By Kate Strohmeyer, DSC Writer/Editor
Are you expecting guests for Christmas? Do you want them to feel comfortable and have a nice time? Do you want them to come back again? Think about a time when you were a guest, and you felt at ease. Can you apply what made you feel welcome into your church setting? Now is the time to get ready at church to welcome your Christmas guests.
The following eight useful tips are from welcoming churches who have taken part in the UMC Welcoming Ministry Training (http://www.umcom.org/learn/welcoming-resources):
1. Practice for Christmas worship with guests, not members, in mind.
Welcoming churches practice being welcoming, and they understand that being friendly and being welcoming are not the same thing. Welcoming churches greet everyone as if they were members. During Advent, welcoming churches understand honored guests are coming and they practice the circle of ten. They have their members mingle and include everyone within ten feet of them in conversation before worship. They make introductions, offer seats, and create connections. To a guest, someone friendly is being nice, but someone who is welcoming is showing that they care. By caring for guests, they are more likely to feel welcome and return to church.
2. Caring starts in the parking lot.
Statistically, guests decide if they are planning to come back to a church in the first ten minutes of their arrival. Several of those minutes are spent in the parking lot. Welcoming churches look at their parking lot from a guest’s point of view and ask themselves: Are members courteous and patient in the parking lot? Is there enough light at night? Are there signs directing you to the sanctuary? Is there guest parking or an attendant directing traffic during a busy worship service? Welcoming churches address these issues before Christmas worship.
3. Use positive signs.
Sometimes all it takes is a well-placed sign to put guests at ease. It assures guests where things are like, restroom and exit, and that they are included like, Free and Take One. Welcoming churches make sure the signs are clear and up high enough to not be blocked by a group of people, and they remove negative signs like, reserved or member use only.
4. Have extra help on hand, and assist latecomers.
Christmas is typically busier than a regular Sunday service, and welcoming churches have extra greeters and ushers ready to assist guests. Welcoming churches make sure the volunteers are trained to know where things are located and to focus on the guests, not other members. They have volunteers available to care for those who are late. They make late guests feel at ease, help them find seats, and are understanding of all the trouble the guests may have encountered just to attend worship, maybe for the first time in a long time.
5. Be generous.
Welcoming churches are generous with their time and resources, right down to the visitor information cards, extra seating, coffee, and toilet paper. They make sure there’s enough to go around.
6. Create worship that everyone can be excited about and understand.
Some pastors love Christmas services while others struggle with the added stress of new guests, the lack of time to prepare due to Christmas obligations, and the challenges of making a fresh new sermon from the 2000-year-old story of the birth of Christ. Pastors cannot create the buzz of excitement about Jesus’ birthday on their own. Welcoming churches use a worship team to do exciting things at Christmas that are tailored for guests. For example, before Christmas worship, welcoming churches typically ask someone who is unchurched to find any confusing words in a worship aid or bulletin, and then the church can include clear explanations or change the wording accordingly.
7. See guests off first.
It will take guests about three minutes to leave the church, and welcoming churches use the time wisely. Welcoming churches use the rule of three, and wait three minutes before addressing friends following a worship service. They first speak only to guests or people they do not know and invite them to fellowship or ask guests what they enjoyed most about the service, allowing them to leave with a positive feeling. As guests leave, members express the desire to see the guests again as they escort them out, just as they would an honored guest at home.
8. Follow up fast.
While it’s not easy during Christmas, welcoming churches have someone designated to follow up with guests and thank them for coming within a few days, even at Christmas. Most welcoming churches have found personal phone calls or hand written notes to be the most effective.
All guests attending church this Christmas deserve to be honored. Can you think of other ways to be a welcoming church this Christmas?
Editor’s Note: Welcoming Ministry Training Tools are available at http://www.umcom.org/learn/welcoming-resources.
If your church is interested in Welcome Ministry Training, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.