We all want to welcome new visitors. Our brand promise – “Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors.” – is our commitment to maintain a welcoming lifestyle in our churches. However, there is a fine line between being friendly and solicitous and invading newcomers' space. Here are some ways to reach out and some dos and don'ts when welcoming visitors.
DON’T assume a curry chicken casserole or fudge brownies will delight everyone.
DO be aware that many people have different food preferences and even food allergies. Even offerings that sound neutral, like homemade bread, may be a bad idea due to gluten allergies. Think outside the box; consider taking a mug with your church’s logo on it—stuffed with teabags or a special coffee packet and an issue of The Upper Room daily devotional guide. Another great offering may be a refrigerator magnet with your church’s phone number, address, Facebook address, website, and Twitter account.
DON’T forget practical manners. They never go out of style.
DO keep the trip to a visitor’s home short and sweet. If you are bringing something, simply say “thanks for visiting” and leave the gift. Don’t expect an invitation to come inside. Call before coming, if possible, and keep the visit brief.
DON’T assume one communication method fits all. Posting the potluck dinner only on Facebook may mean people who rarely check their Facebook account won’t see it. On the other hand, someone constantly hooked up to technology may just toss a printed envelope.
DO ask visitors how they prefer to receive information about events and news. Encourage them to follow your Twitter feed and like your Facebook page. Ask them if they like to get text announcements.
DON’T assume a visitor who may not be a regular churchgoer knows terms like Advent. Also, don’t assume a visitor even understands what it means when United Methodists say that Holy Communion is open to everyone.
DO make it easy for newcomers to find answers to questions. For instance, instead of saying, “Your daughter might enjoy UMYF;” say “Your daughter might enjoy our Sunday evening youth fellowship, which we call UMYF.”
DON’T take it personally if a family visits for weeks or even months without joining. You don’t know what is happening in their lives and their faith journey, so don’t be pushy.
DO understand that part of being a welcoming congregation means being patient. Be friendly and helpful. Let visitors know they are welcome at the level of involvement where they are most comfortable.
DON’T assume that one welcoming method fits all. Some visitors — especially older ones — might enjoy a phone call, while a busy family might consider it a nuisance.
DO announce in church that your congregation likes to reach out to visitors. Ask them to note on the registration pad if they prefer phone calls to home visits or email to snail mail. Reassure visitors from the pulpit that you do not intend to drop by unannounced.
DON’T put all the responsibility on the shoulders of the head greeter.
DO enlist your congregants’ help in making visitors feel welcome through handshakes, smiles and light conversation in the pew.
United Methodist Communications offers an online Welcoming Ministry course. For other welcoming dos and don’ts and ideas, check out:
Remember that welcoming visitors is the responsibility of the entire congregation. All members need to embrace welcoming strategies and behaviors. Challenge your congregants to ask themselves whether their actions, facial expressions and gestures say that their hearts and minds are truly open.