The question has arisen recently about how best to welcome people when they come to our church for the first time.
It is a wonderful thing when we have the chance to be a part of community with new folks! We also want to be careful about how we do that. The old saying is true–we don’t get a second chance to make a first impression!
Most churches I’ve been a part of have, at some time, made a practice of asking new visitors to stand up and introduce themselves. It helps people already in church get a feel for people they may not yet know.
However, repeated studies show that this is not a good idea. For a very large majority of people, standing up and speaking in front of people they don’t know ranks as one of their biggest fears! In my experience, people who are introduced in this way when they visit a church are very, very unlikely to return—I would say the number who do is under 10%.
So how do we welcome people without putting them “on the spot?” It may be that you have had a conversation with someone, and they are completely OK with your introducing them publicly. (Please keep in mind that even asking someone if it’s OK to introduce them puts a kind of pressure on them—which of course is the last thing we want to do to our guests!) But if you’ve asked, and they’ve agreed, please say something like this: “I want to introduce Bill, who has agreed that it was OK for me to introduce him…” In that way, other new people don’t think, “It was Bill this time, but I could be singled out in public next…”
So if we don’t introduce people during worship (or if we seldom do), how do we connect with our guests? The very best way to do this is one-on-one. Before church, when someone sits by you in a pew, after worship—all present opportunities to greet someone, introduce yourself, and offer a welcome. Please do not ask a lot of questions! I have witnessed well-meaning people, over and over, driving guests away by pressing for information! Many people come to church for the first time with some degree of trepidation—and overeager church folks interrogating them can be very off-putting! A great rule of thumb is an introduction of who you are, accompanied by a word of welcome. When you talk to someone who returns for a second time, I think it’s appropriate to volunteer something about yourself, as well as to ask them something about themselves: “Are you new in town?” “Is this your first time worshipping here?”
Something I learned years ago is to avoid “us/them” language: “I’m glad you’re visiting,” or “It’s good to have you in worship with us.” Rather, use “we” language: “It’s good to worship together.” It helps people feel like they have an equal footing, a place in this community.
Anyway, some of the things I’ve outlined are not the way we may have done it—but it lays out a path of being sensitive to those whom God sends our way. I’m of course happy to have further conversation about any or all of this!
Grace and Peace—