Is it Unrealistic for a Visitor to Expect a Warm Welcome?

When blogging, you open yourself up to the world. Some recent blog comments and communications stated strong personal biases against my evaluation of churches using my posted criteria.

What About My Welcome
One commenter noted that my “…search should be for truth – the ONE truth – not a warm and fuzzy welcome.” But, that’s not what my visit criteria states on the right side of this webpage. The commenter further went on to state “Jesus’s walk on the earth had nothing to do with warm greetings, music quality, or his ‘personal walk’.”

The gospels show us that Jesus lived a life of hospitality which played out in other peoples spaces. In his relationships with those whose lives he touched: Mary, Martha, Lazarus, the woman at the well, and the disciples, for example, it is inconceivable he did not bestow warm greetings on these and others he met. The same with churches one visits. Aren’t “first impressions, lasting impressions”?
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How One Church Addressed Visitors
Myron Augsburger describes in Maintaining Momentum, a chapter from the excellent book Mastering Outreach & Evangelism, how his church addressed the issue of what he terms “Fringe Churchgoers”. “On any Sunday, as many as 25 percent of those attending are what we call fringe. Not yet involved in the life of the church…[these]are the unconnected visitors, the occasional churchgoers, the “church-hoppers.” A church that desires a strong outreach ministry needs to start inside its own walls by reaching these people.”

They do this with a 3-step program: offering a warm welcome, linking newcomers with regulars, and ensuring future contact.

For the welcome several strategies were developed:
-They ensured the church building was user friendly
-Pastoral staff lead by personally welcoming newcomers
-They changed the model of pastoral availability by:

1. Doing the unexpected – Think Mickey Mouse here. You don’t enter a Disney park and expect Mickey to be shaking everyone’s hand. Neither are they similarly available before and after services. This pastoral staff roams the parking lot and greets visitors at their cars. One group of seminary students from this church shared their excitement at visiting Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church. They said they were welcomed five times and that was before they reached the front door!

2. Pastoring by walking around – They roam the foyer, parking lot and pews before and after the service. Their informal contact brings them a wider range of service opportunities.

A warm welcome is not the only reason I go to church. However a quality welcome will help ensure my initial visit is not the last. In line with this, well-informed churches are taking welcoming seriously. They train people how to warmly welcome and deal effectively with visitors.

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