Church Growth Tips: Our First-Time Guest Experience – EASTER SUNDAY!

How to Design a Welcoming Service

Hey, this is Patrick Steil here with ChurchBuzz. On Easter Sunday, my family attended Grace Fellowship in Paradise, TX. Yes, that’s right, we went to a church in Paradise, which was kind of cool. We were actually invited to Grace Fellowship by some friends of ours who’ve been going there for about 3 years now. They love their church and so they invited us to go for Easter. We did tell them, “Hey, listen, don’t meet us out front and walk us in. We want to get that first-time visitor experience.”

The church was 45 minutes away. We intended to be there about 15 minutes early; that’s kind of our standard. Our GPS failed us and suddenly stopped giving us directions, so we had to do a little bit of backtracking. We ended up arriving later than we wanted. We pulled into the parking lot about 10 minutes before service started, and went in about 6-7 minutes before service started. Then we were in a rush to get the kids to go with our friends’ kids to the Children’s Worship, the PowerZone, because we had to get them signed in.

Before I begin sharing our experience, I want to make this point: this is not a diss on this church.

We did not get that warm, fuzzy welcome from this church. We didn’t walk into the sanctuary with a feeling that people were welcoming us and kind of loving on us, partly because of a couple things. (1) Our friends were with us; they met with us inside. (2) It was Easter Sunday, and they were being deluged, like most churches are on Easter Sunday. They were being deluged with first-time visitors or once-a-year visitors. From what we understand from our friends, the attendance that Sunday was probably double what it is normally. So, I think, in that kind of situation, it’s very difficult for a church to be welcoming to every single person who comes in. I think that’s a big challenge, and I don’t really have any great answers for that yet.

I didn’t see anything that they were doing specifically to try to identify us as first-time guests as we were walking in. We’ve been to other churches … like in the parking lot of one church, they had us turn on our hazard lights to let people know that we were first-time guests, so they can properly usher us to the VIP parking, then walk us in and greet us. This church didn’t do anything like that; maybe they do that on a normal Sunday, and I would like to go back and see if that’s the case. But for Easter Sunday, they didn’t. We walked in, I was looking around, trying to figure out what to do. Then we saw our friend, Chelsea, so she helped us get signed in with the kids, and we followed them in the sanctuary.

So we didn’t get that warm and fuzzy feeling before the service, but this actually worked out great. We went in the service, and they start the music. The music was good. A few minutes into the songs, my wife leaned over and said, “Hey, you know what, the music sounds too loud.” The last couple of churches we had been to where we attended contemporary worship, the music was very loud. In one instance, the music was so loud that it felt like we were in a rock concert. She made a point that she couldn’t hear the people singing at that other church. But at this church, we can hear them sing. The music was loud, but it wasn’t distractingly loud; a tad bit too loud, but it was fine. I actually didn’t notice anything in terms of the volume until she commented on it.

This is something I’ve mentioned before in different ways and something I’ll be mentioning a lot more later on. This blog post is about how to design a welcoming service.

Like I said,  we didn’t get that personal connection before we went into the service. But as we were being led through the worship, time and time again, those of us who were first-time guests were addressed. The pastor made a point of welcoming us. “Hey, is this your first time with us? We’re so glad you’re here.” It just makes you feel good to be recognized that way. Several different times throughout the service, we had the same kind of welcome.

When we got to the offertory … as they passed the basket around looking for people to put in their tithes or donations, the pastor made a big point of saying, “If this is your first time with us, please just pass that basket right along. This is not for you; this is for our regular attenders at Grace Fellowship Church.” Then he went on to say, “Because of your generous donations to the church, we were able to do four community Easter egg hunts.” They did those in different towns surrounding where they are.

4 Egg Hunts

Let me back up a little bit and tell you that Paradise, TX, is out in the middle of nowhere. This is a farmland, far away from any major city. The church went out to four different towns and did Easter egg hunts, which was fantastic. I’ve never heard of a church doing four Easter egg hunts during the week leading up to Easter, so that was really fantastic. It shows that they’re doing community outreach; they’re trying to reach people. I imagine they did a good job of inviting people to their Easter services. Their Easter service was probably 40-50% more people than what it typically is; it was completely packed. There wasn’t an open seat in that sanctuary that I could see.

