Visiting a new church for the first time tends to be intimidating — there’s a lot for visitors to figure out! So what is the best way to welcome visitors to church and make them feel at home and at ease once they arrive? Here are 10 ways to make sure your church creates a welcoming environment for new visitors:
1. Have a great church website
You get one chance to make a great first impression, and your church’s website is often the first interaction a visitor has with your church. Your website should show visitors exactly what to expect when they visit you. Creating a great website takes time, but these five must-haves will ensure your website is visitor-friendly:
- Service start and end times. Displaying the start and end time of your service lets visitors know when to arrive, and how long they can expect to stay. Make sure these are prominently displayed on your homepage.
- Your church’s address. People can’t visit your church if they don’t know where to find you! Display this on your home page, too. Want to go one step further? Include a Google Maps plugin so visitors can easily click, enter their address, and get directions straight to your church.
- Contact information. You need to include your church’s phone number and a contact email on your homepage. Potential visitors want to see that they can easily get in touch with you. You don’t have to provide the pastor’s direct email — firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com are great options for general inquiries about your church.
- A page for new visitors. Have a tab on your homepage titled “New Here?” or “What to Expect” that invites visitors to click. This should take them to a page that tells them everything they need to know about attending your church for the first time. Include information about what they should wear, where to park, where to go once they arrive, and childcare options.
- Access to previous sermons. Having recent sermons on your website gives visitors a chance to experience your teaching style before they visit. This lets them figure out if your church might be a good fit for them. Listening to prior sermons also helps put new guests at ease on their first visit because they’ll have an idea of what to expect from you. Have a page on your website that houses your sermons, and make sure to link to it from the homepage and from the designated new visitors page.
Now that we’ve made sure new visitors will get a great first impression from your website, let’s cover what they need from you when they arrive on Sunday. (If you need a great new website – click here)
2. Easy parking
Your new visitors have your address and are excited about their first visit to your church, but they’re nervous, too! They need to know what to do once they arrive. Put them at ease from the moment they turn into your parking lot with clear signage. Here’s what you need:
- Good signage. First of all, a sign by the road lets your visitors know they’ve arrived at the right place. This is especially important if your church has a longer driveway and is not easily visible from the road. Banners and flags are great options — they catch the attention of those driving by and make your location unmistakable!
- Parking spaces. Once a new visitor pulls into your parking lot, they need to know where to go. Signs that point to general parking, signs that designate spots reserved for visitors, or friendly volunteers directing people to empty spots are all great options to take the pressure off visitors.
- A clear path indoors. Don’t forget to have signs pointing visitors to the inside of the building. Churches often have many sets of doors, and the last thing you want is a new visitor trying to enter the building through locked doors. Having signs (and volunteers) that point visitors to the correct entrance will put your guests at ease from the start.
3. Friendly Greeters
Greeters are the first points of contact for new visitors. They can make anxious guests feel cared for and comforted as they navigate the hectic first few minutes of arriving at your church. Train greeters to be warm and engaging with each person who walks through the door. Hospitality is key!
On big Sundays like Easter and Christmas, it’s especially helpful to have greeters at several different points:
- Exterior doors. Greeters by the exterior doors offer a friendly welcome and serve as the first point of reference for any questions a visitor may have.
- Info booth/welcome desk. If your church doesn’t have a designated spot for visitors to find information, set one up! Have a sign that clearly marks the booth and make sure greeters are trained to answer any prospective questions a new visitor has. Greeters should also be ready and willing to escort visitors wherever they need to go (children’s ministry, sanctuary, etc.).
- Sanctuary doors. Have greeters stand at the sanctuary doors. They can hand out bulletins and show visitors where to go inside the sanctuary.
Keep in mind that all greeters should receive some training on best practices. They should be friendly but not overwhelming, able to answer any questions, and able to direct visitors to any part of the building. Above all, they need to be good people readers!
4. Interior Signs
Visitors need to be able to know where to go as soon as they walk through your doors. Yes, you have greeters in place, but they could be occupied with other guests. Plus, if a guest is on the shy side, they might prefer finding their way on their own. This means you need signs that clearly indicate where to find:
- the info booth/welcome desk
- the sanctuary
These signs should not be handwritten or printed from a computer. They need to be large enough to be easily read from far away!
5. Inviting Atmosphere
What does this mean? Your church needs to be clean, and it needs to be well decorated. A dingy lobby or dirty restroom is an instant turn-off to church visitors. It shows them that you don’t take pride in the presentation of your church. It’s important to be good stewards of our spaces, so here are two must-haves for an inviting atmosphere:
- Clean spaces. Your church should be clean all the time, but it’s especially important to make it sparkle on a big Sunday that attracts lots of new visitors. This may even mean having a volunteer monitor high-traffic areas (especially restrooms) throughout the day so they can keep everything clean and tidy during the pre- and post-service rush.
