By Gina Calvert

How to Extend a Warm Church Welcome

What makes a good church welcome? Most churches believe they are warm and friendly to visitors, but in truth, many miss the mark.

A Visitor’s Church Welcome Checklist

A friendly greeter at the door is a must, but it’s not enough. In fact, a church’s welcome message starts much sooner than the front door. It includes:

  • Your website: This is often the first encounter newcomers have with your church.
  • Curb appeal and signs of life: What impression does your building leave with passersby?
  • Personal friendliness: Does the personal welcome extend beyond the greeters?
  • Signs of impact: How is the church impacting the community?
  • Ease of navigation: This includes your website, your parking lot, your facilities, your programs, and sometimes, even the service.
  • Welcome/information station: Even small churches can benefit from a designated information person. Provide signs with information in case there is a line or someone just wants a quick reference.
  • Offering exemption: If baskets are passed, assure givers they are not expected to give.

Signs of Life

From the time someone first encounters your church, they form an impression about your church and the welcome they will receive.

Consider your website. Is it outdated and never-changing, reflecting a church that is outdated and never-changing? Does it demonstrate how your ministries impact the community … and the ways people can get involved or find help? Is the website difficult to navigate? Does it inspire viewers to want to meet the humans behind the screen? Make sure your website contains the top 4 most important design elements of a church website.

What about your grounds and building? They don’t have to be a showcase of modern design, but are they unkempt or inviting? Do passersby see a building used only a few hours a week or one that is frequently alive with activity? Is the property ever opened to the community (i.e. trunk or treat, snow-cone socials during the summer, blood drives, or shelter during a crisis)? Think of neighborhood events as ways to offer a friendly church welcome to those who regularly pass by but may not be ready to come inside.

Do you post literal signs that announce new offerings to those passing by? This could be the start of a new financial stewardship class, Mom’s night out, or a new sermon series. A sign that never changes sends a message of stagnancy, not vibrancy.

Ease of Navigation

A major concern of a first-time visitor is how they will fit in. Not knowing how they will navigate a new experience is enough to keep many away. This includes how they should dress, where to park, which door to enter, or how to find what they need in a timely manner. Will they be called out as visitors and expected to stand? Will an offering basket be passed to them? (Guests actually give you a great opportunity to remind members of ways to give – such as offering boxes, online giving, or baskets – while assuring guests that they are not expected to give.)

Consider every aspect of your church experience and how it would look to a newcomer. Include an obvious “What to Expect” section for first timers on your website. Make sure restrooms are clearly marked. Station people to help with directions to resources for babies, kids and youth.

Churches must walk a fine line between being welcoming and letting visitors remain as invisible as they want to. Welcome visitors from the pulpit but never put them on the spot.

Not-So-Friendly Members

Your members ARE friendly … to each other. Often they’re so happy to see fellow members they haven’t seen since last Sunday (or longer), that it never occurs to them to approach unfamiliar faces. In fact, they often fear that they may accidentally treat a long-time member as a guest and that this is somehow bad.

If you cannot train your members to act as hosts, it’s imperative to have a team assigned to look for new faces and engage them with a personal church welcome. They can answer questions and help with resources they may need. Encourage this team to introduce guests to someone specific (such as the leader of a ministry they’ve expressed interest in) or, if they’re single, to a group of singles standing nearby. These introductions can give them a point of reference and a sense that the church is inclusive.

Not-So-Friendly Processes

For those who come inside, the “welcome” period extends beyond the first visit. It extends to every new step they take: Joining a class or a small group, giving an offering, signing up to volunteer. They’re looking for different things now. At every step, they will judge friendliness by not only the people they encounter but also ease of navigation through your website, your app, and your programs, events and ministries. Is information easy to obtain? Are events and volunteer opportunities managed efficiently?

They may be ready to give – how will they experience your online giving page and process? Most online giving experiences reflect the exact opposite of the personal way you conduct your church welcome. In fact, 83% of online gifts begun on charitable sites are abandoned due to the unfriendliness of the experience.

It’s a good practice to ask new members to shed light on their experience as a first-time guest. Have new staff members review your online content and test your registration and giving forms periodically. Always be evaluating your newcomer and member experience.

Vision2 was designed to make online giving easy for givers and for your backoffice. Schedule a quick and easy giving audit of your current giving system today.