People sitting in chairs with bibles in their laps.

Connecting first-time guests to church is essential if you want to see your ministry grow. According to Pew Research Center, 79% of people said feeling welcomed played an important role in choosing a new place of worship. It’s safe to say creating a welcoming environment is crucial in seeing your ministry grow.

So how do we excel in this? What are ways we can create this environment through the means already available to us?

5 Keys to Creating a Welcoming Environment

1. Understand the Experience

When was the last time you attended your own church and experienced what a first-time guest experiences? Having a deep understanding of what your guests experience is the first step in creating a welcoming environment.

What does pulling into the parking lot feel like? What’s the first thing you see? Who is the first person you interact with? Is it clear where to go?

Take a Sunday and either attend your church yourself or ask a trusted friend to visit and take note of their entire experience. You’ll be surprised at what arises from this exercise when you are intentional about walking in a guest’s shoes. You’ll notice what’s hindering the environment you want that you may have been unaware of. This gives a road map for what to adjust to help in creating a welcoming environment.

2. Train Your Teams

Clear signage is important, but people will always be the most crucial element in creating a welcoming environment. This is especially true today as authentic community and connection are highly sought after and unfortunately rare. For that reason, you need to spend the necessary time to ensure volunteers know how to welcome and represent your church to guests.

This training can take on a few different forms. You can host a class for new volunteers to establish expectations, you can share helpful resources (articles like this), or empower team leads to train new team members.

Systems and processes are important in creating a welcoming environment, but a team of people who understand the vision and have the proper training is priceless.

3. Simplify Connection

Getting connected and sharing contact info with the church should be extremely simple, especially for first-time guests. Because people have varying communication preferences, you’ll need to establish multiple methods of communication.

What does this mean exactly? It means making it easy for the high-tech and low-tech person to submit a connection card (or whatever you might call it) and figure out the next steps. There are multiple ways to make this process simple:

  • Print paper cards.
  • Display a QR code.
  • Make the digital card accessible in your mobile app.
  • Provide a tablet for people to fill out the digital card.
  • Establish a text keyword like “GUEST” to send and get the card.
  • Capture contact information as part of your safe check-in experience for children.

The goal of making connection simple is to remove anything that would be a bump in the road of people getting plugged in at the church. This meets people where they are and makes creating a welcoming environment that much more attainable.

4. Make Next Steps Clear

Can your entire welcome team layout your assimilation process? Do they know what the first step for guests is? Are they clear on the key role they play? Do YOU know what this process is?

Imagine you were looking for a gym to join. You go and visit the gym and have a free workout. You like it and want to explore what a membership would look like. Now imagine asking a staff member who you should talk to next, but they don’t know. You ask the person at the front desk how you can learn more, and they can’t direct you to the right place.

This would be a very negative experience and would probably affect your decision to join. Having a clear assimilation process that your entire team understands greatly increases the chances your guests find the next steps they are looking for.

Additionally, it’s always helpful to find a simple way for your welcome team to be easily identified. This ensures new people know who to go to for questions and direction. A few ways to accomplish this are:

  • Lanyards with their first name
  • Matching t-shirts
  • Badges or name tags
  • Designated areas with clear signage

5. Plan Follow-Up

If you’ve made it this far, your new guest experience has been great! You’ve done a lot right, but the real work in creating a welcoming environment has just begun. The goal is to have guests return and become fully engaged in the life of your ministry. This means you have to invite them back, sometimes multiple times and in different ways.

The first step in an effective follow-up is creating an intake process that ensures people are funneled into a system and follow-up is assigned. This is a great opportunity to identify duplicates and ensure data health in your ChMS records.

Once you have a list of your new guests, it’s time to give them what they asked for, connection! There are two keys to follow-up success:

  1. Make it timely. If you can send a quick “thanks for joining us” text or email within 24 hours, you’ve nailed it! If you have additional resources to share, even better. The main point here is to thank them for coming quickly.
  2. Invite them back. Later in the week, make sure you have a second communication focused on inviting them to join you again this week. This can be the difference between a one-time guest and a lifelong member. Be sure to build on what they have already experienced and let them know what’s coming up and why they won’t want to miss it. For example, “As you experienced last week with the kickoff of our new series, we’re exploring what it means to be a Christian in today’s world. This week we’ll focus on how we can live that with those closest to us, in our neighborhoods…”

Wrap Up

The church is much more than a local gym or just another organization. People are looking for hope and belonging. They walk through your doors needing encouragement and strength. Creating a welcoming environment will establish a culture in your church that helps people feel welcomed and loved which will in turn help more people get connected.