Six months ago, my husband and I began searching for a new church home. As we visited other congregations, I joked that we would join the first church where someone invited us to lunch. Six months and seven congregations later, we’re still waiting for that invitation.
In our former church we had, from time to time, entertained church visitors in our home or at local restaurants, so I did not think my suggestion was unusual. I loved hearing the stories of how visitors found our church, where they lived, and what they did.
I once wrote a note on a bulletin telling my husband I would invite the young couple at the other end of our pew home for lunch. “What will you serve?” he asked. I named a meal-in-a-bag food I had in the freezer. The couple loved it and said they purchased it themselves on occasion. We had a great visit although, I must admit, they never returned to church. But surely not because they had not felt welcomed.
Visitors seek to connect with God through worship and teaching, and church members serve as a crucial link: “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Entertaining visitors need be neither fancy nor threatening. Rest assured, visitors are eager to get to know you and learn more about your congregation. They don’t want to drive miles and then return home without connecting with someone on a personal level.
I’m finding, though, that when we visit churches, we rarely receive invitations to participate in activities outside of the morning service. Certainly, we could just sign up and attend. But there’s something warm, friendly, and hospitable about a congregation that embraces visitors by extending invitations.
Here are my suggestions as a visitor.
- Staff an information desk in your foyer so that if no greeters are on hand, I can find a bulletin and learn where restrooms and nurseries are located.
- Welcome me with greeters who distribute bulletins and tell me they’re glad I came — or that I came back, if I return.
- Look me in the eye and tell me your name during the greeting time. Ask me where I live. Tell me you’re glad I chose to worship with you today.
- Invite me to church activities — to a small group Bible study, for starters. Or women’s or men’s meetings. I will get to know you much better in a small group setting than I do sitting behind you in a pew. In our former church, I often invited visitors to small group meetings because such places allow participants to interact and get acquainted.
- Invite me to after-church luncheons, even if they are covered dish affairs. Surely there’s enough food to feed a few visitors. I would love to sit beside you and meet your family.
- Once it’s obvious that I’m a regular visitor, offer to meet with me to answer questions I may have. While your website offers some information about your church, I want to know your
specific stance on various doctrines and the organization of your congregation. Do you elect or appoint leaders? Who is allowed to teach or serve, and in what capacities?
- Give me a gift that says you value me. Yes, a coffee mug is fine. But how about a gift bag that includes a recipe or devotional book your church has created, a note pad with your church’s name on it, a refrigerator magnet or other personalized items that remind me of your hospitality when I see them around my house?
- Reserve a back pew just for visitors or latecomers.
Visitors come to church for many reasons. Perhaps they’ve drifted from a fellowship and long to reconnect. Perhaps they’ve suffered “friendly fire” in their own congregation and seek a safe place to worship. Perhaps, like my husband and me, they simply feel it’s time for a change.
Whatever the reason they come, give visitors a reason to stay. With a little thought and effort, they will leave your fellowship feeling loved and cared for, embraced by the arms of one of Christ’s ambassadors.