How many times have you heard, Why can we not keep any guests? The average church in America is less than 150 people in attendance, and far more of those are less than 100. Guests are an essential part of keeping the church healthy and growing. Without guests, the church slowly dies as members either move away or pass on to glory. Every church may want guests, but members have to ask themselves, Is the church doing what is necessary to keep guests?
1. Pray for Guests
For many churches, prayer has become relegated to two or three minutes per service each week. The lack of specific prayer times lessens the supernatural power of the Lord to help move the church forward. A church must ask: Why do we want guests? What will guests mean to our weekly services? Praying for guests should not be a part of a prayer wish list, but an intentional time of reflection praying for future guests, the needs they may have, how the church can support the guests, and pray that the local church would be open to receive guests with love and grace. Spending time dedicated to praying for guests creates an atmosphere of fully surrendering the church’s will for God’s will and reinforcing that guests are vital to gathering as a church.
2. Plan for Guests
Research has shown that a first-time visitor makes up their mind within the first seven to eleven minutes if they are coming back. Think about that before a song is sung, the pastor has shared a word; a person has decided to come back or not. That means planning for guests is far more critical than most churches understand. Spend some time looking around your church and see her from a guest’s standpoint. Is the church ready to receive a first-time guest? What is the plan to be a welcoming church? “When you fail to plan, you plan to fail,” it has been said. When preparing for guests, you must think ahead. Have they (greeters) been trained, do you have greeters, do they know what to say, and lead the guests to the next step? If a guest is alone, is someone willing to invite them to sit with them? Is there a connection card they need to fill out? Do you have a pen ready to hand them so they do not have to look for a writing element? Is there a follow-up plan once the connection card is turned in? Is there a gift that is to be given to first-time guests?
It might seem like a lot to prepare at first but, I promise you if you build a team of dedicated greeters, you will win over the first-time guests more times than not.
3. Prepare for Guests
When preparing for guests, evaluate from a guest’s standpoint what a first-time visitor may see pulling into the parking and walking into the church building. Do guests know where to park? Is the entrance marked, so they know where to enter the building? Are the bathrooms and children’s areas clean and labeled for ease of direction? Are greeters warm and welcoming, or do they stay in their holy huddle, ignoring the first-time visitor? Preparing for guests is much more than straightening up the church; while that is an integral part of preparing for guests, what matters more is developing an attitude of service for all those who come through the church’s doors. Guests want to feel like they belong and not shunned for not ever attending before. On major celebration Sundays in the church’s life, it is easy for a guest to get lost in the crowd. Still, on any typical Sunday, the guests stick out in the group, and when they feel welcomed and valued in a lot of ways, they are willing to overlook things that may not be up to par.
4. Parlay Guests into Members
Many churches miss the “ask” part of connecting with guests. For some, they are great at greeting their guests but follow-up is limited. By following up through email, text, phone, or mail, you share the church’s friendliness and that you want them to be a part of the church.
Once guests come several times, move them towards becoming a valued team member of the family. Many guests who come over time feel the need to get connected; they are waiting, wanting to feel a part of the fellowship, but they need to be asked. The best way to parlay guests into membership is by getting them involved. Can they be a greeter, serve coffee, or pass out bulletins? While this may seem like small jobs for you, for them, it’s saying that you value their skill sets beyond just a friendly hello.
In changing church culture, being prepared for guests is as important as preparing a sermon, worship, or Sunday School lesson. While the church cannot change everything all at once, it can begin by praying, preparing, planning, and parlaying guests from being a first-time visitor to long-term member one guest at a time.