Every church has at least a few visitors each year, and most congregations work hard to welcoming visitors. In the fast-growing suburb where I serve, we greet one or two newcomers every week—more around the holidays.
Church visitor follow-up is only part of the challenge here. Getting visitors to fill out a form is less important than recognizing the types of newcomers to your church.
I’ve noticed a few people who seem to show up over and over. I don’t mean the same five individuals, but five groups of people who are likely to visit your church.
We do eight things to engage all of our newcomers (more on that here). Though I’ve learned to tailor the approach based on the reason a person is visiting.
This matters because each person comes for a different reason and brings a different set of expectations. The danger is that you will either (1) fail to recognize what they actually want from church, or (2) go so far to meet their expectations that you get pulled off mission.
Do this right and you’ll maintain your unique identity and be attractive to newcomers.
Here are the five people you greet at church, and a strategy for ensuring that each one gets a good opportunity to connect with your congregation.
1. The Out of Towner
Out of towers are usually relatives of church members and are almost always churched people. And they are true visitors because they are not prospects to attend regularly.
Yet they are in your congregation for the day, and they have spiritual needs too. Visitors occasionally are the most profound respondents to the message because they’re hearing a fresh voice and they’re out of their normal routine.
Strategy: Be pastoral. Treat out-of-town guests as if they were regular attendees. Be their church for a day.
2. The Relocator
Relocators are newcomers to your community who are trying to find a new church home. The big plus is that they are insiders from the start. They want to be in church, they love programs, they already know how to volunteer. And they tithe!
However, most have come from great churches and are looking to find that secret something again. They may want a church that feels “just like home” on the first day. If you’re not careful, you may find yourself working harder to sell them on your church than to, well, be your church.
Strategy: Talk vision. Help Relocators see what’s good about your church. Give the vision talk in your very first conversation. Then be yourself, and don’t try to meet all their expectations—because you can’t.
3. The Church Shopper
Church shoppers are churched people who are looking for a new church. Different from Relocators, they are likely to be dissatisfied rather than enchanted with their former congregation.
Sometimes these folk have a solid reason for making a change. A few are victims of abuse, burned out volunteers, or others who have been hurt by the church.
More often their complaints are a bit vague—“We just didn’t feel connected” or “We weren’t being fed.” Many have not thought through their true expectations for church. These folk may enter with lots of enthusiasm and are often eager to volunteers.
However, the same consumer tastes that brought them to your door will make them restless within weeks.
Strategy: Be patient. Don’t move too quickly with church shoppers, and don’t place them in leadership anytime soon. Give them time to get past their negative experience and discover your church on its own terms.
4. The Reconnector
Reconnectors are people who regularly attended church in the past but had that interrupted somehow. They arrive at your door hoping to reconnect with God and the church.
This is often driven by a life event. You’ll meet these folk when they—
Seek to remarry after a divorce
Have a child old enough to be dedicated or start school
Graduate from college
Become empty-nesters or retirees
Face a serious illness or family tragedy
Experience marital problems
Reconnectors often have more modest expectations about the church. They come seeking help, connections, or personal change. The downside is that they, too, are shopping for a church that “feels right” but may not know exactly what that means.
Strategy: Meet the need. Provide fellowship, counsel, sacraments, or whatever drove them to your door. This group has a high likelihood of remaining connected.
5. The Unchurched Person
Unchurched people are those who have not been regular church attendees for at least five years—if ever. Unlike the other types of visitors, unchurched people are unlikely just stop in for a visit. They nearly always come by personal invitation from a friend or family member.
This is the group you are trying to reach with the good news. Treasure these opportunities!
The challenge is that they often have negative stereotypes of the church based on media caricatures, scandals, or hypocritical Christians they’ve encountered in the past. You’ll need to change those expectations before they can hear the gospel.
Strategy: Be ready. Become a church for unchurched people before they arrive. Critically examine everything about the experience of being at your church from the perspective of complete outside, then change where needed.
The most important thing to do when greeting newcomers to your church is to be yourself. Hopefully, that also means being welcoming, hospitable, and appropriately self-confident. Don’t try to be all things to all people, because you can’t be.
Instead, know who you are, know what you’re trying to accomplish, and invite others to join you in the work God has given you.