I will follow this post up with part 2 later in the week.
Most churches think they are visitor friendly. Information gathered from church growth studies indicate that when asked, a typical church member will respond that, “yes” his or her church is visitor friendly. When asked to provide details the answers usually center on their church having a “friendly spirit”. While there is absolutely no doubt that having a friendly spirit is essential to being a visitor friendly church it does not guarantee that a church will be visitor friendly. The difference is in the details.
A visitor friendly church takes care of the details. They conceptualize the visitor’s experience from the moment they drive on the parking lot until the time they leave that lot. Details such as clearly marked and easily assessable parking spaces, what the visitor sees when they first enter the building, how the visitor will be greeted and find their way around the building, what kind of literature to give them, etc. will all be considered very carefully- and from a visitor’s perspective. The goal of this, of course, is for the visitor to have such a positive, friendly experience that they will want to return. To become a visitor friendly church here are some essentials to consider:
- Logistics– How easy is it for visitors to find parking spaces and move from those spaces to the appropriate classes and activities within the buildings? Are maps available and easily readable? Are greeters positioned in the right places with the right information and are they easily recognizable as greeters? Are Bible class teachers visitor aware and work to make sure each visitor comfortably fits into the class? These are all questions we must address. These first contact areas make lasting impressions and if not taken care of can create an atmosphere of anxiety within a visitor which could lead to a not-so-pleasant visit.
- Greeters– This is the backbone ministry of visitor friendly churches. Many churches have both outdoor and indoor greeters who are trained to meet the visitors, help direct them to their appropriate classes and provide them with the church information. Greeters should be the visitor’s first welcome and point of contact. The importance of this ministry in a visitor friendly church cannot be overstated.
- Information– Visitors need information. They need to know what the Bible class options are. They need to know how to get there. They need to know what to expect in worship. They need to leave with information about the congregation. They need to know what the ministries of the congregation are. Most visitor friendly churches have well defined, attractive and easy to access visitor information stations manned by greeters offering this type of information. Extremely attractive, well-written and creative visitor packets and/or bags with all of the above information are available for first-time visitors. All of this not only assists the visitor in getting around and making his visit a pleasant one, it also allows the visitor to take home a small part of the church.
- Worship– It is very, very important to consider our worship through the eyes of a visitor. We will look at this in more detail in part two.
- Follow–Up– This is equally essential. Most visitor friendly churches have immediate follow-up with their guests from guest luncheons to follow-up calls and contact within two days of a visit. Guests need to know that their visit impacted the church and that the church is interested in them.
- Friendly Spirit– Of course, all of the details would mean nothing without a genuine welcoming spirit. This is the foundation upon which to build any visitor friendly church. We can’t just plug in a program and expect it to work when the heart is missing. But we must be intentional about it. We must educate ourselves and then apply that education.
Churches do not grow accidentally. Churches do not become effective visitor friendly churches simply because we like to visit each other. Again, we must be prayerful and purposeful planners. We must commit the necessary resources to grow. We must not be afraid of growth, but to embrace the Great Commission and plant and water so God can give the increase.
In our 21st culture where church-going is not as common as it once was and where people respond to and expect visitor friendly environments in the workplace and marketplace we must strive to make a visitor’s experience as comfortable and welcoming as possible. After all, when a visitor attends we have been given an awesome opportunity to influence them for the sake of Christ. They have given us the opportunity to present to them the message of Christ. Shame on us– if we do not take this responsibility seriously!
Start thinking about every assembly in terms of a visitor and be alert to any new face. Present that friendly spirit to them in a very personal way. You will never know the difference you can make!