An article by David Francis, Director of Sunday School, LifeWay Christian Resources, caught my eye recently. In ‘Ways to make guests feel unwelcome’, Francis humorously outlines nine ways churches can drive guests away, discouraging further visits. As a frequent guest of Anchorage area churches, I’ve seen them all. I’ve added my own commentary to his bullet points.
*Make parking for first-time guests inconvenient. It’s amazing how many churches do not provide up-close parking for first-time visitors, leaving them to fend for themselves in crowded parking lots. Often you’ll find empty handicapped parking, clergy parking, but no first-time visitor parking. This practice loudly shouts, “visitors not expected or desired”.
*Get grouchy greeters. Or better yet, unsmiling, close-mouthed greeters, or even better, have greeters carrying on uninterruptable conversations with other greeters or members when guests enter.
*Forego a welcome center. Few churches have effective welcome centers. If they do, often they’re ineffective ones. One church I visited had one, unstaffed, with clipboards to register oneself.
*Treat guests like a doctor’s office treats new patients. This can be done at the welcome center, with clipboards and long forms to complete, or even better, be confronted at your seat by someone demanding you complete the form there.
*Don’t escort guests to their classrooms. Or to available seats in the sanctuary. This alone goes far to discourage further visits.
*Make finding a seat really hard. Make sure all the good seats in the rear half of the church are filled or taken, marked by coats, purses, hymnals or Bibles. It’s far better to make the guest go up front where everyone can examine them in detail. Some churches have chosen to position their entry so guests (and members) enter from the front to their seats, creating a continual stream of interruptions before and during the service.
*Have guests stand up while everyone else sits, or sit while everyone else stands. That’s right, they’re very vulnerable so it makes them warm to your church instantly, especially when asked to identify themselves to the entire congregation. It’s even better when they are prompted for the reason they chose to come to your congregation this day.
*Randomly call on people to read or pray. The guest, of course, is waiting with dread to see if they’ll be next.
*Don’t wear name tags. This is a 100% guarantee guests will not be properly recognized, nor know anyone’s name as a consequence of their visit.
Churches do not see themselves as others see them. I strongly urge churches to regularly, (I suggest weekly), send several members to visit other community churches with a practiced eye for guest-friendly or unfriendly behavior. This can be brought back for discussion with the worship committee or similar. Churches I enjoy visiting employ a wide variety of guest-friendly practices, going far beyond the ones mentioned here. Church attendance should be a happy occasion for any guest, and getting under-the-hood of how to be hospitable is a Biblical mandate and Christian principle.
To read David Francis’ article in full click here.