by Bobby Benavides
The time is upon us when our church is filled with people, some regular attenders, but a large amount of visitors. There will be many visitors, from out of town family to those seeking to find healing this holiday season. We love seeing so many people come through our doors, but sometimes we miss the opportunity to engage the people who are coming in for the first time and tell them how excited we are to have them with us to celebrate Jesus.
In fact, the immediate question many churches ask is, “How can we retain visitors?”—more so during the holidays—and the scramble is on for ways to entice the newcomers to be regular attendees.
Perhaps this isn’t the best question to ask. What if we thought more about how to leave a lasting impression beyond Sunday, just in case these visitors choose not to come back?
Here is a list of five ways we can welcome visitors and make them feel at home without causing anyone to feel overwhelmed.
1) WELCOMING TEAM: This might seem like a no-brainer, but the reality is many churches do not have a well-trained or equipped welcoming team. A group of people equipped to handle questions, direct people to Sunday school classes, restrooms, etc., could go a long way in helping visitors feel welcome. In fact, this would be a great place for adults and children to work together to greet people with a smile and a handshake.
2) A GIFT BAG: Again, the welcoming team can have different elements to it, but having a person or two with the responsibility of handing out gift bags to visitors who walk through the door. This is a major task that would take a team of dedicated people to create the bags, but they don’t have to be elaborate. Some ideas for items to put in the bag: candy, welcome card, brochure/postcard with service info, a book, an ornament made by the children’s program, a cd, and much more. This could be a great opportunity for the children and youth of the church to work together to create items for the bags and hand them out. It’s an extra-mile idea that could leave a lasting impression on the hearts of those who come in.
3) HIGHLIGHT PROGRAMS: One of the greatest things a church can miss during the holiday rush is the opportunity to share the great ministries that are occurring within the church and community. This does not have to be a long drawn-out speech, but a simple video that pops up with a couple of key leaders sharing clips of ministry opportunities and activities in which people can participate. People come into a church wondering what’s available for children, senior citizens, etc., and words on paper might not be enough. Showing video highlights can assist with creating excitement for people who are trying to find a new church home.
4) A WELCOME TABLE: This could be where you have your gift bags, church information, nametags (if you’re a smaller congregation), sermon CDs (if you make them available), and more. A welcome table could go a long way in setting up the atmosphere of the church. The first connections people make in the church will set the tone for their attitude of worship and their attitude with other congregants who want to welcome them.
5) EVERY TIME: Okay, reality check, gift bags might be hard to pull off all the time, but the rest of the ideas listed are not! People are wise to the fact that churches want to keep people coming, so they will do everything in their power to do great things to keep people coming. However, if visitors return to the church and experience a different attitude/atmosphere than what they experienced over the holidays, you might not ever see them again. Our current congregants should be appreciated just as much as the newcomers. There might a different feel in the energy due to the season, but the activities should be present and consistent year-round in order to help people know it isn’t a show.
Let’s face it: we want visitors to return. We should always seek to leave an impression that lingers.
We need to strive to create a place people enjoy, feel welcome, and want to return to. We should have a location that people look forward to coming back to with their families. We need to keep the focus on allowing visitors to appreciate their time with us and know they’re cared for, not just during the holidays, but every time they walk through our doors, whether it is once or 52 times a year.
Perhaps these actions will help them rethink not coming back.
Bobby Benavides lives in Elkins, WV with his wife Natasha, two year old son, and 7 month old daughter. He is the Christian Education Director and Youth pastor at First United Methodist Church-Elkins. He is a speaker, blogger, and football fan. Find Bobby on his blog or via Twitter.