Ever heard the saying: “You can never make a second first impression”?
It’s so true.
It’s one thing to get more first-time people into your church, it’s another thing entirely to keep them!
When someone decides to visit your church and ‘give you a shot’ that’s exactly what you’ve got:
One shot. One chance. One opportunity to get it right.
The goal here is not just knowing how to make church visitors feel welcome but to make sure they get connected and keep coming back.
In this 3,430 word guide I’m going to highlight 10 areas you can focus on to make sure you’re giving your best to your church guests.
I’ve tried to keep this as clear and straightforward and as practical as possible. I believe you can get started on any of these areas today and see immediate improvements.
If you have any suggestions, ideas, feedback or questions, be sure to join in the conversation in the comments below.
1. Build a great church website you can be proud of
I know, I know…
You were expecting to talk about your church signage and the welcome team, right?
But here’s the thing: 75%-90% of potential visitors take a look at your church website before deciding whether or not to ever visit your church in the first place.
That’s nearly 9 out of 10. This is huge!
If your church doesn’t have a website or has a site that looks like it hasn’t been updated since the nineties, you’re probably putting people off before you even get out of the gate.
The issue is most people think you have to be a software engineer with the ability to speak html coding language to set up a website. This is simply not the case anymore. Honestly, it’s just not as difficult as maybe you think it is.
If you haven’t yet a got a church website or you want to update your existing site check out: How To Design a Church Website – The Beginner Friendly Way for a clear step-by-step on creating a beautiful church website you can be proud of.
Here’s a really helpful video on what every church website should include to ensure you create that all important first impression:
Check out the perfect church website homepage template here (PDF).
5 elements visitors are looking for on your site:
a) Service start and end times
You wouldn’t believe how many church’s websites I’ve gone to and they have no service time!
You don’t need to list all your small group meeting times but you do need to make sure you have your service times clearly displayed on your homepage. It’s also really important to include the end time so people know what to expect.
b) Your church’s address
Church visitors can only visit if they know where you are! Include a Google Map so people can click on it to get directions from where they’re at.
c) Contact information
Give new people the information they need to contact you if they want to. Have your church phone number and a contact email easily accessible when people land on your site.
You don’t necessarily have to give the pastor’s personal email; you could set up email addresses like firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com and have them go to your follow up leader.
d) A page for new visitors
Have a tab on your homepage titled “I’m New” or “What to Expect” that invites visitors to click. Victory Church Lethbridge do a great job at this.
Take a second to check out their visitor page – you’ll see maps to all their 3 locations, all of the service times to choose from, information on parking, their children’s ministry and as a visitor you’re given a complimentary Starbucks. You don’t get much better than that!
e) Access to previous sermons
It’s a great idea to make your previous sermons available on your church website. Not only because your members want to watch these and share them online, but it gives people who haven’t yet visited your church an idea of what they can expect from you, your teaching style and the format of your service.
Now that we know potential first-time guests are going to get a great first impression from your website, let’s cover what they need from you when they arrive on Sunday.
2. Have a welcoming church visitor center
When people arrive at your doorway of your church for the first time, how can you give them a great experience in those all-important first few seconds?
Have a warm and friendly welcome team ready to greet newcomers.
Check out: 5 Common-Sense Church Greeting Tips for how to build a great hospitality team.
Have a couple of people at your front door, have a couple more people ready to greet at the door to your sanctuary but then let’s take it a step further…
Why not have a visitor center in your church foyer? This has worked wonders for us!
A church visitor center is your one-stop-shop for first time guests manned by people who love meeting new people, are knowledgeable in your church programs. It’s where visitors go to find information, can get help, find out next steps and get connected.
This is where every church visitor fills out a connection card with their contact details so you can follow them up.
Your connection card should have tick boxes for people who are ready to:
- Find out more about having a relationship with Jesus
- Find out more about getting baptised
- Join a church small group
- Have someone come and visit them in their home
- Share their prayer needs
- Start serving in the church
Think about when you’ve gone somewhere for the first time, especially if you’re on your own. Having a point of contact in the form of a specifically designed visitor center can be really assuring and helpful.
3. Point people in the right direction
It’s my opinion that not knowing where to go is what makes first-timers feel most uncomfortable…
Most churches have clear signage outside the church but neglect to put up signs pointing people in the right direction once they get inside.
So have clear signs inside and outside your church and your visitors won’t have to nervously wander around the building trying to find their own way.
Make church visitors feel welcome by having clear signs for the following areas:
- Visitor parking
- The visitor center
- Kid’s Church drop off
- The coffee shop
- Worship sanctuary
When we’ve going to the same church for years it becomes difficult for us to put ourselves in the shoes of a first-time visitor.
I once heard of one pastor who helped his leadership team experience a Sunday morning service through the eyes of a new person. They drove to the church, tired to find a parking spot, looked for the worship auditorium and so on, assuming they had never been to the church before and knew nothing.