Pastor BJ Rutledge preaching

(Photo courtesy of Grace Fellowship Church)

Sermon

The Easter Sunday sermon from the pastor very much addressed those who were coming in for the first time or who previously hadn’t had a relationship with Christ. He gave an invitation … I’ve been in and around Baptist churches … it had a Baptist flavor to it. I think they would say they were non-denominational. While it was a pretty Baptist feel, I think it was done very well. I think it was very first-time guest appropriate. In fact, there was a point where he was talking about God’s grace and being saved. He explained what that was. He sort of joked around about it himself, saying, “Those are kind of church words; they don’t really mean anything to you.” He was very cognizant of people who maybe have never been to church, and was not trying to speak in these lofty, idealistic type of church-y words. He was trying to keep it very real, very plain English. That was really great; I was very happy to hear him do that. So he gave an invitation. He said, “Today is the day that you want to turn your life over to Christ. Pray this prayer with me,” then he gave a very everyday-human-language type of prayer. So I think he did a really great job with that.

He took the opportunity of knowing that there would be a lot of people who are not normally in their church. He took that opportunity to say, “I’m going to go ahead and offer these people Christ. I’m going to try to explain the gospel, explain the death and resurrection of Jesus, here on Easter Sunday, when I have this opportunity. This may be the only opportunity that I have to talk and teach these people, so I’m going to take advantage of that.” I think a lot of times, we as churches are hesitant to do that. We’re worried about how the folks are going to respond. You have to realize that their response is not our responsibility. Our responsibility is to present the gospel and to be a loving church, a loving congregation as best we can, and then let God do His work.

Someone asked me if I was Catholic. I’m not Catholic currently, but I was raised Catholic. I currently attend Methodist churches. I’ve also been in a Baptist church for a while, about 20 years ago. My wife is Baptist, so we have a lot of discussions about the way Baptists and Catholics do things.

Program

The sermon was really good. Everything in the service was very first-time guest appropriate, even their program. I usually call it a bulletin, but the pastor actually referred to it as their program.

It says in the front, “We believe you belong,” with an emphasis on the YOU. A lot of times, churches — and I see this on church websites — talk about WE. “We are a worshipping congregation. We are a church. We are this and that. We worship at this time. We want you to come and worship with us.” We. We. We. We have to actually change our language and start focusing on the you — the people who are out there that want and need to receive Christ.

PZ Kids Camp 2014

PZ Kids Camp 2014 (Photo courtesy of Grace Fellowship Church’s Facebook page)

Small Groups

The inside part of their program is a listing of their ministries. They’re basically small groups — Small World, which is birth to Pre-K; PZ Kids, their kids’ zone, which is K-4th; ec56, their 5th & 6th grade group; The Mix, which is for 7th-12th grade youth; and Grace Young Adults. Then for more information, they provided a contact person and email address — basic contact information for their different small groups. These would be the main entry points into the church. Very, very basic information. The program isn’t loaded with multiple pages worth of announcements of the different events that are happening.

On the inside, there’s a place for you to take notes during the service. Then on the back, they have three different sections. This was talking about NEXT, Sunday, April 3 … after each service is the Next Room off the atrium. “Do you ever look around Grace Fellowship and wonder what’s next for you? If so, then join us at NEXT. This 10-minute informational meeting will provide a quick overview of why we are here and how you can help and how you can find your place at Grace Fellowship.”

So this is a very quick introductory. “Hey, let’s get these people together and let’s talk about how you might be able to fit in.” They’re probably going to introduce all the different staff, people involved with the church, and leaders of the different groups, and talk about the small groups you can plug into. It can also help the church identify those who are looking to plug in somewhere. I’m sure they have plenty of staff and volunteers there to try to help make sure that those folks are able to join the right groups.

New Sermon Series – With Guest Speaker

The second section in their program is about their new sermon series: Parent Traps. To start a brand new series right after Easter, I think, is brilliant. I think all churches should do this. Parent Traps talks about them having a guest speaker, Dr. Alex Himaya I’ve never heard of him, but he’s the Founding and Senior Pastor at The Church at BattleCreek in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.

In my mind, they didn’t quite make it as big a deal as they could, but I thought it was a great idea to not only have a new sermon series start right after Easter, but find someone who people might know. Their new sermon series is going to talk about parenting, which is very appropriate because I noticed that about 75% of their congregation was parents with young kids. Its content is exactly geared towards the people they’re trying to attract at their church.

Membership Class

Last on the program is Membership 101: “Curious about the who, what, when, and why of Grace? (Join us on) Sunday, April 10, 2016, at 12:15 p.m. Lunch and child care provided.” I’ve never seen a church do that before. I’m sure there are churches that do, but I’ve never seen it. I think that’s amazing. “Lunch and child care provided for children birth to 6th grade at the Life Development Center. Sign up on the welcome slip. For more information, go to Guest Services.”

This is their membership class. So if you’re ready to join, take a membership class as your entry point into the membership of this church.

