7 Less Awkward Ways to Make Church Visitors Feel Welcome

Betsy St. Amant Haddox

iBelieve Contributing Writer
Published Aug 10, 2022
7 Less Awkward Ways to Make Church Visitors Feel Welcome

Visiting a new church can be an intimidating experience. As a guest, you’re walking into established congregations, where people are already friends and a close-knit community. Some people searching for a new church home are going through trauma like divorce, the death of a spouse, or a life change such as a move or job transition that is causing them to need a new spot to worship. The least we can do as members of the church is make them welcome and wanted in ways that don’t create awkward situations. 

For example, you probably shouldn’t lead with 2 Corinthians 13:12 (ESV), which says to “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” Ha! 

But we can act upon Colossians 3:12-14 (ESV) "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony."

The last thing we want to do is run someone off before they get a true feel for the body of believers. So how do we, instead, find ways to show kindness, compassionate hearts, patience, and love like Colossians instructs us? 

Here are seven less awkward ways to make church visitors feel welcome: 

Photo Credit:© Sandro Gonzalez/Unsplash

1. Don't Single Them Out

Churches over the years have tried various measures of singling out guests, all with good intentions. After all, if they’re not pointed out, how will people know they’re visiting (see #2)? Thankfully, it seems somewhere down the line of time, pastors stopped asking guests to stand and be outright acknowledged. But it seemed that shifted into the slightly less awkward method of having members stand and guests remain seated. This was an improvement because now, at least, the visitor was sitting among the crowd rather than standing with a proverbial spotlight on them, but they were still singled out. I know in my season of visiting various churches while going through an unwanted divorce, I had zero desire for a spotlight. I wanted to blend in, meet a few people, and listen to the service without feeling like everyone was staring at me. I wasn’t sure if that church was the right fit for me, so the last thing I wanted was undue attention. 

2. Notice Them

This seems somewhat contradicting to #1, but it’s not. If you’re observant, it’s easy to tell who is visiting, especially if they’re a first-time visitor. Worst case, you introduce yourself and greet them as if they were a guest, then discover they’ve actually been coming for quite some time. Oops! No worries. That’s happened to me before, and rather than be embarrassed, we just turned the conversation into a big joke over how sitting on opposite sides of the church can be so “divisive.” It’s worth the risk to make someone feel welcome, rather than assume and have the visitor go ignored. At my current church, we don’t have a specific welcome time. This causes members to pay more attention to new faces and those sitting alone before the service, allowing us to take the opportunity to reach out. If you stay aware, you’ll find them!

People talking, Christians must work toward changing hearts and minds and laws

3. Be Friendly

Mark 12:31 (ESV) "The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 

Being friendly and showing love seems obvious but can be a much-needed reminder. I know in my life, there are so many Sundays when I’m distracted with my own worries, caught up in visiting with a friend, or simply oblivious to my surroundings. I could probably come across as aloof or uninterested, even click-ish, while standing around with my friends. Don’t be the person who makes visitors feel like they’re not invited to the “cool lunch table.” Be kind and extend a greeting. Don’t assume someone else in the church will do it—they might not. And even if they do, the more greetings a guest receives, the more welcome and comfortable they’ll feel. There’s a fine line between not wanting to be spotlighted and not wanting to be ignored, and a visitor to your congregation deserves to have that balance. After all, if the roles were reversed, you would be touched if someone made that effort for you.  

4. Don’t Ask for Their Life Story

The welcome time in a service is usually very brief. Greet guests during this time and offer a handshake or a big smile or whatever feels appropriate and try to get their names. But don’t turn the short opportunity into an awkward “tell me your life story” level of interest. You can make them feel welcome without creating a rushed or pressuring situation. Not knowing someone’s personality, it’s a big risk to assume they want to chat for long with a total stranger in the first place. Also, if you’re taking up the entire welcome time, you’re preventing other members from making introductions for themselves. Try to implement only what you would want from someone if you were the one visiting. 

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Monkey Business Images

5. Invite Them to Lunch Sometime

The key word here is “sometime.” Don’t ask to go eat with them that same day unless you’ve already had a lot of conversation and the invitation feels organic. If you keep the request a little vague, then you’ll make them feel wanted but still comfortable. If they feel extroverted and eager to plug in and meet people, they’ll take the baton and suggest whether to go that day or a different week. But remember, not everyone you meet is going to be your friend. Be welcoming, but don’t pressure a brand-new visitor to become your BFF or commit to social engagements before they’re ready. Nothing will make a guest at a church flee faster than awkward interactions and pressure to commit to an activity early on. A good rule of thumb is following the Gospel of Matthew. It says in Matthew 7:12 (ESV), “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." 

6. Point Out Available Ministries

When meeting a visitor at your church, evaluate their situation and make sure they know about ministries within that church that apply to them. You probably don’t want to discuss the nursery if the visitor you’re meeting is a retired senior. But the mom with a diaper bag would probably love to hear about the children’s ministry. The man with no wedding ring and the woman sitting alone would most likely be interested in hearing about the monthly singles gatherings. And the middle-aged couple sitting with several yawning teens would probably love to hear what your church offers for youth. 

two diverse friends meeting conversation

7. Try to Meet a Need

Galatians 6:10 (ESV) "Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." 

If the visitor looks confused or unsure where to go or what to do before the service begins (or during any part of it!), look for opportunities to help. Does a frazzled mom need assistance finding the nursery? Does your church use hymnals during worship, and the visitor’s pew doesn’t have one? Does a single mom need an extra pair of hands to carry her and her children’s belongings? Also, when making conversation, see if there’s a need that could be met. If a family is new to the area, they might need recommendations on schools or other community services. Or maybe they need help moving into their new home. Meeting a need for a fellow believer is a wonderful way to connect and form a lasting friendship. A family in our church moved from Montana to Louisiana, and before we’d even met them, a team from our church gathered at their house and helped unload the U-Haul they’d driven across the country. We’re very close with them today, partially because of that bonding experience (nothing like moving a piano and a bunch of exercise equipment off a trailer to cement a friendship!).

Scripture is clear on how we are to treat each other, starting from day one in the church. We have no idea what a new visitor is going through in their personal lives and how important and impactful a single smile or friendly greeting could be. So don’t be shy—reach out! You might be introducing yourself to a forever friend. 

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/AnnaStills

Betsy_headshotBetsy St. Amant Haddox is the author of over twenty romance novels and novellas. She resides in north Louisiana with her hubby, two daughters, an impressive stash of coffee mugs, and one furry Schnauzer-toddler. Betsy has a B.A. in Communications and a deep-rooted passion for seeing women restored to truth. When she’s not composing her next book or trying to prove unicorns are real, Betsy can be found somewhere in the vicinity of an iced coffee. She is a regular contributor to iBelieve.com and offers author coaching and editorial services via Storyside LLC. 

Originally published Wednesday, 10 August 2022.