It's tough being a first-time visitor in any church. But, as a seasoned member or part of the leadership team, you can do things to make it easier on your church's newcomers and to encourage them to return. The list that follows is not exhaustive by any means, but these few suggestions will help get you started.
1)Ask a friend who is a member of another church to visit unannounced some Sunday and give you a list of his suggestions later. The concept is called "mystery shopping."
2)Give the buildings a fresh coat of paint.
3)Add some greenery to the front of the sanctuary. Stay away from plastic ferns; go for the real thing. Find a volunteer to keep them fresh and green.
4)Remove the clutter from the front of the sanctuary. Make room for people to kneel and pray in the altar area, and encourage them to do so.
5)Put two greeters on the outside of the sanctuary to open the doors and welcome worshipers. A common mistake is to have greeters station themselves inside the front doors. They should be seen by passing drivers as a statement that this church is open and expecting guests. A greeter outside a door will answer an unspoken question of newcomers: "Where do we enter?"
6)During bad weather, have a couple of men ready with big golf umbrellas to assist families from the parking lot into the buildings. They must be enlisted as permanent volunteers, not recruited the morning of the heavy rain. They should know in advance that when it rains, they are expected to be in place a full half-hour before the service. If after you recruit them, no rain falls for a month or two, remind them periodically that you're counting on them to be ready.
7)Enlarge the ladies' restrooms. If necessary, knock out a wall and make it twice the size of the mens' room. Invite some church women to pretty it up.
8)Invite a musician(s) who does not normally play the piano or organ for worship to provide pre-service music, beginning 10 or 15 minutes early. It should not be loud or intrusive, but just loud enough to wall-paper the room with warmth and love. And, yes, we're talking about every Sunday, not just one time.
9)Improve the signage so visitors will be able to find the nursery, rest rooms, visitors' center, and other important spots in the building.
10)Make sure the visitors' parking is convenient and well-marked.
11)If your signs are beginning to show their age, ask the congregation to invest in some fresh, attractive replacements.
12)Invite someone from outside your church to critique your worship bulletin. Freshen it up, liven it up, add clarity, and give more information.
One of the best thing ministers can do to "friendly up" their church is to visit other churches and take notes. Whether they learn from the example or the failures of that church, they will come away with ideas on improving things at home.
The Lord's people were told to welcome strangers in their gates, because "you were strangers in Egypt" (Lev. 19:34). Once you have been the outsider without a clue where to go, you will love finding a church that gets welcoming right.
Joe McKeever is a retired Southern Baptist pastor from New Orleans, Louisiana. He blogs regularly at www.joemckeever.com.
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