“We are the friendliest church in town.”
That sentence or something very similar is the most common statement we’ve heard in interviews we conducted with church members during consultations. Most people active in a church really do think their church is friendly. These members have relationships and interactions that give them that perceived reality.
But when we interview guests of the same churches, we hear a different story. These guests often think the members are “unfriendly” or “cliquish.” They don’t have the established relationships members have. They are not familiar with the church facilities. They don’t know what to expect.
The church welcome ministry (or whatever your church calls it) has always been important. But the ministry is more important today than it’s ever been. Look at six reasons this level of importance has risen.
1. Church members are returning to church after a long absence. The pandemic kept them away. Many have returned, but not all have. Some are easing back into church cautiously and slowly. It is critical for the welcome ministry to encourage these returning members to get back into a rhythm and habit of gathering regularly.
2. More new guests are arriving. During the quarantine, a number of new residents moved into your community. They have not had an opportunity to visit a church, but they are ready now. For some unchurched people, the angst of the COVID era has them asking questions about God, church, and faith. Some will show up at your church.
3. Context has changed. Yes, the world has changed. The local church is a microcosm of some of the contextual changes of our society. Specifically, the ways we greet people in many contexts have changed. Hugs are mostly out. Handshakes are in some places and out in others. The availability of visible sanitizers is necessary in most churches. Those who participate in the welcome ministry are aware of the best ways to greet guests.
4. First impressions are more important than ever. Because some of the guests have not been in a church for months, perhaps even a few years, the first few moments they arrive on the church property are critical. They could return repeatedly, or they could decide it’s not worth the risk and effort.
5. Few church members are naturally welcoming to guests. They naturally gravitate to people they know. They may be uncertain if a person is a guest or a member they don’t know. Leaders can exhort church members to be friendly, but the challenge for it to happen will always be there. The welcome ministry fills this void, and the void has been exacerbated during the pandemic.
6. It is biblical. While we don’t see a formal welcome ministry per se in the Bible, the importance of hospitality is clear and powerful. For example, “When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality” (Romans 12:13). Additionally, Paul’s qualifications for church leaders include hospitality (see 1 Timothy 3:2-3).
Your church’s welcome ministry has always been important. But it is likely it is more important than ever.
What is your church doing for its welcome ministry? I would love to hear from you.