Every church thinks they are the friendliest church in town.
If your church is like the one I last pastored, it still uses a “Welcome” time in the service.” In this part of the service the expectation is that the people stand and greet those around them. This usually involves people tossing a quick hello to those they do not know before turning to catch up with those they do. In most congregations that I had visited as a guest, I almost always felt like a real outsider during this time of the service. Often, I was completely ignored by people who were greeting the friends they already knew. I believe this is one of the reasons churches have a reputation of being cliquish.
During our church’s quarterly membership classes, I would try to drive home to our new members that they were the best greeters we had in the church. That is because they still remembered the anxiousness they felt the first time they were asked to greet one another.
In this class I attempted to convey to them from the beginning of their relationship with the church that they had a responsibility to be outward focused and warmly welcome visitors by treating them as honored guests.
It was about this time in the membership class that I would share with them my “Think Three” strategy. During the “Welcome one another” portion in the early part of the worship service, I would invite the congregation to take a minute or two to greet those around them.
While I made this verbal announcement, I would also always give to our membership a physical cue. I would hold up my hand above my head make the OK sign. With my thumb and index finger making the O, the three fingers in the air would be a secret signal to our members. With those three fingers in the air, I would be communicating to the members of the church that before they were to greet any of their friends and acquaintances within the church, they should seek out three guests who they did not know and warmly greet them first.
My goal was to train our congregation to always be looking out for newcomers and to make sure that they were made to feel welcome. By teaching members, the “Think Three” rule, I was instilling in their minds the reality that the church should always be looking out for new people. In all my years of asking new members what they noticed in their first experience with the church, without fail they would tell me about how enthusiastically they were greeted and how warmly they were welcomed.
Excellent hospitality is the key to turning first-time visitors into returning guests. However, if you don’t have a steady flow of first-time visitors, great hospitality isn’t going to help you grow your church.
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