I’m part of the church planting team at Refuge Church Franklin in Franklin, TN. As most church plants go, we have many visitors checking us out week to week, hoping we might be a good fit. Of course, as most church plants also go, the folks we have are often busy getting things set up, ensuring the kids are taken care of, and catching up with friends pre-service. If we’re not careful, we will let those good and necessary things prevent us from welcoming new visitors as we should.
Every new person walking through the doors on Sunday morning is a stewardship from God for, at a minimum, that day. They are image bearers in need of grace coming to hear the gospel, whether they realize it or not. They are our responsibility. So, we must labor to be kind, wise, and Jesus-focused each Sunday.
Some of us are more outgoing than others. Some of us can talk in groups better than one-on-one. But all of us have a responsibility to welcome others into the church God has called us to. There are countless ways to do this, but for those who find it hard to know where to start, here are six ways to greet new people on Sunday.
1. Walk up to them, look them in the eye, shake their hand, and introduce yourself with a smile.
This point is so obvious it hardly needs to be said. Which is why it needs to be said. We all know this is the basic form of introduction in our society. So why don’t more of us just do it? The first hurdle is always the most uncomfortable. The best way to clear it is to sprint toward it and rely on your muscle memory. You meet people all the time. In most environments, you have no problem doing so. But when it comes to taking the initiative, you balk, waiting for someone else to make the first move. In God’s church, we’re all responsible for welcoming one another as Christ has welcomed you (Romans 15:1).
We are excuse generators. We have a “reason” for everything we do and, more importantly, for everything we fail to do. We often allow ourselves to get too caught up in conversation with our friends or checking the kids in or grabbing some coffee that we forget we were once new to this place as well. Had it not been for someone taking a risk and introducing themselves to you, you would have left that Sunday and never come back.
The first step is always the hardest. If you never move toward it, you’ll never cross the finish line.
2. Learn to make purposeful small-talk.
I despise small-talk, but I also realize it’s necessary. You can’t dive into the meaning of life if you haven’t first asked someone else about their life. It doesn’t take much to get people talking. It boils down to asking questions.
- “How did you hear about our church?”
- “Have you been in the area long?”
- “Where did you move from?”
- “Did you move for work or some other reason?”
- “What do you do for a living?”
I routinely ask all of these questions of each visitor. They’re widely acceptable questions that give important insight as to why they’ve walked in your doors. If they’re new to the area, the likely know very few people. They need friendship. If they’ve been in the area a while, they likely have previous church experience and a story behind looking for a new one. Their answers not only get the conversation started, they tell their story in bits and pieces, helping you see how best your church could serve them, even if only for that day.
Small-talk is not easy for everyone. If it’s not for you, make a mental list of a few standard questions and ask everyone you meet the same thing. Have them ready so you don’t have to think of them on the spot. By asking questions, you’re welcoming the other person into your church and your life. They may not be forthright, but they won’t be mad at you for caring enough to ask.
If you just can’t muster the courage, take someone with you. The buddy system not takes the pressure off you, but makes multiple introductions!
3. Tell them about yourself (briefly) and about your church.
Your questions will inevitably lead them to ask the same of you. Prepare concise answers. Don’t rush through them. Be as honest and precise as you can be, but don’t linger long on yourself. Your goal is not to give them your life story, but to hear theirs.
Once you’ve made it through your list of questions, give them information about the church. Most visitors don’t walk in blind. Like going to a store, most people know the inventory, but don’t assume they know everything there is to know about the church. Give a brief history of the church, an overview of some key ministries that serve as easy entry points, explain the outline of the service and what they can expect. In other words, make them feel at ease and welcome to partake of the ministries your church provides. This will not only help them get acclimated but will provide an opportunity for the next point.
4. Invite them to something.
First-time visitors are there just to check it out, but it’s hard to get a big enough view of the church on one Sunday. It’s also hard to know what the next step is. For our church, sermon-based small groups (Community Groups, we call them) are the next step. Endeavor to know all the groups, the leaders, and the days/times. If that’s too much, help create a card for your church that can be handed out to visitors.
Don’t just throw information out, expecting them to remember all you’ve offered. Invite them to one thing that you’re attending yourself. Explain what it is, what to expect, and why you attend. People rarely show up to a small group on their own initiative, and very many show up because they’re personally invited. Take responsibility for shepherding the person. And if you need to connect them to someone else because they’d be closer to their house, similar in age, etc., take the step to make the introduction and bridge the gap.
Everyone wants to be cared for. Care for them enough to invite them in.
5. Help them find what they need, and give them time to get settled.
Not every conversation with a first-time visitor needs to last forever. I typically allow five minutes. That’s enough time to ask my questions, give them information, invite them to something, and end the conversation, allowing them time to get settled.
In our individualistic society, people need space to get comfortable. They need to acclimate themselves to the new environment, ensure the kids are in the proper place and not crying for help, and so on. Ensure they have enough time for all of those essential things. Like inviting someone into your house and saying, “Make yourself at home,” we must do the same on Sunday, freeing them to get comfortable.
As you’re nearing the end of the conversation, find the natural break and shake their hand once again, welcoming them to your church. Let them know when the service will get started, point them to coffee or the kids drop off area, and give a big smile. Now, you’re free to find the next visitor and do the same.
6. Follow up post-service.
It’s good that you’ve met the visitor at the beginning, but don’t waste that momentum. You may never know exactly what they thought of the service or the sermon or the music, but you can be sure that they leave with the warmth in which they arrived. Find them after the service, thank them for coming, and follow up on the invitation offer. Give them space to say no but don’t fail to give them the opportunity to say yes.
I will often give my email address or phone number away, making the out easy for them and the invitation personal. If they don’t want to come, they can simply choose not reach out. If they want more information or to attend the next event, they have a personal contact that can help them. We also have a card that each new visitor is asked to fill out. This gives us their contact information to follow up. The key is to follow up. Filling the card out is a risk for some. If they take the risk and give you their information and you never use it, why would they think you care about them?
All of us have room to grow here. It takes a conscious effort to walk into a room and be a “there you are person” rather than a “here I am person.” But doing the hard work will yield fruit in the end. We endeavor to be friendly not because we want to be liked, but because the glory of Jesus is at stake. What we say to new people (and how we say it) will either give credence to our message about Jesus or take it away. As in everything, the beauty of Jesus is what we’re after, and if it makes us a little uncomfortable, well, that’s okay. Jesus endured the cross; we can endure an introduction.
Editor's Note: This post originally appeared at David's blog, Things of the Sort.