I have worshipped at seven different congregations since arriving in Texas and it’s been an interesting education on how well we welcome visitors. One congregation did a particularly great job, so I would like to share what worked as a visitor attending church alone.
- The congregation's website had an “I’m New!” button at the top. In addition to a map with directions, they also listed what to expect, how to dress, programs for children, and so on. They also posted their worship time and address on the first page, so I could easily find it. Congregations that did not design their website for visitors were also not very friendly in person.
- The most visitor-friendly congregation had clearly marked, visible signs for me to find the sanctuary, the restrooms and the welcome desk once I got inside. Greeters were friendly and seeking me out, rather than chatting with their friends.
- Worship was about an hour with an engaging sermon. Relevant images on the video screens were used to enhance the sermon; the pastor also used a movie clip in the sermon to help us experience the good news of God’s love rather than just hear it.
- Brief instructions for Holy Communion were given with visitors in mind, so I knew exactly what to do.
- Church announcements for "insiders" were kept to a minimum and instead, they relied on two colorful, well-designed announcement pages in the bulletin.
- Church members sitting near me and in the foyer after worship were friendly and engaging (at over half the congregations, no one spoke to me before or after the service if I did not initiate the conversation).
- In the parking lot, there was a traffic guide pointing the best way to leave.
- The week following my visit, I received two emails—one from the pastor and one from the outreach coordinator—thanking me for attending with an offer to receive more information.
Here are the only two suggestions I would make to this most visitor-friendly congregation: designate parking spaces for visitors, and add greeters in the parking lot and at the entrance to the church building so all worshippers are welcomed early and often, including directions for visitors.
How does your congregation fair on these points of a seeker-friendly worship experience: website welcome, signs in the building, easy Communion (or other) worship directions, minimum time spent on insider announcements, friendly members who talk with visitors, engaging sermon with effective use of media, traffic assistance, follow-up emails, visitor parking spaces, and multiple teams of greeters? These practices can help shed the "insider-outsider" vibe we unconsciously emit when we've been a part of a community for a long time. Your congregation could send out your outreach and worship teams in pairs to visit other congregations; encourage them to notice what helps welcome first-time visitors and what does not. This may add new energy and insight on how to become even more seeker-friendly than you are right now!
Image: Calvary United Methodist Church, Ambler, PA (click the link to read their awesome new visitor page on their website!)