Winning at the Front Door

Well, we church health folks have been at this for a few decades now, and I’m still amazed at how many people tell me stories of the unfriendly churches they’ve visited. It’s hard to believe really. Doing a good job of welcoming guests is Church 101, and perhaps one of the most obvious steps a church should take if it wants to grow. But apparently some still don’t see it.

People who visit your church make up 100% of the growth potential of your congregation. At some point, every new person and new family will have a first Sunday, and if it’s going to be this week, shouldn’t you be ready?

Now, a lot of those who work with churches can offer you a few key steps. I teach churches to start the welcome as soon as possible–even the parking lot is not too early. And we should be friendly at the front door, guide folks to the auditorium, care for their questions, treat their children well, give them a gift to remember the day, follow-up during the week in a fun and non-threatening way, and take a few other steps to do the job of welcoming your guests with excellence. Most of the steps are easy and logical if you’ll just think through the way you like to be treated when you walk into somewhere for the first time.

But mastering the steps of a good welcoming program is only half the battle–and it’s the SECOND half. The most important part is to be genuinely friendly. If your church people aren’t friendly and truly excited and pleased to have guests in the house, all the coffee mugs or midweek cookies in the world won’t be enough. Welcoming systems are wonderful and every church ought to build the best one they can, but there’s no substitute for people who are genuinely friendly.

This past Sunday, I attended a small congregation in a small Missouri town, less than thirty miles outside of the Kansas City Metro Area. A teenage boy in a fluorescent vest waved me to a spot in the small parking lot, and then greeted me warmly when I stepped from my car. Really nice kid…I was impressed.

When I stepped inside, I couldn’t figure out who the Greeter was supposed to be, because six or seven people stopped and extended their hand to me, offering their first name before asking for mine. One guy was quite busy keeping his 4 or 5 kids within arms reach, but he still turned and welcomed me to his church. In fact, I didn’t know whose job is was to greet me because everyone seemed to be ready to do that. Impressed again…

Even a 10-year old little girl came up to me to say “hi.” I’m not sure she knew I was the guest speaker since she’d spent her morning in children’s ministries. She just seemed to know that being friendly to new people at church was her job too. Oh…and she didn’t just say “hi.” Like her dad and all the others, she welcomed me with “Hi, my name is Emily…” Now that was remarkable.

Like a lot of small churches, that group has a few building challenges, and may not be able to do certain things on a par with a bigger, more resourced congregation, but they gave me every reason I need to come back. If I lived in their town, I guarantee you that would be the easiest decision of my week.

The point? If you’re not making every effort to be warm and friendly to your church’s guests, what are you thinking? People usually have to become friends before they’re going to become Christians so why would we hold back simple kindnesses?

The Church Jesus established is nearing it’s 2,000th birthday. It seems like we should have this “loving people” thing clear in our minds by now. Sorry to seem a bit frustrated, but unfriendly behavior from people who’ve been in church for decades is just unconscionable in my book.

So thanks, Emily. And tell your dad, and Paul, and Randy, and Bill, and Brandy, and Erika, and Bekka, and Pastor Tim and Robin, and the high school guy in the parking lot, and all the other great people at your church to keep up the good work!

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