Ten tips to make new visitors to your church feel welcome BY KEN RAMSTEAD
ou’ll love it!” my friend, Linda Leigh, gushed as we drove into the parking lot of Oshawa Temple, Ont., with her husband, Steve. She was right. The corps officers, Colonels Lynette and Lindsay Rowe, were dynamic, the worship band was rocking and the congregation was engaged. It was a happenin’ place. Linda and her husband were involved in the service so I was by myself in the pew, a stranger. Before the service even started, I was approached by no less than four people, not counting the corps officers, who introduced themselves, asked about me and told me to seek them out if I needed help. I filled out a contact form, and more than a couple of people told me they hoped I would return. What a contrast from my previous first-time visit to a corps that will remain nameless. I was out of town about five years ago and decided to drop in at a nearby Salvation Army church. I was a stranger there, too, yet I was able to enter, find a pew and get through the entire service without once being asked if I was new, how I enjoyed the service or if I needed assistance. If we want to grow our congregations, we have to make worshippers feel welcome—and want to return.
Here are a few tips from corps that are getting it right: 1. Prep Work. “Newcomers seek out your church long before they step foot in it,” says Captain Nyree Bond, corps officer at Richmond Hill Community Church, Ont. “Establish your online presence with a Facebook page or website to highlight your church ministry. Make sure the location, contact information and service times are easy to find. And put key information on the church sign and answering machine.” 2. Greetings! “A roster of smiling and joyful greeters are assigned for every Sunday at Oshawa Temple,” says Colonel Lynette Rowe. “We’re intentional in making people feel as though they are members of the family. Lindsay and I are also available to those entering the building. We greet people with a smile, a handshake and a warm, sincere welcome.” 3. S eat and Repeat. “A welcome at the door should be followed up by a different person greeting them in their seat and then introducing them to someone else at the church,” states Captain Deana Zelinsky,
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Photo: © iStock.com/Steve Debenport
area commander for the Ontario Central-East Division but formerly corps officer at North Toronto Community Church. 4. Care Package. “All new visitors receive a welcome package that contains information on our services and ministries, and a small gift of a bookmark and pen,” says Lieutenant Darryl Burry, corps officer at Kelowna Community Church in British Columbia. 5. Greeters and Lingerers. “We have wonderful greeters, but we also have intentional ‘lingerers,’ ” says Captain Melissa Mailman, corps officer at Yarmouth Community Church, N.S. “The term refers to soldiers or members who hang out in the foyer to engage people after they have been greeted and welcomed into the church. They begin conversations, and answer questions.” 6. J ust for Kids. “We have a spot where children can go to get their ‘wiggles’ out and be with friends before the service,” says Captain Mailman. “Having a place for the kids also helps parents who are new to the church feel at ease, if they fear their kids will be too rambunctious.” 7. Good Shepherds. “At Montreal Citadel, everyone is linked to a ‘shepherd’ who will contact them from time to time to see how they are doing and who will encourage them when they are not able to come or have any particular concerns. It’s fostered an attitude of caring for one another,” says Colonel Eleanor Shepherd, corps officer. 8. O pposite of Hello. “We are at the door following the service, to offer our ‘God bless you’ to people as they leave and to wish them all the best for the upcoming week,” says Colonel Lynette Rowe. 9. One Lump or Two? “We provide coffee both before the service in the morning, for those who arrive early and like to leave as soon as the service finishes, and after the service, for those who arrive late and like to linger,” states Colonel Shepherd. 10. Follow Up. “If someone has attended for a couple of weeks in a row, follow up with a handwritten note or a phone call,” says Captain Zelinsky.