Questionnaire

What I described is the complete program that we were given as we walked into the Easter Sunday service. There’s little flap at the back. On the inside, it says, “Welcome to Grace Fellowship,” and they ask you to tick checkboxes to indicate if you’re a first-time guest, how often you attend church, if you’re single or married, what age students you have, as well as spaces for your name, email address, birthdate of two people, and a place for your change of address. It’s a very simple form to fill out as a first-time guest, so that was great.

On the back of the flap, they have something called “Decisions and Questions.” It says, “Today, I trust and receive Jesus as my savior.” The pastor asked people to go ahead and fill out this section. If you pray the prayer, then you want to trust Jesus from now on. Filling out this form would let them know that they can contact you, send you more information, and get you connected. He made a big point several times saying, “Hey, no strings attached. We’re not going to badger you. We’re not going to push you.” I think he did that maybe a little too much, but it was good that he said it.

The next one is, “I have questions about the next steps to my spiritual life.” If you noticed, all of this is all geared towards the first-time visitor. In the programs of most churches, there are pages upon pages of announcements for the members. Now, I don’t know how Grace Fellowship disseminates that kind of information; I’m assuming they use email, Facebook, Twitter, and all those kinds of avenues. Maybe on a regular Sunday they do a different bulletin. Maybe they have a place where members check for information about ongoing and upcoming events.

Child Dedication Class

In the program, they had a card that says, “Child Dedication Class Celebration.” What a fantastic idea! If you’re trying to attract families with young children, they actually have a class in celebration of young children. The class is held on a Sunday for 1½ hours. Again, lunch and child care provided. This church is sending a message to its new and upcoming members that they care, that they are willing to invest in them, so there’s no cost for these things. The celebration is on May 7, from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m., but the child dedication class is required. I’m guessing that they want you to come to the class because it’s a way to get you involved in some small group. When you come, you’re going to meet other people and you might find some other parents to have play dates with, so it’s going to help you get integrated with the church.

Conversation About God

There also is a card that says, “Starting Point: A Conversation About the Story of God.” On the back it says, “Wondering about God or Jesus or the Bible? Your questions deserve a conversation. We have an 8-week conversational environment designed just for you. Each session lasts an hour and meets Sundays at 9:30 a.m. or 11:00 a.m. for 8 weeks.” They’re basically inviting you to a small group, class-type setting where you can get your questions answered and have some open conversations.

As a first-time guest, as a new person coming into their church, they gave me five different ways for me to plug into their church. That’s fantastic. This is amazing!

So when we first walked in, we didn’t get that warm and fuzzy personal connection with anybody at the church. We didn’t have anybody give us a tour, walk us around, find out our story, find out why we were there, which was fine. It was Easter Sunday, and there was a lot of chaos. But we went through the service, and we had all these touch points where the pastor was saying:

  • “Hey, if this is your first time, don’t worry about the offering.”
  • “If this is your first time, we welcome you. We love that you’re here.”
  • “If this is your first time, we’re going to start a new sermon series next week.”

Because he kept saying that to us, that really made me feel welcome.

What I noticed is that I didn’t feel as welcome as if I had that personal touch point, a personal connection before the service. I think that that is critical — before someone ever sits down, that they’ve already spoken to 2-4 people. But really, most important is they’ve got to be touched by one person have a really good conversation with one person, and then have that one person follow up with them after the service. If you have 2-4 people connect with them, have a conversation with them, and really welcome them and find out who they are, that’s really going to make that first-time guest feel really good about the people at that church. It’s going to make you feel like you were accepted, you were welcome, you were totally embraced, and that you would love to come back. So before you ever even sit down and worship, you’ve already got in your mind that you’re ready to come back next Sunday.

Now I’m thinking that the second most powerful thing is that if you don’t do a good job with that … or you have to take into account, people do show up late, especially a first-time guest. Service starts at 11:00 a.m. What do they do? They get there at 11:00 a.m. People are not going to typically show up 15 minutes early so they can be properly welcomed, right? You have to know that your folks — as well-intentioned as they are and as they trained as they have been — they may not get the opportunity to do a proper welcome before these new folks walk into the sanctuary. If your worship experience addresses the first-time guest over and over again, then that is going to be fantastic for the first-time guest. And to me, leaving that worship service, I felt like, yes, I want to come back again. So even though I did not get the personal connection, having the worship be very welcome was enough for me to say, “I’m ready to come back again.” It certainly did not come away from that feeling, like, “No, I don’t see any reason to come back here.” We have experienced at other churches where the worship was good, God showed up, but the people were almost cold to us. It wasn’t like they were intentionally being cold, they just didn’t know what to do. They didn’t know how to approach us.