- Welcoming decor. The way your church is decorated influences the way people feel while they are there. You don’t need a huge budget for decorations. Fresh paint, well-chosen artwork, coordinating furniture, and green plants will go a long way toward making visitors feel at home.
6. Exceptional Childcare
A guest’s experience with your children’s ministry can make or break their first visit. Imagine how anxious parents and kids may feel about being separated when they visit a new church. Having an excellent children’s ministry can relieve their worries from the start! Here’s what you need to make sure your children’s ministry area is up to speed:
- Excellent staff and volunteers who genuinely love children. Highly motivated people dedicated to providing a safe, fun, and educational environment for the kids in their care are so important. A bright smile and calm, welcoming demeanor will do wonders for setting parents and kids at ease, especially if they are first-timers!
- Easy check-in. Make sure the process is safe and efficient, but don’t over-do it. Simple and streamlined is the goal here. Let parents know their children will be well-cared for, but that you’ll discreetly notify them during service if their child should happen to need them.
- A happy, bright space. Creating a space that invites kids to be kids is crucial! Invest in kid-friendly decorations, toys, and educational tools that will make kids want to come in and stay. If they’re begging their parents to come back next week because they had so much fun, you’re much more likely to see first-time visitors become regular attendees.
- Have a cry room. Some parents are reluctant to leave their infants and toddlers in the nursery, so provide a “cry room” or nursing mother’s room where parents can take fussy babies during the service. Set this room up with anything a parent might need to keep themselves and their child comfortable. It helps to have a way for them to listen to (and preferably watch) the service.
7. Visitor-friendly sanctuary
Creating a sanctuary that invites visitors in is pretty straightforward:
- Don’t have large sections roped off. This might confuse visitors and make your church seem uninviting.
- Do have ushers available to guide visitors to seats if necessary. Smart ushers can even place visitors next to friendly individuals or families who will be sure to engage guests before or after the service.
- Don’t place new visitors right at the front. There’s no quicker way to make them feel like they’re under a microscope!
8. Acknowledge visitors during the service
New visitors will be paying close attention to the order of your service. It’s important to include them in ways they won’t find embarrassing. Here’s how:
- Welcome them, but don’t single them out. Simply say something like “If this is your first Sunday with us, welcome! We’re so glad you’re here!”. It’s probably best not to ask them to stand up or raise their hands. Some new visitors might not mind this, but it could mortify others!
- Let your visitors know there’s a connection card in their bulletin, and tell them where to turn it in. If you want to make sure you get these back, tell them to take the card to the welcome desk after the service in exchange for a free gift.
- Don’t make the offering an obligation. When it’s time to pass the offering plates, let your guests know they’re welcome to give if they would like to, but that it’s not expected or required.
- Make sure new visitors know where to go after the service. If you offer prayer time after the service, let guests know where to go to receive it. Remind them about dropping off their visitor card at the info booth (or another designated spot). Let them know there are volunteers ready to connect with them and answer their questions!
9. Post-service connection
After giving your guests clear instructions for what to do after the service, have volunteers head out to the info booth a few minutes before the service ends. This way they can be ready and waiting to greet guests as soon as they exit the sanctuary. Here’s how you can connect with visitors:
- Have greeters or team members available to connect with guests. They can pray with guests, answer their questions, or just chat with newcomers to get to know them. If possible, have your pastor available to greet them, too! This will make new visitors feel extra valued.
- Collect connection cards and offer guests a free gift. You should still offer a gift even if visitors don’t fill out the card. If they don’t feel ready to offer up their contact information after one visit, a no-strings-attached gift will go a long way toward making them feel like their presence is genuinely appreciated. T-shirts, books, and mugs all make great gifts.
- Inform greeters of ways new visitors can get plugged in to your church. Some first timers may not be ready to commit right away, but others might be ready to sign up for a small group, prayer breakfast, etc.
10. Follow up
Now that you’ve collected those connection cards, don’t forget to reach out! Timely contact with church visitors is key. If they took the time to fill out the card and give it back, chances are high they’ll be happy to hear from you!
Your connection cards should have a space for a visitor’s phone number and email address. It also helps to have space for them to indicate their preferred mode of contact (text, email, or phone). Here are a couple of visitor-friendly ideas to get you started:
- Same day. Send a text or email later that day thanking them for coming. It doesn’t need to be long or complicated — just let them know you’re happy they visited.
- Later that week. Send an email saying “See you Sunday!” to show visitors you’re excited to see them again. This is a great time to mention a sermon series or fun event happening at your church. This is also when you can provide individualized information about connecting with any groups or events your guests expressed interest in.
There you have it! Taking the time to make sure church visitors feel welcome will go a long way toward making them regular attendees of your church. Start with these ten steps and build on them. You’ll be sure to create an inviting church environment that will make new visitors want to return again and again.