William E. Viss
Are church-growth folks correct to say that a church will grow only if it is welcoming and friendly? Indeed, this is not just a technique for growth, but a loving response to Christ. Examples of it are found throughout the Bible: see Gen. 19:3; Deut. 10:19; Job 31:32; Matt. 5:47; Mark 2:15; Rom. 12:13; 1 Tim. 3:2; Heb. 13:2; 1 Pet. 4:9. Hospitality is to be shown to believers, to those not yet in the faith, to strangers and aliens, to anyone anywhere. This is, in fact, simply the lifestyle of those who follow Jesus. If you're not "naturally" friendly, he wants you to become more biblical!
Here are some simple thoughts for making visitors feel welcomed in your church:
1. Expect visitors. Pray for them before you come to church. Once a month prepare Sunday dinner with a visitor or two in mindnothing fancy, just more water in the soup. Your kids will love it, and they'll love your kids.
2. Look for visitors, for someone you haven't met. Hang around the entryway. While talking with a friend, let your eye wander around, and excuse yourself to go and meet someone. After the service, beat it to the door or the visitor's table, and make sure no visitor leaves without a friendly greeting. If someone else is talking to them, ask to be introduced.
3. Talk with strangers. Be yourself. A simple "Hi, nice to have you here" or "Welcome, we're Jessie and Jamesgreat to see you and the kids" will do.
4. Make visitors feel wanted. "Over here is the worship areawe'd love to have you sit with us." "Shall we get some coffee?" "We" implies "with me" and says that they are important enough for your time. Asking a second time (no arm-twisting!) shows you really do mean it.
5. Gradually extend the conversation. (Of course, don't stand on her foot to keep her from leaving if she wants to.) Show genuine interest in visitors as unique people. Don't prod; just enjoy getting to know each other. Here are some steps that might make it easier to move into serious conversation:
A. Converse first about casual thingstheir family, where they live, their work, etc. Exchange information without grilling! People really are interesting.
B. Then move the conversation to deeper issues, attitudes, and values (but not specifically Christian ones): "In your new neighborhood, have you found it easy to make new friends?" "How do you help your kids form values you care about?"
C. Now it's easier to move the conversation to distinctly Christian things. "We have found that a Christian church provides a place to form new friendships." "Does your background include having the Bible as a guidebook of values?" "Does your family have a practice of praying together with your children?" "What do you look for in a church?"
6. Be ready to share a bit of your own Christian experience or of the gospel. I recall an incident where I sensed that a visitor was deeply moved, and so we went off to a quiet corner for conversation and prayer; he remembers this as the time of his commitment to Christ.
If you find that you have moved the conversation too far or too fast, put your visitors at ease, back off, and converse at their comfort level.
7. Connect visitors to someone else in the groupperhaps a helpful contact. "So, you're in computersI'd like you to meet Tom over here." "Gail here works at the hospitalis that where your friend is?" "May I introduce you to our pastor?"
Try hard to get the name and address of your visitors, so they can receive an invitation to return.
Philip Yancey notes that in most churches people don't really seem to enjoy being there that much. But don't we have great joy being with our God, with each other, and with those whom God brings to us? Let's obey him and move out in welcoming love to all who come!
The author, a member of Gwynedd Valley OPC in Gwynedd, Pa., gives workshops in personal evangelism. Reprinted from New Horizons, May 2000.