I attended the same church for over 20 years. Even when I went off to college, I still went to my home church during breaks. But when my family moved to a different state last year, we automatically became the church visitors instead of the church regulars.
Now, church isn’t a place where I can chat with the friends that I grew up with. It’s a place where I have to make new friends. Now, church isn’t a place where I have a regular pew and a regular crew. It’s a place where I have to pick a random seat and smile through awkward introductions. Now, church isn’t a place where I can greet visitors and show them around. It’s a place where I have to receive a grand tour so that I don’t get lost on my way to the bathroom.
So, as a church visitor who’s quite introverted, here are three things that I’d like to tell regulars at the churches I visit:
1. I just want to feel welcomed by you.
Sure, it’s great to be welcomed by the greeters at the door and the pastor from the pulpit. But being welcomed by the girl sitting next to me during the service, the guy walking to his car at the same time, or the couple standing behind me on the way out the door means so much more. The greeters are told by the pastor to be welcoming, and the pastor is paid by the congregation to be welcoming. But being acknowledged by regulars is special.
2. You don’t need to be a great conversationalist to make me feel welcome.
As basic as it sounds, I’m totally okay with a simple “hi” or “hello” or “how are you?” from church regulars. Especially if they’re tall, dark, and handsome regulars. (Just kidding…ish.) While introductions can be uncomfortable for both of us, they’re so simple yet so impactful! It’s okay if you don’t ask me twenty questions on my first Sunday, and it’s okay if you stumble over your words.
3. I don’t want to feel pressured to become a member during my first visit.
Okay, I get the whole church membership thing. I know that planting roots is important. But when I—especially as a first-time visitor at a church—get the vibe that membership matters most, I’m immediately turned off. What I find appealing is transparency, friendliness, and inclusion. I think churches (especially big churches) tend to focus more on people joining their church than joining the Church. And the Church is so much more important.
Showing Unusual Kindness
After we were brought safely through [the shipwreck], we then learned that the island was called Malta. The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold. (Acts 28:1-2 ESV)
I love the kind and welcoming example of the Maltese people in this passage. Their friendliness is impressive! If the Maltese—who were likely not Christians, based on Acts 28:6—were unusually kind and welcoming, then we as Christians have no excuse for ignoring or excluding church visitors.
And friends, this post isn’t designed to be a sermon but a reminder. I remember seeing new faces at the church I had attended since infancy and thinking, “Ugh, do I really have to go talk to them?” I just wanted to be comfortable. I wanted to hang out with my family and friends at church, not the new people.
Honestly, I’m not the best example of reaching out to others. But I hope that doesn’t keep you from reaching out to others! Because a church that genuinely welcomes its visitors and attempts to make conversation with them—without pressuring them to become members—is more memorable than a church with big lights, big rooms, and big numbers.