The Bible doesn’t give an explicit command to be a welcoming church, but neither do Christians usually think, “I don’t want our church to have a warm and friendly environment.” At least, we hope not. We have a biblical mandate to be loving, and so we want people to feel loved by us. For many Christians, it’s not that they don’t care, but that they don’t know how or that they’re not comfortable. Here is some practical advice on how to make people feel welcome, from the unbeliever who wandered in, to the believer who’s been going to your church for decades.
1. Acknowledge people. I know this sounds obvious, but if you think about a typical American church, people can come and go without anyone noticing. We have a tendency to keep to ourselves, find our seats quickly, and just wait for the service to start. Instead, be alert and pay attention to when someone walks in. Then,
2. Smile. As a Christian, you have plenty of reasons to “rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16). Let that show on your face, because there’s little quite as off-putting as a place where everybody looks grumpy. Especially a church.
3. Greet someone physically, as appropriate. In the American culture, handshakes are usually the most appropriate for a first interaction. But if appropriate, give someone a hug or a high five or whatever to express your affection. Appropriate physical contact is powerful. That’s why they had the “holy kiss” in the early church (Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, etc).
4. Introduce yourself. C’mon.
5. Use their names. If you introduce yourself, and the other person forgets to give you their name, ask for it. Use his or her name a few times throughout your conversation to help you remember it. That way, you can greet them by name the next time you see them. If you forget someone’s name, humble yourself and ask for it again (they probably forgot yours too). Try to get to know everyone’s name in your church.
6. Use eye-contact. This varies by culture, so be mindful of that. But largely in the American culture, eye-contact is considered polite. When you’re speaking with someone look them in the eye. Don’t share your attention on them with your phone.
7. Make conversation. Don’t just talk about the weather. Take genuine interest in the person in front of you. Try to find out something about their story. Maybe point out something that you notice about him or her, like a book they have with them. Ask questions that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no.
8. See if there’s something you can do to serve the person. Often, this’ll just come up in regular conversation, but if not, you can always ask how you can be praying for them. Do, in fact, pray for them, either right there with them or later. And if there’s another way you can meet a need, do that as well, or introduce them to someone who can help.
9. Exchange contact information. Give them a way to reach you and commit to them that you’ll reach out to them sometime during the week. Christian love is not a once-a-week event, but a daily way of life and worship of God. Make efforts to spend time with others throughout the week, for fellowship or evangelism.
10. Let them know you’re glad to meet/see them. Don’t be disingenuous. Actually be glad that someone is at church, and let them know.