Posted: 12/10/19 at 3:30pm. Post by Tony Brooks.
Note to reader: This blog post is the eleventh in a weekly series and contains excerpts from Ken Braddy’s book, Breathing Life into Sunday School.
Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2 NIV)
Last week I shared about being fanatical when following up and welcoming guests, and I mentioned that I would share more in this blog to help you prepare for guests.
Every guest should be treated as though you are showing hospitality to angels! Here are some suggestions to help guests feel a part of your church/community of faith:
First time guests are anxious. Guests are worried about their attire, the unknown about where to enter the church, the “dress code,” and much more. Have a website that helps guests know the layout of the church, where to park, expected attire, and classes they might participate in. Have clear signage for guest parking and a Welcome Center entrance.
Have greeters at every door. (Greeters need to know where every age group meets for Sunday School/Bible study. If it is raining, meet guests in the parking lot with an umbrella!) Some will evaluate and decide within the first five to ten minutes whether they will come back.
With first-time guests in your home, you often clean before they arrive, show them around when they arrive, tell them where the bathroom is, etc. I suggest you do the same for church guests.
Guests do not want to stand out from the group. Don’t assume guests have a good understanding of the Bible, church traditions, or anything else! They don’t want to be called upon to read, pray, or stand up for others to see them in worship or your class. It is better to have a greeter for every class to get to know guests and introduce them individually to members of the group. I prefer the term connectors over greeters. (Email me at email@example.com if you want to know what I mean by connectors.)
I suggest designating deacons and ushers for each pew or row of chairs. Their role every Sunday is to greet every person in their assigned area, whether they know them or not. (This would help guests feel more welcome, and the greeter will know which members are missing to let the staff know.) Some churches offer a gift for first-time guests. They tell them where to go to receive it. There are a lot of creative ideas on this one. (Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for ideas.)
Guests are influenced by their children’s experiences in class and worship. Make sure the Sunday School space is clean, without clutter, and teachers are in the room at least 10-15 minutes before class starts. Guests tend to be early. Have something for them to do when they get to class—a craft, coloring sheet, etc. There should be two adults in every class for safety reasons. Having a color-coded, laminated two-part tag for the nursery/preschool area to give one part to the parent and keep the other matching one near the child’s name in the class is a great step. The parent will need to bring the laminated tag back to the class to get their child. All this work shows your care for their child!
In worship, have coloring pages or some sort of activity for them if you don’t have children’s church. (Even if you do, a one-page handout for parents about what they are learning is helpful!) In a couple of churches where I was an interim pastor, I would find Christian coloring pages online that went along with the theme for worship that day. Coloring pages and boxes of crayons would be on the front row for them to pick up before worship. Greeters and I would encourage each child to take two pages. They would color them and give one back for me at the end of the service to give to someone in the hospital or a homebound member. Both parents and children loved this!
Last impressions are also significant. When your class is over, offer to walk with guests to the sanctuary. Show them where the bathrooms are and also their children’s classes as well. Sit with them during worship if possible to explain any traditions that they may not understand. For instance, if you sing the Doxology or recite the Lord’s Prayer, they may not know what to do. (Make sure any traditions like the Doxology or Lord’s Prayer are printed in the bulletin!) I have been to many churches to preach that have the Doxology after the offering. It is not printed in the bulletin, and the congregation stands and sings. The guests feel awkwardly left out, and this is easily avoidable. Always err on the side of making your guests feel included.
I remind you: Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2 NIV)