by Sara Appleby
My name is Sara and I love going to church. I like seeing how different churches do things, and how they spread their joy and passions to those around them.
However, being a single person in my late-20s can make it difficult to get connected at a new church.
I decided to do an informal social experiment to see how churches interact with visitors on a Sunday morning. From September to December last year, I attended a different church each week in Moncton, NB.
I would like to share my generalized findings with you. Please know that I did this out of a love for the Church as a whole. I want to see churches continue to grow and increase their reach into the community.
1. Individuals who have the position of being a greeter at a church entrance play a vital role in the overall experience of a visitor. Greeters, you should engage individuals that you suspect may be new, or, that you do not know. But don’t over-engage. Perhaps ask a few general questions, or comment that you are glad they decided to come to church that morning. Leave it at that, unless that person has questions. One church I visited, the greeter overwhelmed me to the point that I wanted to leave. She started by asking introductory questions, which is good, but then she kept introducing me to several people and suggesting places I sit, etc. After the service, she hugged me good bye. It overwhelmed me. At some churches, the greeters didn’t even acknowledge my presence. So engage, but don’t over do it.
2. Anyone at the front should introduce themselves.
Visitors seeking a church home typically like to know who people are, and who they should talk to if they would like to get involved. Video announcements are a great idea. For video announcements, ensure you have each person’s name (and maybe job title if applicable) on the screen. Include a specific welcome to new people, and make sure that anything directed at them is clear. If you ask visitors to stop by the “Welcome Centre,” ensure it is easy to find and clearly marked. It is really helpful to have signs up directing individuals around the church to places such as a Welcome Centre, offices and washrooms.
3. Explain what is going on!
To a non-church person, communion, for example, is really weird and potentially uncomfortable. Please explain what communion is, why and how you are going to do it before passing out the elements of communion. Rarely, at the churches I visited, did anyone explain what the purpose of communion was beforehand. Also, it was never explained that communion is meant for believers. Communicate to the congregation that they shouldn’t feel like they have to participate if they don’t feel as though they are in a place spiritually to be a part of this. I also suggest explaining the offering beforehand, and again letting visitors know they shouldn’t feel obligated to give.
4. Having a guest fill out a visitor card seems common practice, and I generally like the idea. What is done after one is filled out? Sometimes when I handed one in, I received a welcome gift, usually a mug, filled with information about the church. The information was helpful, but including a gift is a bit odd and unnecessary. I have so many mugs from various events and companies that I don’t know what to do with them all. One church that I attended does something different, and I love the concept. For each visitor card they receive, they donate $5 to the local homeless shelter. That made me want to fill out a card, and it is an excellent way for the church to reach out to the community!
Is there any follow up to the visitor cards? Sometimes I received an email, occasionally a text message, a phone call, or no follow up at all. I think email is the best option. Text messages are impersonal and annoying to reply to, phone calls may be awkward. Emails allow the visitor to know you appreciated them coming, they are professional and personable, and enables them to reply if they have questions.
5. I like church bulletins!
People can take them home so they can remember upcoming events at the church, if they are wanting to participate more than just a Sunday morning. Please include contact information to allow easy follow up for visitors. Many bulletins I saw said something like, “Talk to Nancy about joining a small group.” Great, who is Nancy? How do I find her? Include an email address and/or phone number.
6. Finally, please make sure church websites are up to date and accurate!
Some websites say “Join us at 11:00 for worship,” but then in another part of the website it says, “Sunday services begin at 10:45.” Which is it? Most websites also include information about available kids programs, parking areas and directions. Those are great. Keep up the great work with that!
Sara Appleby is a university student in Fredericton, NB. Last semester she attended Crandall University in Moncton, for a semester. That’s when she did her study of churches. Check out Faith Today‘s contest for pastors.