This can be really helpful in seeing your church from a visitor’s perspective.
4. Give your guests a gift
Nothing says “You are welcome!” like a welcome gift.
Some churches go all out and hand out mugs, shirts and other church branded merchandise.
I would say at least have a welcome pamphlet explaining the vision of the church, introducing the lead pastors and a free coffee voucher.
This doesn’t have to be expensive, but a gesture goes a long way.
There are so many ways you can do this depending on your budget. Read: How To Make A Church Welcome Pack for more tips and ideas.
Giving your guests a gift has the added benefit of identifying who the first-time guests are to your hosting and welcoming teams. See anyone walking around with a gift bag? They’re a visitor! Now they can go and introduce themselves.
5. Design your church service around new people
Your church service should make new people feel welcome.
This is controversial but should be a no-brainer.
Take time to think about every single element in your church service and what you can do to tailor it towards first-timers.
Here are a few ideas you could implement right away:
a) Welcome speech
After the countdown, right before worship starts, have someone quickly welcome everyone to the service, give them a brief outline of what’s going to happen so they know what to expect.
Say something like:
“If this is your first Sunday with us, welcome! We’re so glad you’re here! For the next 20 minutes we’re going to sing to God together. Join in with us, the words will be on the screen.”
Personally I don’t think it’s necessary to have visitors stand up or raise their hands as this would embarrass a lot of people, but hey, maybe that works in your local setting. test it, try it out and find out what works for you.
In 7 Reasons Great Preaching Will Grow Your Church I talk about the fact it’s your messages, more than anything else, that keeps people coming back for more.
When it comes to creating a church the unchurched love to attend, some people think they have to dumb-down or water-down their preaching. This is not the case and not what I’m talking about here – but I do want visitors to understand your preaching.
So cut the jargon and if you refer to a story of Bible character, give a quick background so they can follow along with you.
Definitely preach the great theological truths from the Word… but please explain them.
If you’re going to talk about the atoning penal propitiation of Christ then, rather than impressing your listeners with your wide ranging vocab, explain what these precious words mean.
Preach like Jesus did: use great stories to illustrate your sermons and always try to give real life examples.
When it’s time to hand out the offering baskets, make it clear to first-time visitors that they can give if they want to, but this is primarily for church member’s and there’s absolutely no obligation to give.
Also remind them to pop in their connect card if they haven’t handed it in already.
d) End of service – 5 next steps
I’ve seen some churches do this so well and others not do it at all, but I think it’s a brilliant idea to point people in the right direction at the end of your service.
Let them know there’s tea and coffee available after the service, remind them there’s a designated welcome venter with people ready to talk to them and answer any questions they have.
Here are the 5 steps we end every service with:
1) Come back next week
“We’re starting a new series about… next week. You won’t want to miss that!”
2) Join a connect group
“If you’re not already in one, a connect group is where you can grow with other people. You can sign up in the lobby…”
3) Read the Bible daily
“You want to see God move in your life? Download the YouVersion Bible app, there are Bibles available downstairs and free ‘daily bread’ devotionals available.
“You want to find your purpose? Start getting involved. There are lots of different areas with opportunities to serve. Sign up in the lobby. We’d love to have you on the team.”
“Next week we’re talking about… If you know someone who.. you’re going to want to bring them with you next week. It’s going to be good.”
The close in prayer or however you end the service.
This is a brilliant way to end your service by laying out the next steps, not just for your new visitors, but your members too.
6. Have an amazing Kids Church program
Kids Church is one of the most overlooked programs in the church.
But here’s the truth:
Having a brilliant Sunday school that kids can’t wait to come back to every week has a way bigger impact on our church growth and ‘stickability’ than most of us realise.
Especially for visiting young families and parents – the quality of your kids church program can make or break their first visit.
Parents often choose a church where their children can be well catered for, putting their needs in front of their own.
Many times parents feel very anxious about leaving their children so getting this right is a must.
Whatever your Sunday school program looks like right now, here are a few pointers to help make it more welcoming:
a) Have kids church workers who love kids
Whether you have a team of paid staff of volunteers or a mixture of both, having workers who love children and can connect with them on their level is crucial.
Your staff should be motivated. Parents will notice this in the first few seconds. A big smile and a warm welcome will do wonders for setting parents and children at ease, especially when it’s their first time.
Check out How To Motivate Your Church Volunteers for more info and how to build effective teams of passionate people.
b) Easy check-in
We want to make sure the children are safe, but we don’t want to over-complicate the check-in process. Keep it simple and effective.
Make sure workers have parent’s contact information if they need to contact them discretely if they need to. This will give parent’s that all important peace of mind knowing their children will be well cared for.
c) A bright space, a happy place
You don’t have to invest a lot to transform a drab and dreary space into a bright and airy Sunday school room – get some paint and splash some colour on those walls!
Get the balance right between having your Sunday school educational and fun. Make it the highlight of the week for those kids.
