Next week, I plan to dive into a series of hard hitting posts looking at the state of worship in NC Baptist churches coming off of weeks of observations. But first, I want to reflect on an element of church life that has much to do with reaching people and discipling them–the first steps of providing a welcoming environment.

Over the past four months, I have had opportunity to visit in many churches across North Carolina to worship with congregations of various sizes and worship styles.  I found some churches to be very warm and friendly, making me feel a part of the family (as much as one can in an initial visit). Other churches were very cold in their treatment of visitors, making me feel like an outsider who was not really welcomed. I don’t think I have ever thought so much about the process that churches use to welcome visitors each week until I became one of them on a weekly basis.

How does your church welcome guests from the time they drive into your parking lot until they drive out at the end of the services?  Do your people provide a warm, welcoming environment for visitors, or do they act as if the church is an exclusive social club?  How do you handle follow up with your guests?

I would venture to say that the level of acceptance a person feels in your congregation affects the worship experience of the visitor.

To give you an example of the vast differences in how churches provide a welcoming environment for visitors, I will illustrate with a few churches that my wife and I (occasionally with 1-2 college children with us) have visited in the last couple of months:

  • Church A:  We were warmly greeted by an usher upon arrival and had several people welcome us. The person in the seat beside us chatted quite a bit with us, getting to know us and welcoming us to their congregation. The same afternoon we visited the church, a couple of people came by our house to again welcome us and share with us what God is doing in their church and answer any questions we might have. In the days that followed, we received a couple of cards and at least two phone calls from different people, again welcoming us and answering any questions we might have. We also had a phone call from the pastor.
  • Church B:  We were handed a bulletin as we arrived. No one spoke to us before or after the service other than the usher. We filled out a visitor card asking to receive more information about the church. We never received a letter, phone call, or visit from this church.
  • Church C:  We were greeted as we arrived and someone near us welcomed us to their church. The pastor made special effort at the close of the service to welcome us. We later received a nice welcome letter and a phone call from people in the church, welcoming us and offering to answer any questions we have about the church.
  • Church D:  We were warmly greeted by the pastor as we entered the church building and handed a bulletin with a warm smile and welcome. We stopped by the guest welcome center on the way out and were given material about the church and warmly welcomed. Later that day, two people came by our house, sharing their testimonies of God’s work at their church, asking us about our spiritual journey, and answering any questions we had about the church.  We received a letter of welcome from the church with a hand written note added by the pastor. We also received a call from the pastor with an invitation to meet him and get to know him better.

Put yourself in my family’s place. How would you feel about finding a church in which you can grow and serve God?

It might be time to take a hard look at your church’s welcoming (or non-welcoming) environment. Do you want your church to come across as an exclusive social club or as a place for all to come and encounter the wonderful grace of Jesus?

Pray for my family as we seek the church that God has for us.  I’m tired of visiting!

Join me next week as we take a hard look at worship in NC Baptist Churches.

As always, please feel free to leave your comments.

[Note: Please do not think I am implying that a church is a social club if they are not a welcoming church.  All of these churches may be doing a great job in worship and discipleship.  My point is that the welcoming climate can create perceptions of a church, whether or not those perceptions are founded.]