“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2 NIV)
As we think about visitors (Newcomers if you are from the south), I want to encourage you in several ways. First of all, it is important to make them feel wanted and welcome from the time they drive in the parking lot! Visitors will decide within the first five minutes whether they are welcome or not. Here are a few ways to help them feel welcomed:
(1) Make sure they know where to park and where to go in the church. Do you have someone in the parking lot to direct parking or adequate parking spaces designated for visitors? (There should be some designated handicap and visitor parking spaces.) If you do not have a member in charge of helping in the parking lot, do you have signage that denotes a “Welcome Center at one of the doors near the parking lot?” Inside the door designated for welcoming people should be a greeter who helps them find their class and can register them as well.
I have found that a person in the parking lot can be beneficial at times. Not only can this person help with parking, but they can provide an umbrella when it rains or a helping hand for those who need it! One single mother and her three children had such a warm reception on a rainy day from the greeter in the parking lot, that years after she was a member, she remembered that experience as being influential in her decision to become a part of that family of faith!
(2) When the visitor makes it to a class, do you have someone designated to welcome them? In the past we may have assigned a greeter or the outreach leader may be the greeter. I want to suggest that the person you want is more of a connector than just a greeter. Have someone who wants to know the visitor at a deeper level than just name, workplace and family. You want someone who will find out their hobbies and passions as well, and connect them to another person in the class or the church with those hobbies/passions.
For instance, if I had a visitor who loved to fish, I would want them to know two or three more people in the class/congregation who love to fish. I want to build multiple relationships with persons in my church. The more connected they feel the greater chance they will come back.
If possible I would want to sit with them in worship as well. I have found this to be especially helpful if the visitor did not grow up in a faith tradition like ours. I could explain what we do and why to help them feel more comfortable.
(3) Have a Visitor Contact Committee to follow up as well as the class. In my past church experience, we had such a committee to send cards, call and perhaps even visit with a homemade loaf of bread. One person would call first of the week to see how they felt about the visit. One person would send a card besides the Pastor, and one would stop by just to drop off a homemade baked item with more information about the church. (Please note that the person would not enter the house, but simply drop off the items unless the visitor was insistent.)
(4) Have a training session to train your people to minister to your visitors with the same passion and warmth as you would want to be treated. You want to find people who naturally gravitate towards people to be trained in showing the ministry of hospitality. You never know when we are entertaining angels!