Never underestimate the power of children begging their parents to come back next week because they’ve had such a blast! This is for sure the most effective way to turn those first-time guests into regular church members.
d) Have a cry room
If you’ve ever taken very young children to church you’ll know the feelings of guilt that go along with it!
Is there anything worse than your child screaming full pelt half way through the preaching? I don’t think so!
If you have the space available, why not consider creating a space where parents with very young children can go?
We set this up recently in our church with nappy changing areas, soft toys, sleeping spaces and a bathroom close by. We also installed a flat screen TV so we could live stream our church service so parents didn’t feel like they were missing out.
7. Talk to them, obviously
So now you’ve got a great website, made a brilliant first impression with your welcoming team, had an amazing church service with great worship and preaching – don’t let the social time after the service let you down!
You do not want your church to be one where visitors slip in and out unnoticed.
Can you imagine yourself visiting a church where no one speaks to you? There’s nothing worse than standing there, not knowing anyone and feeling awkward.
“But isn’t training our greeters enough?”
Honestly, it’s not.
As a pastor, depending on the size of your church, it might not always be possible to get round to chatting with every visitor every week. This is why training your leader leaders and members on how to create a welcoming, outward-focused culture is so vital.
People crave a sense of belonging and community more than anything. Having genuine people warmly greet them and show an interest works wonders.
People looking for a church home create a warm and friendly environment where they’re free to be themselves without fear of judgement. We all want real and open friendships where we’re free to talk about our hopes and fears, successes and failures.
So be honest, be open, be genuine. Do this and they’re far more likely to stick with you.
Just for fun :)
Here’s exactly what NOT to do when talking with visitors!
8. Intentionally follow visitors up
Too often we leave this to chance but we need to get intentional about follow up ministry.
Remember the connect card you had your visitor fill out?
It’s time to get put that information to good use with a strategic follow-up plan.
According to Herb Miller’s book How To Build A Magnetic Church:
- 85% of guests return if visited in 36 hours
- 60% of guests return if visited in 72 hours
- 15% of guests return if visited in 7 days
We can immediately see here that the quicker we follow up and visit people in their homes, the likelier they are to return to our church the next week.
For more on this tale a look at 6 Ideas to Follow Up Church Visitors Effectively.
Follow up is not something that should be left for the pastor to do alone. Where possible, create a specific follow-up team who can call all of your guests on Monday, thanking them for coming and asking if you can make a home visit, then go out and visit people during the week.
You could also send out a text message telling them you’re looking forward to seeing them again this coming Sunday.
The goal of this team is to take care of visitors, increase the likelihood of them returning the next Sunday and getting them to plug into a small group. From there it’s the responsibility of the small group leader to support and lead them.
9. Host a ‘getting to know you’ meal
Though they have many different names, lots of churches run a ‘getting to know you’ type meal where they invite new people. This is a good opportunity for you to get to know them and for them to get to know you. People walk in as strangers, but walk out as friends.
You can share the vision of your church and how they can get involved, introduce yourself as the pastor, be open to answer any questions people have and point out next steps.
Northshore Community Church is a church that does this really well. Here’s a few pics from their Starting Point breakfasts:
You could run these events once a month or once every 3 months depending on how many visitors you get. Put the dates in your calendar and invite everyone new to church since the last one.
10. Connect them into small groups
Last but not least, connecting people into small groups is the best way to turn people from casual attenders to committed members.
The beauty of small groups is you know everyone in your church is getting the pastoral care they need. They’re growing in the Word and have strong connections and support with others.
Never underestimate the power of small groups in creating strong friendships and true connections we all need in our lives. It’s the time to dig deeper into the Word and discuss life application. It’s the place to teach and disciple.
Here are a few helpful guides on running small groups successfully:
- How To Start A Small Group Bible Study From Scratch
- How To Run A Bible Study (Even If You Never Have Before)
Someone has a family emergency? The small group leader will ensure they get the support and help they need. A member needs prayer? They can pray and agree together in a small group setting.
Gone are the days where you as the pastor needs to drive around taking care of everybody; instead, you can invest your time train and develop your core team of small group leaders.
Over to you
There you have it – 10 steps to making your church visitors feel welcome. These are all things you can start doing today for immediate results.
Don’t have the budget for a huge visitor center yet?
Start with what you’ve got – set up a manned welcome table.
Don’t have a full Sunday school team yet?
Begin investing in and training the couple of people you do have and grow from there.
Sometimes it’s easy to look at massive churches and think we can never be like that, but as with anything in life, we don’t get from where we are to where we want to be in one fell swoop, rather it’s a series of small accumulative over time that makes all the difference!
As I always like to say: you don’t have to be great to start but you do have to start to be great :)
I sincerely hope you’ve found this guide useful in identifying areas in your church you can improve to welcome first-timers better.
What did you take from away from this? If you have any suggestions, ideas, feedback or questions, be sure to join in the conversation in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!