Church Wellness: Basics on Welcoming

As the mobility rituals of summer begin — one in five families changing homes, education years ending, new jobs starting, church-shopping under way — this is a good time to remember the basics of welcoming visitors:

•           Welcome, don’t pounce. Over-exuberant greeters can communicate desperation and thereby insincerity.

•           Be a friendly congregation in the Jesus way, namely, open circles, treasuring the new and different. Tight huddles of longtime friends communicate the wrong message.

•           See your Sunday morning — when most visitors try you out — from the visitor’s point of view. Worship needs to be accessible, not precious. Music needs to be singable. Directions need to be clear. The mood doesn’t need to be relentlessly upbeat, but sincere, in touch with life, answering questions that real people are asking.

•           Capture enough information to enable follow-up. Most visitors are hesitant. All you need is a name and e-mail address. Personal follow-up can take the relationship building deeper. You can’t do it all on the front steps after worship.

•           Be steadfast in following up. The journey into a faith community takes many steps. First-Sunday is one of them. The next is your response, which must be prompt — day of first visit — and focused on learning about the visitor, not selling the congregation. Further steps will come, such as adding visitors to your newsletter mailing list, inviting them to a membership class, inviting them to an event, never in a hard sell.

•           Be open to all. Many churches make the mistake of freezing out the ones whom God is sending because they don’t seem to fit the mold. God is leading us all to new places, even the most settled. All molds are being broken. New people aren’t God’s way of rescuing your budget. They are God’s way of restoring humanity to oneness, including your own. If you freeze out the stranger, you freeze out God.

•           Teach about change. Preachers must be bold in proclaiming a gospel of repentance — change of mind — and God’s call to new life. Change isn’t a tactic that we grudgingly accept as the cost of keeping the doors open. Change is the very Gospel itself. Change is our reason for keeping the doors open.


Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant, and Episcopal priest in New York. He is the author of Just Wondering, Jesus, and the founder of the Church Wellness Project.