Are we a "guest friendly" church? Makes you think!

Is my church really friendly to guests?

In traveling across this state, I have been in many churches that thought they were friendly to guests. Unfortunately, that has often not been the case. The people in these churches, like most other church families, were friendly to each other. They went out of their way to greet each other, smiled warmly, laughed vigorously, and on occasion, made small talk. But, as a guest, people were hesitant to talk to me until they found out I was the guest preacher. People at these churches really are friendly, just not always to guests. It is as if friendliness is happening all around me and church members hope some "friendliness" splashes on me as well. Could you and your church be guilty of this?

What makes the issue of being guest friendly so important?

First of all, as the old saying goes, you only get one chance to make a good, first impression. But, that is not the only reason being guest friendly is so important. Research has shown that guests judge the friendliness of a church based on how many people initiate a conversation with them the first few minutes they arrive at the church. The research also shows that guests that have a good, first impression often come back and those that do not have a good, first impression do not come back.

Most churches have big hearts because the Christians in those churches have big hearts. They love God and people. They just need help in letting their big hearts be seem by the guests that come to their church.

Here are some guidelines to follow in making a good, lasting first impression.

1.  Learn to see the church through the eyes of guests. Most church members attend the same church every Sunday. They also park in the same parking space, go through the same door, sit in the same seat, sit next to the same people, and go out the same door. These are not bad habits, but they do make it difficult to see the church through the eyes of a guest.

If you want to know what it feels like to be a guest at your church, just imagine that you are at a family reunion. Everyone is talking and smiling. Some of the people are actually hugging each other. They seem to know each other by name. Those that don't know each other are being introduced. People are moving around to accommodate those arriving. Everyone is welcomed and loved. Got that scene in mind? Now, imagine that the family reunion you are attending is not your family! None of the faces are family. No one knows your name and you certainly don't know any of their name. Where do we sit? Is that man walking this way going to hug me too?

That scene plays out Sunday after Sunday in churches cross our state. Guests tentatively come to our church wanting to be a part of our family. Let's treat them like family.

2.  Use designated greeters. One of the best ways to help your guests feel welcomed is to have church members assigned to greet people as they arrive at the church. Having greeters at the entrances to your church to greet members and guests alike communicates a warmth and welcome that can not be replaced. Make sure to train your greeters in what to say and do at the entrances. A good point to remember at this point would be to enlist people who are naturally friendly to be greeters. Also, don't have greeters responsible for other work. Have someone else pass out bulletins while the greeters are greeting.

Another great place for greeters is in each Sunday school class. Enlist someone to be the lead person in greeting members and guests. This person should not be the Sunday school teacher, class secretary, or department director. Those duties are important and often require the person to focus on these responsibilities right as the guest arrives. Have someone greet guests and introduce them to other class members. Obtain the guests personal information after a few introductions have been made.

3.  Communicate and emphasize the importance of being friendly. The pastor, staff, and key leaders play am important role by setting the atmosphere for a friendly church and keeping the issue of being guest friendly in the forefront of member's thoughts. Use the pulpit, newsletters, bulletins, and meetings to remind members to take time to greet those people around them and people they do not recognize. Members are often fearful of people they do not know. Members also do not want to offend the "guest" that turns out to be a long time member. This "fear of offending" can have a chilling effect on the perceived warmth of a church. Lay leaders can give members permission to offend. That is right! Communicate how important it is to greet guests and that in the member's zeal to welcome everyone they should offend a member they did not know, they get a "get out of jail free" card.

These are just a few suggestions to get you thinking about being guest friendly.

Watch for more articles to come or contact me at tbostick@absc.org.

Terry Bostick is a member of the Evangelism and Church Growth team of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention and works in the areas of Sunday school and church growth. He has served churches in Louisiana, Alabama, and Texas. He and his wife Lea Ann live in Sherwood with their daughter.



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