Claiming to welcome outsiders impacts first-time visitors [2 of 3]

Church visitor lessonsYesterday I kicked off a three-part series based on the experiences my wife and I have had in visiting churches here in the Cincinnati area. Having always been on the church leadership side of welcoming first-time visitors, it’s interesting for me to see it from the other side now. My wife and I have been learning a lot, especially in regard to the impact a church’s website can have as a first impression before we even arrive.

But after we arrive, we’re subconsciously checking out a lot of things, too, not in, “I wonder if this church is any good or not” kind of way, but in a way that just takes everything in.

We’ve noticed that pretty much every church claims to be a very welcoming church. But here’s the key: if a church publicly claims to be a welcoming church they’d better make pretty darn sure it’s an accurate statement. And furthermore, churches don’t get to decide if they’re welcoming or not — the visitors do.

I wonder if some church think they’re welcoming because they feel welcomed by their friends when they arrive. If a church talks about how welcoming and friendly they are and the first-time visitor doesn’t really feel welcomed, that church has just lost some credibility. It’s better not to talk about being a welcoming place at all than it is to talk about it and have an unwelcomed person site in the audience thinking, “No one’s taken any time to express interest in me. What happened in my case?” That’s definitely a credibility hit.

Besides, statistically speaking, not every church can be as welcoming as they think they are. Only 50% of the churches in your area can be more welcoming than all the other churches in your area. That means half of all churches are probably not as welcoming as they think they are. Instead of telling guests how welcoming you are, it’s probably better to just them experience it.

A couple weeks ago we visited a church where the pastor talked for about 15 minutes about how welcoming the church is (seriously) while we were sitting there having only shook the greeter’s hand to get a bulletin. Last Sunday, however, the church never said a thing about being a welcoming place, but I think over half the church talked to us, not just to welcome us, but they talked in a way that made us feel like they were genuinely interested in us as people.

But all that aside, for me personally I’m not too concerned whether a church is overly welcoming to us or not. Honestly, I feel comfortable enough in church environments that I don’t think I really need that right off the bat. After Dana and I decide that we’ll settle in a certain church based on some other factors, I have no problem taking initiative to introduce myself and get involved.

I know most of this shouldn’t matter and that it may sound somewhat petty, and I agree with you, but for some church visitors this is their experience whether we think it’s valid or not.


QUESTION: How does your church make a guest truly feel welcomed and not just acknowledged?

Posted on May 16, 2012

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