By Feroz Fernandes
New visitors do come to your church. The post-pandemic challenge is to receive new people seeking to the part of the faith community. The most significant hurdle will be to get online visitors to physical church facilities. That’s why the question is important: How does the church welcome the first-timers in the congregation?
Churches with best practices to welcome visitors succeed to make them members of their congregation. As a caution, not everything depends on the pastor. The congregation’s behaviors also affect visitor retention. You can learn about these best practices and avoid eleven things that drive visitors away from your church.
1. Awkward Moment to Greet Others during Worship Service
It’s an embarrassing moment when visitors do not receive a warm sign of peace from other members sitting around them. The ‘sign of peace’ is not just for members you know in the community. It’s an exchange of greeting as members of the body of Christ. Pastors have to be upfront to instruct the congregation how vital this ritual is during the mass. Every follower of Christ displays genuine awareness to exchange the greeting with another person, even whom they even don’t know, as an act of Christian witness.
2. Unfriendly Church Members
Sometimes, visitors experience unfriendly congregation members. It dampens the spirit of the visitors. Generally, people want to avoid unfriendly environments in a social setting. Unfriendly congregations drive away new people. Such behaviors are contrary to the Gospel. Jesus welcomed everyone, even those who were ostracized by society. Friendly atmospheres make it easy for new people to come closer to God, express their experiences and grow in a faith community.
3. No Place to Get Information or No One gathers the Visitor details
Does your church have a welcome dossier for a newcomer? Things like a short note about the parish, what we do, service timings, and how to join the community or become a follower of Christ. Is there a practice of gathering information about the new visitor? Simple things like visitor record register, where they sign their name, contact details, and their first impression.
That’s not enough. If there is no follow-up within a short time, the visitor may not even show up next time. Second time visitors are more likely to become members of your faith community. Pay attention to second-time visitors, and express care that a new visitor shows up again for the service. Make sure your visitor follow-up is not intrusive, revealing the desperation to have them again.
4. Bad Church Website
You’ll figure this out. The first thing people do, once they decide to visit the church, is to look for information online. That’s why an updated website is essential. Basic information helps new visitors determine quickly, like the timing of church service, the pastor’s name, and an inviting welcome note.
5. Poor Signage
Most regular churchgoers take for granted, but proper signage provides a sense of direction to the visitors. Visitors feel comfortable with well-displayed signs directions to a washroom, meeting rooms, or the church office. Most people will think these are unnecessary, but a newcomer needs to access these facilities. These are little things that make visitors comfortable in a church setting.
6. Insider Language
The visitors are unaware of insider languages like abbreviations: CWL (Catholic Women’s League), PPC (Parish Pastoral Council), or other insider language forms. Greeters need to be conscious while talking to the visitors to speak in easily understandable terminology. Even pastors who use insider language during announcements will turn off a newcomer. Even if it is as simple as Breakfast Sunday, explain to the visitor what it is.
7. Members telling guests that they are in their seat
It happens. Sometimes, parishioners tell newcomers that they are sitting in the wrong seat. The visitors don’t know where to sit once entering a church. The newcomer, too, wants to avoid the embarrassment of being told to get up and sit in a different place. A church may have a special seating arrangement for newcomers. Pastors need to make sure to have a church member sit alongside the visitors. The visitors will be comfortable being accompanied during a service – it’s a sign that the congregation cares.
8. Dirty Facilities
It’s unacceptable for even ordinary people. The dirty facility adds to the visitors’ first impression, like unattended restrooms and nasty smell in the worship spaces or children’s room.
9. Performance-based Worship that Doesn’t Follow the Gospel
Visitors can tell when a church is peddling products rather than inviting congregants to experience God. Visitors dislike when it is about the pastor’s performance or the choir. Stop making churches as performance centers. A church will lose visitors when there is a failure to bring out the mission of Jesus and challenge people to follow God and serve humanity. Such worship centers may even drive away regular parishioners. Pastors and parish leadership teams that focus on good liturgy will keep people coming to worship services.
10. Unenthusiastic Greeters
It’s simple, some love to greet others, while a few think their job is to distribute church bulletins. Greeters that ask the visitor’s name and use it in the conversation will improve the chances of the newcomer attending another service. There is something unique about using the name of a new person in a short chat that happens. Some volunteers are gifted in hospitality etiquette; others can learn the necessary strategies to show visitors warmth and affection. A visitor hates an unenthusiastic greeting before a worship experience.
11. Priests who Ignore Visitors
It’s a plus when pastors acknowledge newcomers to the church. Some priests do it at the end of the service but welcoming the new person to the community makes more sense, even at the start of the service. Priests who follow up or share another informal event will create another opportunity to meet again. Be sensitive not to awkwardly single out the visitors or make them stand in the congregation.