That’s why I’m doing this series. I want to teach churches how to do this right. All it takes is for one person in your congregation to self-appoint themselves as the person who’s going to be the hospitality committee, and get after it this coming Sunday. So if you’re reading this, please become that person in your church. I did that 10-15 years ago. I became that person, because I had a good example. We were welcomed into our church the same way and so I became that person. I would walk up and down the aisle, shaking people’s hands, and looking for people that I didn’t know. I was trying to be loving to the people that I knew, but I was really trying to look for people that I didn’t know, and try to welcome them. Be that person. I hope that this inspires you and I hope that you will connect with me and you will continue to learn more with me.

I encourage you to connect with me. I would love to get an email from you. Also, if there are any questions, send me an email with those questions, and I will certainly get back to you.

God bless you all. God bless your churches. I hope that your church becomes the most hospitable and welcoming church in your town!

Takeaways on Designing a Welcoming Service

from Grace Fellowship Church, Paradise, TX:

Pastor offered “touch points” to visitors throughout service, including:

  • “Hey, if this is your first time, don’t worry about the offering.”
  • “If this is your first time, we welcome you. We love that you’re here.”
  • “If this is your first time, we’re going to start a new sermon series next week.”

Sermon message directed to unchurched and new believers.

  • Keep it real by using everyday English instead of lofty, idealistic type church-y words.

Program (aka bulletin) contained basic information that was focused toward first-time visitors:

  • Small Groups
    • Main entry points into the church.
  • New Sermon Series – with guest speaker
    • Content is geared towards the people they’re trying to attract at their church.
  • Membership Class
    • Entry point into the membership of the church.
  • Questionnaire
    • Allows guests to provide their personal information to the church
  • Child Dedication Class
    • Shows this church serves children and families.
  • Conversation About God
    • Invites people to get their questions answered.

Most important is they’ve got to be touched by one person.

  • All it takes is for one person in your congregation to self-appoint themselves as the person who’s going to be the hospitality committee

My name is Patrick Steil, and I’m the owner of ChurchBuzz. My wife and I started ChurchBuzz about six years ago. We’ve actually been in business for ourselves more than 21 years now. We started ChurchBuzz with the idea of focusing on helping churches with the technology behind their websites. So that has doing into a whole lot of different things to help churches optimize their websites.

We have six children — six boys total. The oldest four are now in college or working, and our two youngest are 9 and 11. We knew that this was going to be a time in our lives when if we were going to make some big changes, it would be the time to do it. We initially talked about moving. Then we finally came up with this grand idea to spend a year on the road, traveling around in an RV, with the two young boys with us. So that’s what we’ve been doing since August 2015.

Once we really got serious about traveling in an RV, I had this idea: “Every Sunday we’re out, let’s go visit a new church and let’s be first-time visitors.” So we’ve been doing that. If you go to ChurchBuzz.org, you’ll see a bunch of blog posts and a couple of videos on our Facebook page. I hope to get all this material on our website and also on our YouTube channel as well.

I would love to hear from you, so feel free to tweet me @ChurchBuzz or send me an email at patrick@churchbuzz.org. Let me know your thoughts. You can also go to my website at www.churchbuzz.org and click on the Contact Us link there, and you can send me an email that way.

When you go to my website, I would really encourage you to sign up for our church website optimization course. If you sign up for that — it’s free — you’re going to get a series of five emails over five days that will teach you all about optimizing church websites. It’s going to talk about being a welcoming website as well. That will put you on our main mailing list, so you can hear about the training class that I’m working on for churches. I want to train churches to learn these types of things that I’m teaching through these series of blog posts and put it in a very organized, structured training session. I know that I’m going to be able to give you lots of really great things that are super, super simple; they require no budget. Very easy for people to pick up and start implementing as soon as they learn it. It doesn’t take a big meeting, any committees, or anything other than people who want to love the people who are walking into your church.

Comments 2

  1. Your suggestion to take opportunities to talk about your church was really helpful. As a baptist I understand how intimidating it may be to talk about my church but like you mentioned it’s important that we share what we can. If possible, inviting them to church may also be a good way to share our knowledge.

    1. Post
      Author

      Hey Kendall, somehow I missed your comment on this post and now I have moved these posts over to this new site – 10xchurch.org.

      I have now formulated much more on this and am trying to teach churches what we have learned.

      I believe what we need to do is:

      1. recognize it is only a sincere and well-received invitation when we FIRST are or BECOME friends with someone.
      2. When we hear the need – invite them to our church
      3. Make sure our Sunday morning experience is awesome for ANYONE who visits or attends regularly – awesome community and that we know how to gently point people toward Jesus
      4. Focus our efforts to lead people to know the love of God/Jesus rather than trying to force it on them
      5. Let God take it from there 🙂

      Thanks for your comment!
      Patrick

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