6 Tips for Improving the Visitor Experience at your Church
A healthy church will be a growing church.
Of course, church growth involves more than just numerical growth. It involves discipling your church members and regular attenders. It involves cultivating God-centered, transformative worship. It involves fellowship, service, and edification.
But it also involves multiplication.
With this goal in view, your church probably plans some special events that are specifically designed to reach their communities. You try to equip your church family to live intentionally in their neighborhoods, workplaces, and communities.
You pray and work tirelessly to reach the people that God has called you to engage with the gospel.
And then it happens. A visitor walks through the front doors of your church for the first time. This is exactly what you have been working and praying for. And they’re here.
Ultimately, you want every visitor to experience the life-transforming power of the gospel, but initially, your goal is much more practical. You just want them to feel welcome.
Here are 6 simple tips to help you do that.
You really have the advantage here. Your guest will meet dozens of people that day. They’ll have a long list of names that they’ll try to remember. You just have one (or maybe a few, if there is a family visiting).
It’s sounds simple enough, but for some reason, it’s still not easy.
We’ve all had the experience of meeting someone for the first time, hearing that person’s name, and then forgetting it a few seconds later.
There are very simple strategies to help you here. The most important one is to fully engage in the conversation. Many times, we forget details in those conversations, because we’re distracted.
So be intentional in the way you listen to your guests. Ask questions. Respond thoughtfully. Be present.
If you’re still struggling, get really practical. Write the name down on a 3x5 card. Not while they’re right in front of you, of course. But right after the conversation. Type it into your phone. Record it as a voice memo.
This is not a some kind of memory game. This is a foundational step toward making someone feel welcome. If you remember and use a first-time visitor’s name, you are sending a clear message: “You matter to us. We care about getting to know you.”
The first impressions for your guests start when they drive up to your building and get out of their car. From that point on, they’re looking for signs that you’ve planned for their visit. They’re asking, “Am I welcome at this church?”
So here’s a little experiment to help you answer that question. Gather up a group of church staff, ministry leaders, and volunteers. It might even be a good idea to invite some people who have never been to your church.
First, walk out to the parking lot and imagine that you’re first-time guests arriving for a service on a Sunday morning.
Then ask: “Where do I need to go next?” Is the answer obvious? Go inside. Would you know where to drop off your kids? Is it easy to see how to get to the main worship service?
Next, walk through the common spaces on your property, stopping in each space to look around carefully. Is it clean? Are the surfaces cluttered? Are the decorations outdated?
Lastly, sit down in your main worship space (probably near the back, since that’s normally where visitors sit). While you’re seated there, think through the different parts of your service. Are you going to use part of the service to speak directly to first-time guests? Is there anything that you do as a church that would need to be explained to non-Christians? Is the welcome table or guest area easily accessible as you exit the room?
All of this is aimed at helping you answer one question: are there places where they are likely to get lost in your buildings or in your visitor workflow?
Taking the time to think through and physically walk through these stages of your visitor experience will often reveal simple improvements that you can make as early as this Sunday.
The children’s ministry spaces are one of the most important parts of a good welcome. People love their kids, and they want them to be in a clean, safe environment. And of course, they want their kids to enjoy their time at your church.
You want a check-in process that is smooth and easy-to-follow, and you want a kids program that is organized and engaging. If the kids loved their experience at your church, the parents are much more likely to return. An effective children’s ministry is a huge draw for families.
But this type of kids ministry doesn’t happen by accident. You will need to be intentional and passionate about making this area of your ministry a priority, and you’ll need to train and empower your church volunteers to carry out this vision.
Make sure you children’s ministry volunteers know who the first-time visitors are in their classes. Have a special gift ready to send home with those kids. Know when the service is over so that you can have the kids ready to go when the parents arrive to pick them up.
Go out of your way to show kindness to the kids and parents as they arrive and when they leave. Don’t assume that they know what you’re thinking. Tell them: “Thank you so much for visiting today. We would love to see you again.”
There is really only one reason that first-time guests become second-time guests: they make a connection with someone at your church.
If visitors can walk in to your church, sit through a service, and leave without ever connecting or engaging with someone from your church, they will never feel welcome. And they are very unlikely to come back again.
This is why you need to start building a team of volunteers to welcome people at your church.
You’re looking for friendly, tactful, and faithful church members to serve as the frontline of the visitor experience at your church. They will be the ones looking for first-time guests. They will be the ones who go out of their way to greet them, answer questions, and provide direction.
Everyone in your church should be friendly, but not everyone in your church is qualified to be on your welcome team. So don’t just ask for volunteers. Focus on recruiting the right people for these positions.
Look for team members of different ages and life stages. Look for people who have basic conversational skills - the ability to talk to guests without making them feel pressured or awkward. Most of all, look for spiritually-minded, wise, and discerning people who love Jesus and love people.
Some of those things can be taught. Some of them will only come with spiritual gifting and maturity. Know what to look for in your welcome team. But all of them are essential traits of a good welcome team member.
It’s a simple thing, and it’s something that you may already be doing. But it speaks volumes to first-time guests. Send them home with a physical reminder of your gratitude and love.
You can give this gift out before or after the service. You can have them turn in a connection card when they pick it up (assuming, of course, that they don’t feel like it’s a hostage situation). And as we’ve already mentioned, you can even have gifts ready in your kids and youth classes. Send the entire family home with something from your church.
Whatever you decide, just make sure you do something.
But make sure that it’s a real gift, not just printed materials about your church or cup of stale candy. If that’s all you’re going to do, it really would be better to do nothing.
Invest some money and make sure that you give them something that they want to take home.
Your mission as a church is eternal, not temporal. You are called to reach people with the gospel, add them to your local church, and disciple them to follow Jesus. None of those essential parts of the mission can be accomplished through clean bathrooms and fancy visitor gifts.
You need God to work in the hearts of the people who visit your church, and you need to remember that most first-time guests are at your church because God has already begun that work.
They probably didn’t come to be entertained. There are plenty of options for better entertainment in our culture. They came because there is something going on at a spiritual level in their lives.
Maybe they’ve come with physical needs or relational difficulties. Maybe they’ve come carrying a burden of shame or guilt. Maybe they’ve come lonely or depressed or lost.
As you make introductions and answer questions, don’t forget that you are talking to someone with an eternal soul. Don’t forget to be tuned in to where God might be at work in their life.
Don’t be afraid to ask them if there is anything you can pray with them about. If they answer, take a few minutes right there to pray. with them.
Before and during the service, pray that God would use His Word to declare the gospel and His people to display it. Pray that they would hear and respond to the good news of the gospel. Pray that would see their need for Christ and run to Him for salvation.
Look for any opportunity at all to connect with them at a spiritual level. There is eternal significance in those simple exchanges.
That may seem like a lot of information, but remember, it’s just a list of tips.
The heart behind every one of those tips is to show the love of Christ.
You are simply loving people where they are and helping them take that next step to where God wants them to be.
What a privilege it is to be part of what God is doing in this world.