6 Ways to Become a Welcoming Church

What can be done to foster spiritual friendliness and a welcoming culture in our churches?

“While it is impractical to have visitors over for lunch every Sunday, get in the practice of having a meal ready for guests on a somewhat regular basis. Then, seek out visitors after the service. You will find that almost anyone visiting will jump at the invitation to come to your home for lunch.”

 

In his important book, Outgrowing the Ingrown Church, Jack Miller recounted an experience he had at a church in which he had been invited to speak. As he and his wife walked around and met people in the church, they continually heard the members saying things like, “We’re one of the friendliest churches in the community,” and “we are a very friendly church.” Sensing that something was not right (since he had been told that the attendance of this church had shrunk considerably over the past several years), Miller began asking individuals and officers in the church what was really going on. What he discovered was that the congregants were friendly–to one another in a cliquish way–but that the congregation had started relying on the pastor to do all of the welcoming of visitors. No one was inviting visitors into their homes for meals or seeking to help integrate them into the life of the church. By God’s grace, both pastor and congregation repented of having lost sight of the Great Commission and the role of the local church in the world. Sadly, this story is all too familiar with many churches in North America in our day. In fact, many churches that grow do so through leveraging an appearance of health through staffing, structures and programs. So what can be done to foster a spiritual friendliness and a welcoming culture in our churches? Here are 6 things that we should labor to implement into our churches:

1. Regularly pray for a set number of new families and individuals. During the first five years of church planting we repeatedly prayed for 10 new families every year. When the Lord answered this prayer, we would start praying for 10 more. As we have grown, this practice has declined. This should be an ongoing practice. It should be done from the pulpit, in small groups and bible studies. This will help to stir the congregation up to be thinking about being intentional about reaching out and welcoming visitors. Additionally, it will be a great encouragement to a congregation to see how the Lord answers prayers in bringing these families and individuals to the church. This shows commitment to the Great Commission, to our sincere desire to see God’s Kingdom come and it shows dependence on the Lord for growth. In addition to doing this at all gathered meetings, congregants should be encouraged to do the same thing in their homes during times of family worship and prayer.

2. Intentionally sit by someone that you don’t know. This is probably the least utilized and yet most strategic step that can be taken to become a welcoming church. It is easy to sit by someone you don’t know when you attend a church of 40 to 50 people. This dynamic changes quickly at the 100 + person mark. Also, we are creatures of habit and naturally do not like change. We habitually like to eat the same kinds of food that we enjoy and we like to sit in the same seat in classrooms and in the worship service. If congregants would intentionally look for someone that they do not know well, and sit by them in order to talk with them after the service, the church would automatically take the right steps toward becoming a welcoming church. As Colin Marshall has helpfully suggested, when you meet a visiting family before the service “sit with them and help them feel comfortable in this strange place by introducing ourselves and explaining what is going on.” Assist them if they look unfamiliar with the order of service and what song/hymn book to use. Marshall further unpacks this when he says, “Keep attending to newcomers’ needs. If they can’t find their way around the Bible or the service outline, or they don’t have a Bible…help them yourself. It is your meeting, not the minister’s. It’s all about being observant and outward-looking.”

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