8 Things Your Church Absolutely Must Do to Engage Newcomers

December 19, 2013

Most congregations get visitor traffic four times a year, especially around the holidays, but struggle to make connections with newcomers. That’s a shame, because those windows close quickly and you seldom get a second chance with the same attendee.


Currently, we’re retaining about 20 percent of first-time visitors. Over the years, my strategy for engaging newcomers has changed considerably. I’ve gone from selling the church and it’s programs to offering involvement based on our vision.

Here’s how we go about that. This strategy is the same for both churched and unchurched people

1. Respect personal boundaries.

Some people don’t want to talk to anybody at church. Having to interact with others in an unfamiliar place is their greatest fear.

Greet everyone, but be cautious about pursuing beyond their comfort level. This is art, not science. Watch for nonverbal clues, and use common sense.

2. Ask why they came.

After a greeting, I generally ask the friendly question, “So what brings you to Fall Creek?” Most people are happy to answer and say exactly why they are there. Within seconds I know whether they’re an out-of-town guest, an unchurched newcomer, a first-time parent, etc.

3. Affirm them—and the reason they came.

I’m glad when people come to church for any reason, so this isn’t hard to do. “I’m so glad you’re here. Thanks for accepting Joe’s invitation” or “Looking for a church can be daunting; good for you for doing that hard work” or “Great to meet Jennifer’s grandparents!”

4. Say your vision.

Make these the next words out of your mouth. Seriously. Whatever your vision is, just say that next.

“We’re a church for unchurched people, so I think you’ll like it here” or “We’re a church that puts love into action, so I hope you’ll join us in serving this city” or “We’re the perfect church for people who aren’t, so if that’s you, you’ve found a home!”

5. Don’t sell program; offer involvement.

Never, never, never say how great your programs are. Churched people will know anyway just by looking around, and unchurched people don’t care. Selling programs turns one-time visitors into permanent consumers. Just don’t do it.

Instead, let people know this is a place where they can find something meaningful to do. Offer it right up front.

“Our men’s group renovates two houses a year for elderly or disabled people. I’d love to have you join us.”

“Our teens are going to Haiti this summer to drill a well. I think you’d really enjoy that experience.”

“Every month we support six families who are serving God in other countries. I can get you hooked up with one of them for prayer and financial support.”

6. Offer to help.

When people realize you are offering something to them and not asking something from them, they’re much more receptive. And isn’t this what we want to do anyway?

“Have you found a new family doctor yet? I know a couple of great ones.”
“What can we do to help your grandchildren get better connected?”
“I’m so sorry your last church closed. That must hurt. Can I pray for you now?”

Remember, this isn’t selling your programs. Find the real need in their life and see if you can help.

7. Give them a next step.

Have your next step ready, and tell everybody what it is. This leads them to deeper connection, and it helps you move people along your discipleship pathway.

For us, the very next step is a monthly lunch for newcomers, and we mention it on the very first day. Whatever your “next” is, say it, and include it in your print communications.

8. Be yourself.

Trying to be something you aren’t is incredibly obvious and unattractive. Just be yourself. You may not have the best programs int he world, or the best pastor, or the hottest worship band, but you have something.

You have your love for people, your faith in the good news, and the vision God has given your church. Just be you. That’s enough.

List some tips for engaging newcomers at your church.

Lawrence W. Wilson


I blog about Christian faith and ministry. I've also written a few books including The Long Road Home and Why Me? Straight Talk about Suffering.