There is Scriptural basis for a congregation to be mindful of visitors. “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity” (Colossians 4:5). Paul was willing to adapt his public behavior—though never in violation of Christ’s word—to better evangelize, saying in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22, “I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some.”
In his discussion of spiritual gifts in the worship assembly, in 1 Corinthians 14:23-25, Paul noted that some behavior causes a negative reaction in the minds of the unbeliever, while other behavior causes the unbeliever to “fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.”
Some visitors come off the street at random. Some come in response to advertising or the church’s website. Many come because they have been invited by members (as we discussed in a previous bulletin). These are important opportunities to share the gospel. Let me offer some practical ideas about how the church can better reach out to visitors.
Basically, the idea is to not turn off visitors with something silly before we have an opportunity to present the truth! Some of these things may seem shallow. After all, you wouldn’t refuse to come back to church because the A/C was broken and the bathroom out of order. You wouldn’t look for another church because you brought your daughter to class and the teacher was not there. But you are a faithful Christian, determined to stick it out with the family of God, ready to be part of the solution. Brand new visitors are not! And they are very likely to judge certain things with a nervous and harsh eye. In fact, marketers say that visitors have made up their minds about returning within the first ten minutes of entering the parking lot.
We should be willing first to identify God’s blueprint for the church (in such passages as Acts 2:41-47) and then re-evaluate everything we do, from parking to preaching, in light of its impression on visitors. Our efforts must stay within God’s truth (we wouldn’t switch to instrumental music just because visitors prefer it, for example). But as good stewards and good evangelists, we should be mindful of whether our efforts are going to help non-Christians see that God is among us.
Do a walkthrough. As you approach the building, look through the eyes of a visitor. How is the sign? The lawn? The parking? The building and hedges? Is it obvious which door to use? Now, as you enter, imagine you are visiting for the first time. Is it warmly decorated and well-lit? Was the A/C already running to provide a comfortable temperature? How does it smell? Are the restrooms clean? Is the nursery sanitary and stocked? Are the songbook racks orderly or full of trash? Are the pews inviting (especially the back two rows where visitors feel most comfortable) or cluttered with stacks of books and piles of blankets?
Friendliness. Walk through again, this time looking at the people. Do ushers greet you at the door, even outside the door? Is someone there to help your confusion, to smile and put you at ease? Someone to show you to your kids’ classes, and introduce you to the teachers, who have inviting and well-organized rooms ready to go? Do they give you a visitor’s packet? If you’re a little late, will they help you find a seat? Do the members come and make you feel welcome, or do people stay in their own cliques and avoid you?
Visitor’s packet. Companies pay for leads; visitors are usually willing to give you their contact information. The visitor’s packet should be brief, inviting, and have an address card and a pen.
Worship. Things like the contribution and the Lord’s Supper should be explained with a mind to visitors. Announcements do not concern visitors, and thus should be very brief, and given at the end. Songs should be led that people can sing well—save experiments and your personal favorites for another time.
Preach the truth well. Good preaching does not tickle the ears (2 Timothy 4:1-5), but it is understandable, practical, and applicable. Jesus’ preaching caused amazement and astonishment to the crowds (Matt. 7:28, 22:33), and offense to the self-righteous (Matt. 15:12). Some “enjoyed listening to Him” (Mark 12:37), and some decided the kingdom wasn’t for them (John 6:66). Our teaching does not have to be boring to be Biblical, and it doesn’t have to be dry to be doctrinal. In all cases, “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:14-15). Let every member feel comfortable inviting his friends any Sunday. If preaching will confront false teaching, do so expecting an adherent of the doctrine to be present; don’t set up and knock down straw men.
Observe the three-minute rule. No member should talk to his friends until after visitors have been greeted!
Follow-up. Multiple members should send thank you notes no later than Monday morning. If a person comes back a second time, this is the moment to ask for a meeting.
Other things. Some 90% of visitors go to the website first; it should be amazing and useful. Host a visitor’s day once a year. Use social media to advertise special events.
I can say with confidence that if we did these things, we would have more outreach to do than we could accomplish. We would be very busy and growing. –John Guzzetta