The 5 Best Ways For Your Church To Connect With First-Time Guests

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A few years ago, along with my wife and a few friends, I decided to visit a large church we had heard about. I was excited. The preacher was well-known as one of the best in the country. We arrived early and sat on the left side of the sanctuary about two-thirds back from the stage. The service started, and the music was amazing. Then the announcements came. The pastor asked all first-time guests to stand up. My heartbeat quickened and, despite a momentary hesitation, I stood up. I looked to my right to see that my wife and our friends did not stand. That moment was meant for my welcome, but it made me feel anything but welcome. I was alone, called out for being an outsider. It was not what the church intended the moment to be.

It is important to note that introverts (like my wife) and extroverts (like myself) connect with people - especially groups of people - in different ways. Researchers estimate that 26% to 50% of the population is made up of introverts and 50% to 76% are extroverts. If churches want to engage with all of the people walking through the doors for the first time, it makes sense to provide ways to engage for both of these groups.

Here are a few great ways to make your first-time visitors feel welcome whether they are introverted or not:

1. Welcome everyone from the stage.

It seems almost silly to include this, but it is fundamental. Make sure someone on stage says, “If this is your first time here: Welcome! We are glad you are here.” It is that simple. 14 words. It takes five seconds. If it is unclear from your visitor parking, parking team, greeters, signage, coffee, ushers, and smiling faces, make it clear by using these 14 words. Any personality type will appreciate this.

2. Make an easy call to action.

This is easy to do, and both introverted and extroverted guests can benefit from it. During the announcements or at the end of the service, give clear instructions for what you’d like visitors to do. Everyone benefits from having clear expectations, and this will allow people to opt in or out of whatever you are offering.

This will work best if you give them options:

  • For the extroverts: Invite first-time guests to connect with a person at a specific location. For example: “If you’d like to get connected, say hi to Fred or Alice in the bright yellow shirts at the back corner of the room.” Give specific instructions so that people know where to go and who to connect with. “Fred” and “Alice” should be the warmest, most hospitable volunteers or staff that you know. Their job is to connect the visitors with others after collecting their name and contact info.
  • For the introverts: Invite guests to fill out a card in their seat and drop it somewhere to be collected, or, if you are tech-savvy, have an option to text a number to gain more info. Introverts, in general, don’t want to be pushed into any unclear situation, so providing more info and chances to connect will go a long way if it isn’t forced. This also allows introverts to fly under the radar for a time. They get to choose when they are ready to opt in.

3. Reward first-time guests with a gift.

Once, after attending a new church, my family was "mugged" by a sweet older woman. She arrived at our front door with a church-branded coffee mug and a hand-written note. That kind of effort made an impression on all of us, and we went back. Coffee mugs are great, but so is a Starbucks gift card, a book that the church is reading, a Bible, a book that the pastor wrote, etc. There are so many options for thoughtful, small gifts for first-time visitors. Be creative. The amount of care you show for visitors will go a long way.

4. Be welcoming & open-handed.

Communicate to visitors that although you’d love them to come back to your church, you care more that they get connected to a local church. “If this isn’t the right church for you - though we hope that it is - we hope that you find another church that you can plug into.” I’ve seen several pastors do this, and the effect of this is that people will love your church more.

5. Have in writing a clear pathway for connection.

Whether your church has small groups or Sunday school or some other model, have a written pathway for people to get plugged in with your church. Equip Fred and Alice with these flyers. Place them in the pews. Make it clear that you have a place to connect for people in every stage of life. Most people, especially guests, need to see the way forward before charging forward.

It can be difficult to remember the feeling of what it is like stepping into a new environment where everyone (seemingly) knows each other. But it should be a regular practice for you to ask guests about their first impressions of the church, the people, and how easy it was to connect. The lessons learned from these conversations can be a great launching point for creating a visitor-friendly, welcoming environment, where people don’t want to leave.

What are some other effective ways to connect with first-time guests?

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