How to Make Visitors Feel Welcome at Your Church (Without Joining the Greeter Team)

Jen Oshman | April 4th 2023

This article is an extract from Welcome by Jen Oshman. What does being welcoming look like in the church? How can we learn from the church throughout history how to extend the welcome of Christ? Read the book to learn more, and use the free small group kit to dig deeper into this topic with your church. 

Theologian and author Rebecca McLaughlin says, “An alone person in our gatherings is an emergency.” She and her husband have made a rule for themselves that anytime they see someone alone at their worship services, they must stop what they’re doing and go chat with or sit next to that person. She says, “Friends can wait for our attention on a Sunday. Better still, they can mobilize in mission too. Spurring each other on to welcome strangers in Christ’s name won’t weaken our friendships; it will deepen them.”

This is a needed exhortation for all church members and a useful principle to apply to everything we do on Sunday mornings.

Prep for Visitors on Sunday Mornings

The principle that an alone person is an emergency likely prompts us to have greeters at our front doors, an information table or place to go with questions, maybe ushers or escorts that guide new families to appropriate worship spaces and classrooms, and plenty of signage, as well as people who stand ready to help anyone who looks like they’re not sure where to go or what to do.

While these nuts and bolts might seem like the concern of church leaders only, it’s good for church attendees to be aware of these systems too.

If we all know the purpose of these practical measures, then we can all get on board and help. Church leaders cannot do the welcoming work alone—in fact, they often cannot do it at all on a Sunday morning because they are preoccupied with things like sound checks, ensuring classrooms are staffed with volunteers, and surprises like flooding toilets or leaking roofs.

“Every member a greeter” is a helpful philosophy. Both systems (“official” greeters and information tables, for example) and organic culture (church attendees who eagerly go out of their way to welcome others) are needed.

Make Connections, Not Just Introductions

Expanding on McLaughlin’s rule above, let’s go beyond the temporary connection we make with visitors on Sunday mornings and make sure we foster longer-term connections right away. As humans we are made for connection and community. We all want to know others and to be known. It can feel scary or silly to begin a conversation with a visitor, but it’s worth it!

While these nuts and bolts might seem like the concern of church leaders only, it’s good for church attendees to be aware of these systems too.

Because of our role in missions, I get the chance to regularly meet people in churches all over the world. I often ask new friends, “What brought you to this church?” Or “Tell me how you got involved here at this church”. Most often they tell me something like “The first Sunday we visited someone asked us out to lunch, and we’ve been coming back ever since”. Or “My first time here I exchanged phone numbers with someone, and we’ve been friends ever since”. Or “I was immediately invited into a small group so I got connected to a group of friends, and now this is my family”.

The desire to connect is universal. And connections begin with that first, sometimes scary conversation. In the family of God, strangers can become siblings. Sunday-morning systems—like ensuring these first conversations are the norm—play a key role in making space for everyone.

Welcome People Further into the Family

As you think about your specific faith family, what milestones or checkpoints would enable someone to progress from being a stranger to becoming a sibling? In your setting, what are the means of moving someone further into the family?

A church near us hosts lunch once a month for newcomers to join in after the worship service and get to know church leaders. A church in Asia plans quarterly church-wide dinners where everyone is placed into a group that gathers for dinner at the home of a volunteer host. This allows the whole church to gather on the same evening, but in intimate groups around the community where people get to know one another more deeply.

In the family of God, strangers can become siblings.

A church in Europe matches those who are interested with others in groups of two or three for weekly meetings of encouragement and mutual discipleship. Our family hosts a six-week small group three times a year to which we invite newcomers to get a taste of what it’s like to join a small group at our church. This allows them to get to know the pastor’s family and have an idea of the benefits and responsibilities of joining a small group before they make the commitment.

Many churches offer membership classes and one-on-one meetings with elders to help identify the newcomers’ gifts and needs. There’s no one right way to encourage strangers to become siblings. Each context calls for creativity, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the intentional follow-through of existing church members. Our role is to be faithful to welcome others in. And the Lord himself will build his church.

Jen Oshman

Jen Oshman is a writer, podcaster, pastor’s wife, and mom of four daughters. She has served as a missionary and church planter for over two decades on three continents. She currently resides in Colorado, where she is the Director of Women’s Ministry at Redemption Parker.

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