How Welcoming Is My Church?
In many of our churches today there is a lack of people, and many of our churches have been closed for that very reason. Now the reasons for that lack can be many and varied. But one of the biggest reasons is the issue of whether we are a welcoming church or not.
In other words, are the people in our churches made to feel welcome? And how do we welcome those who have never been before? Do we make things easy for people? Or do our practices make things difficult?
The questions below do not have any biblical base—they are simply based on experience. Because experience has taught that:
1. Members of a church are not always made to feel welcome, even in their own church;
2. It is not always easy for even a Christian to find a new church; and
3. Non-Christians seeking answers are not always made to feel as comfortable as they should be.
1. Is there a signboard outside my church advertising the times of services and providing contact details? And if there is, is it up to date?
Most churches have some sort of sign outside of their building. But many do not advertise the times of their services or provide contact details for seeking information. And even if they do, the information is often out of date (and it looks out of date). This gives the impression that the church is only interested in its existing members—those who are expected to know what is going on and when—and not in new members at all.
2. Does my church have a website detailing who they are, what they stand for, when they meet, and contact details?
With the growing number of people using the internet it is important for churches to get online. Indeed, a website is the first thing that many people look for when they are considering a church to attend. The website should be used, at the very least, as an online notice board. But in a world which embraces some very strange beliefs—which are contrary to the Gospel—a statement of what the church stands for should be included.
3. Are the service times at my church easy to follow?
The ideal is for services to be at the same time each week, and at the same location. If not, there are grounds for people to get very confused. Indeed, when service times and locations vary, even regular members can (and do) lose track of where they are supposed to be and when. Irregular times and cancelled services are not conducive to regular worship. Furthermore, they tend to discourage new members who have had the courage to attend, only to find that the service has been cancelled, is at a different time, or is being held in a different location.
4. Are there people at my church who welcome people? If so, are they there at least twenty minutes before the start of any service?
When people arrive at the church door, they need to be made to feel welcome. For some, there may be issues to discuss that need to be dealt with (at least in part) before the service begins—issues pertaining to the previous week. For others, this may be their first time at church and there is a need to give a good impression. As a consequence, any welcomers need to be there well before anyone else arrives.
5. Are people given a pile of books (hymn book, prayer book, etc.) at the door? If so, what processes does my church have to help those who may be unfamiliar with the services?
It is never a good idea to load people up with books and papers, particularly if they are visitors. Even some regulars can get easily lost. Indeed, it is far better to put everything together in one booklet, or, better, allow people to follow a service on a screen. It may be tradition in some churches to use a variety of resources, but care needs to be taken that the number of books and papers don’t serve to alienate people by becoming obstacles to joining in the services. On the other hand, the offer to sit with newcomers to help them through a service can be of great value.
6. Are visitors given a leaflet (or the like) detailing what my church stands for, with its activities and contact details?
While visitors need to be welcomed, a handout spelling out the church’s beliefs and practices, etc. can be very useful. For some, coming to church is a major event. It can be scary, particularly in an age when all sorts of strange beliefs are being taught. A simple piece of paper, with a summary of the beliefs of the church can therefore help to reassure the visitor of the orthodox beliefs of the church.
7. Are seats left at the back of the church where visitors can sit, if they so wish?
There is nothing more unwelcoming than for a visitor to have to walk down the aisle passed the regular members of the congregation in order to find a seat. Leaving space at the back of the church where visitors can slip in and out, and feel more comfortable, is essential.
8. Do the members of my church talk to one another before and after services?
This question has a number of issues. Firstly, some people like to begin a service with silence, for private meditation. However, it needs to be remembered that church is about the meeting of the people, come together as a community to worship God. As a consequence, any private meditation should be done before leaving home. Secondly, any welcoming should not be restricted to official welcomers at the door, it should involve the whole congregation. Thirdly, most churches suffer from having small groups or cliques. That means that whilst people may talk to each other, they only do so within their own groups, alienating those outside their group. And fourthly, how much members show interest in their visitors may be reflected in whether they come back to the church or not.
9. At the conclusion of the service, is there someone at the door to farewell both regulars and visitors, and to see if they have any needs?
The meeting of the people does not end with the benediction and final hymn. Social interaction between God’s people is important too. But not everyone may be ready to participate in morning tea, etc. People need to be shown that they were not only welcome this time, but they will be welcome next time too.
10. What processes does my church have to follow up visitors and deal with any other needs?
While caring for one another and following up people is important, great care needs to be taken in this area. Some people find a visit from a minister threatening. As a consequence, some sensibility and flexibility should be considered in terms of follow up and pastoral care. Some churches rely on cards which they ask people to complete, but a less formal way of simply talking to people may provide a better base from which to work. In any event, there will need to be a variety of options when it comes to who follows up who and how, dependent upon the circumstances and need.