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“There are so many new people…!” 

This is a common phrase we’re hearing from pastors across the country these days. They look out on the weekend and see many new faces staring back at them—and that’s great news! It tells us that people are still looking to the Church for answers to their life challenges. 

The question is, when they show up at your church, are you ready for them?

Many churches we visit make a lot of key mistakes in their services that are keeping new people from coming—and from staying. So ask yourself: From the time they clear the doors of the auditorium and find a seat, is your church ready for new people? Like, really ready?

Part of my work as a ministry consultant for The Unstuck Group consists of “secret shopping” weekend services. I put on the persona of a new person from your community (who is currently not engaged in faith or the church), Google your church’s address, drive on to the campus, and make my way to your weekend service. 

A couple of things you should know about me as a first time guest: 

  1. I’m nervous. I really don’t know what to expect. I just want to find my seat and see what this place is all about. 
  2. I don’t know what a “small group” is, what “communion” is, or about any of the other internal jargon the rest of your regulars are familiar with. 
  3. I don’t know who any of you are. I don’t have immediate trust in you—in fact, I’m a little skeptical of the church. (And, by the way, I don’t ever sing with other people in my regular life. Ever.)
  4. I certainly don’t want to serve or become a member yet. 

Basic, right? Yet, so easy to forget. We can get so focused on “assimilating” new people (which is a very off-putting term, by the way) that we can forget the basic things we need to do in order to even gain permission for them to want to take the next steps we want them to take. 

Your First Next Step:

If you listen to our podcast, I probably sound like a broken record when I say this: Churches are great at welcoming their “church,” but so many still miss welcoming new people.  

I recently took some time to peruse several churches online experiences. As per usual, the worship leaders started off the worship experience and used these similar phrases:

  • “Grace family, so glad to see you here! Can we give it up for the Lord…”
  • “Good morning Grace—let’s get up on our feet…”
  • (Music starts… everyone starts standing… singing starts.)
  • “Hey, good morning everyone! Welcome to Grace! It is so good to see you here today. Would you please stand with us? We’re gonna sing, we’re gonna worship, we’re going to lift it high to Jesus!”
  • “Well good morning church; stand to your feet and let’s worship!!!”

As a new person, I will follow the crowd and stand. But what I do not know is…

  • What does “worship” mean?
  • How long are we going to sing?
  • What are words to  the songs?
  • What is going to happen next?

One of the keys to making someone feel welcome is to put them at ease. What if you changed your welcome to sound something like this? 

“Good morning—we’re so glad you’re here. If you’re new to Grace this morning, we want to especially welcome you! We’re going to start our time together with a time of singing that helps us reflect on what God’s done for us. The words will be on the side screens if they are new to you. Feel free to join in, or just listen. After that, we’re going to hear a great message from Pastor Jeremy…” 

Let’s face it, all the regulars at your church know what worship is. They know they’re supposed to stand. They know a message is coming. But these simple additions to your initial welcome can go a long way in helping new people feel welcome and comfortable.

Once you start thinking with this lens, it’s easy to see all the ways we may be accidentally making newcomers feel uncomfortable or unwelcome in our services.

A Challenge for Pastors:

  • Level 1: Put on the persona of a person from your community who is outside the church and/or outside the faith. What adjustments would you make to your upcoming service plans to make that person feel at ease? 
  • Level 2: Gather a team of weekend staff/volunteers from your church and go on a field trip. Again, have everyone put on that person of someone who is not connected to faith/church. Have them think of a real person in their life that does not know Jesus. Then, go visit a few churches together and get out of your comfort zone. If you’re a Baptist Church, go to a Catholic mass. If you’re a mainline church, go to a non-denominational church. If you’re non-denominational, go to a mainline church. You get the point.

    And when you go, split up—don’t huddle. Then, after the service, go have lunch and debrief the service. Based on your experience of being a new person, identify the opportunities you have to get better at welcoming new people to your church.

Amy Anderson

Amy has served as the Director of Consulting at The Unstuck Group since 2016. During this time she has served over 150 churches, helping them design ministry, staffing & multisite strategies that aligns and fuels their mission. Prior to joining the Unstuck team, Amy served as the Executive Director of Weekend Services at Eagle Brook Church in the Twin Cities, helping the church grow from one location of 3,000 to six locations with over 20,000 gathering each weekend. Her husband is a Teaching and Engagement Pastor at Hosanna Church in Lakeville, MN.

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