Sometimes our sincere efforts to welcome visitors on a Sunday can actually be unwelcoming and we don’t even know it.
This is our third installment highlighting one of the sessions entitled “Building a Culture of Evangelism” at the 2018 Church Planter Training Conference. In previous posts, we looked at an overview of loving people in “Building a Culture of Evangelism” and then more directed toward pastors was, “Preaching & Evangelism”
Today’s post is directed toward every member and attender; especially those that make an effort to welcome and talk to visitors on a Sunday.
We are probably all aware of the reality that sometimes we have people in our churches who are passionate about a topic and always have an agenda to talk about it. On a Sunday, new visitors are simply an untapped audience that need to hear their message. We all cringe when we see it happen and must do our best to “rescue” the unwitting target. But in this post, we want to focus on how a very well meaning person could turn off a visitor because we aren’t in tune with what it’s like to be an outsider coming into church.
Asking the Wrong Questions
Often we tend to ask questions that we think are really helpful because they are things we understand and are excited about, but for an outsider can be unsettling. These examples have all been heard many times by pastors and leaders:
Example #1: What’s your church background? or Do you go to church?
Problem: When an outsider visits a church, one of the most fearful things for them is being seen as an outsider….a pagan….a non-church going sinner. This question, for many, is the exact thing they fear. We would love to hear that a non-church going person was visiting, but we need to think about our questions from their perspective as an outsider, not ours.
Example #2: What did you think of the sermon? or “….the service?”
Problem: We may be excited to hear what they thought, but they don’t want to be put on the spot. They, of course, have to say something nice but more than that, they now have to speak in your language and are worried that they may something stupid or too simple. We aren’t worried about that, but THEY are.
Example #3: Do you want to put your kids in the nursery?
Problem: Seems harmless and even helpful, right? Another big fear for a visitor is what to do with kids. Will they be noisy? Will people look at me…think I’m a bad parent? They don’t know what to do with their kids. They don’t know nursery ages and policy. Asking this question puts them on the spot and may sound very suggestive i.e. (You should put your kids in the nursery). The topic of what to do with kids should probably be handled by a greeter or someone who is adept at helping visitors. Instead of asking this question, give them a welcoming, informative couple sentences about the “kid situation.” For example:
“You have a couple options for your kids. Some people will have them in the service and you are welcome to do that. Others choose to put them in a nursery. We have a nursery that for regulars is up to about age _____, but for newcomers we are flexible as to what you think is best for your family. Older kids are just as welcome.”
(Notice the warm flexibility with “age restrictions” which may not be appropriate for a non-church going family).
Example #4: Will you be coming back tonight?
Problem: You are interested and excited for them to come back, but it’s just remarkable that they came once. Evening church is 3-legged unicorn to an outsider. Give them a chance to breathe.
Intentionally Welcoming Questions
When you do welcome visitors on a Sunday, one principle will be overwhelmingly helpful: Ask them questions about things they are interested in, not things you are interested in or interested in knowing about them.
How old are your kids? What do they like to do? Are they in sports/dance etc.(Note: This is a nice replacement for: Are your kids homeschooled?)
What do you do for a living? What does your typical day look like? What led you to that field of work?
What do you like to do for fun/with free time? Have you done anything fun or interesting since moving here (if new to area)?
Your goal should be to walk away able to give a nice bio of the ‘normal’ things of life for this person. It’s fine if they know very little about you, the church, or your theological prowess after your time with them.
We only gave a few examples to spare you a longer post. But maybe it gives you a pattern or new way to think about these things. Think about how you typically greet visitors or how you hear others welcoming people? What questions are we taking for granted as “good questions” that may not be welcoming for an outsider? This coming Sunday, pay attention to this as you move about the congregation during fellowship time or after the service.