not all of you are not sitting in the right place today. You are sitting in someone else’s place.” I went on to explain the situation with this thought – “Now that you have survived this terrible tragedy today – you could either search all around the sanctuary for the pew that fits your “seat”, move to that spot and see how things look from a different perspective or stay where you are, realizing change isn’t all that bad and you could capably move to give “your seat” to a guest when needed.” There were some shocked looks on some faces when the thought hit their brain…“This isn’t “my” seat anymore? Now I’ll have to break it in to fit me!” I don’t think I enjoyed any announcement more in my life!

  • 1. Parking– if you are going to have greeters in the parking lot, have them direct people to available spots. I’ve driven up and down the rows looking for a spot while the attendants in orange jackets just wave and smile.
    2. Don’t participate and smile for just an hour of worship to appear friendly. I’d rather find out the church really isn’t into sincere worship or caring about others on my first visit.
    3. Don’t have “inside” responses, such as whenever someone from the pulpit says “God is good,” all of those “in-the-know” say “all the time.” Visitors are already outside their comfort zone. This makes them feel like a flashing arrow is over their heads.
    (Because of my job, I find myself visiting new churches as a visitor, not a speaker, very often. After 45 yrs of being a regular member, this visitor’s status has been quite an eye-opener.)

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Good stuff Abbi. Thanks.

      • hand-shaking: And now a new issue that occurs not only at church, but mostly at church. I have arthiritis in my hands and it is painful to shake hands. In an outside-of-church situation it is a one-on-one introduction and I can explain. In church, it is several people just wanting to shake your hand and move on during that brief “shake as many hands as you can” minute. give what we know about germs, couldn’t we be directed to greet or say hello to those around us?
        service time: One more that I encounter due to my job: the website or yellow pages ad or marquis could give the approximate time that the service ends. I hated to disrupt the service last week by exiting with my two clients with disabilities, but at 12:25 and no end in sight, I had no choice. I was on the clock and had other obligations.

  • All of these comments provide excellent insight. However, I am concerned that this type of thinking only encourages outward behavior modification. Instead of providing humorous reminders on how to make a church more accomodating to guests, why not ask why they are not welcoming already. It has been my experience that most unwelcoming churches are simply dead or dying because the Gospel is not truly proclaimed. This us what happens when the sermon is on “life lessons.” The passion for others us lost because Christ is not consistently preached.

  • I like most of them, and they would definitely all apply at bigger churches, but the church I attend? We have 15-20 people at most who could be classified as regular attenders. None of the above is an issue, though.

  • Sharon says on

    Great list of commandments, our church could use some work on several of these and our new Pastor is leading by example. He parks the furthest away from the door on Sunday’s, asks his staff to do the same, has reserved parking for guests in two areas with signs directing them to the parking and he actually has a meet and greet after the service that guests are invited to so that he can greet them personally. As a result, our church is growing in numbers and in souls saved. Very thankful God sent this man to us!

  • Hi Thom,

    This is great stuff, and it’s so incredibly huge for today’s churches. We pray and pray for visitors, and then don’t know what to do with them once they actually show up.

    Although it’s been alluded to, I would add to your list: Thou shalt have fun! It’s also important to mention that these attitudes flow from the top down. Our people will become what we model before them, not just what we teach. John Maxwell says, “We reproduce not what we say, but what we are.”

    A few years ago when we transitioned from associate pastors (after 20+ yrs) to doing training/coaching/mentoring for pastors and church leaders, we noticed a lot of these things. We were no longer on the inside looking out, but instead genuine visitors (outsiders) looking for a church home for our family. We visited around 20 churches in our new area and our eyes were opened. We even blogged about our experience in the hopes that pastors and church leaders would begin to see their churches through the eyes of a visitor. If you want to check it out, the series is entitled: We are Visitors (http://perrinministries.blogspot.com/search?q=we+are+visitors&max-results=20&by-date=true). We ended up using these principles when we planted an Watermark Church in Freiburg, Germany. And it worked!

    Keep up the good work!

  • Spot on Steve and Thom! Also thou shalt go the extra mile with families bringing young children. Personally walk them back to kids check-in getting to know their names and introducing them to the kids leaders! Like it or not families with little kids are very circumspect in new situations, especially leaving their precious children with strangers.

  • Rick Lawrenson says on

    Thou shalt park in the spaces farthest away from the entrance. Give the guests the choice spots, especially those who come with young children!

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thou art on target!

    • Why doesn’t the church have spots for guests and handicapped? Ours does! And again you have older people in the church that do not need special parking, but it is to much for them to park way cross from the church and walk.Just saying there are two sides to parking far away.