Remember the last time you walked into a church or another large gathering and didn’t know anyone? Maybe it was a school event and it seemed all the other parents already knew each other. It can be really hard to come into an already established community like a church service and try to figure out how and where you fit in.
Almost all churches strive to be welcoming to visitors and newcomers. After all, you want to reach new people and you want to grow. You also want your church to be a place where people feel comfortable. But how do you actually go about doing that? What steps can you take to ensure people are welcomed, included, and oriented?
Let’s look a little deeper at what it means to be welcoming. First of all, who are you welcoming? Is it primarily people who already fit the demographic of the church? The harvest is still plenty. How can you reach the people who are actually in it? Consider the demographic in the area immediately surrounding your church location. Who are the people? What are they like? What would make them feel welcomed?
Be sure also to look at subsets of people in your neighborhood. Who are you not reaching? What groups of people may not feel like they fit the mold? How can you make them feel welcome too? Sometimes that means having signs in both English and Spanish. Sometimes it means not assuming a certain particular level of education.
Put yourself in their shoes coming into the church without knowing anything about how it runs. Who reaches out to them? How do they figure out what steps to take? What hurdles do they face? Consider changes you could make to help people feel more comfortable. Do they need to ask someone where the bathroom is or do you have signs making it obvious? When you serve communion, do you make it clear what people are supposed to do or not do?
Defining “welcome” is a big job. You might even try asking some friends—people who don’t know your church at all—to experiment by visiting sometime without you guiding them. Afterward, ask them what questions they had, what barriers they ran into, and what made them uncomfortable. You might be surprised at some of the answers you get.