Connecting with Visitors

Image © Frank Swift via Flickr | Creative Commons

We recently shared six guidelines for making your church building more welcoming. Those things shouldn't be overlooked, but even in a guest-friendly facility, it's the human connection that makes people really feel welcomed and want to return.

Here are six people-focused essentials for becoming a church visitors connect with.

1. First Impression of Human Hospitality

Hospitality begins the moment people pull into your parking lot. Are parking lot attendants helping people to find parking spots? Are those attendants directing guests to the designated guest parking spots? In inclement weather, is there a parking lot attendant available with an umbrella?

Is there a greeter at every entrance, inside and outside? Are the greeters trained? Is each greeter extending a friendly, genuine handshake with a pleasant greeting and good eye contact? Is the greeter being distracted into conversations with regular attenders? Is the greeter familiar with the regular attenders so that guests can be identified easily?

2. Get Their Names

The first step in going from a stranger to a friend is knowing someone's name. So when visitors come, get their names! (This is the title of our book on evangelism, after all!) You need to have multiple methods to acquire guests’ names: collecting the names on the guest attendance pads during worship, guest sign-in sheets, a tear-off from the bulletin, parents who sign in their children at the nursery, greeters who are trained to have pen and paper to write names down and turn them in to the office, or congregants getting the names of guests sitting next to them and following up personally on Facebook or with e-mail.

This is why it is important to have routine, congregational-wide training on the process of receiving and connecting guests. We make mistakes in our attempts to receive guests. Sometimes we smother them, and other times we unintentionally ignore them. We must create a system in which our guests feel welcome but not overwhelmed. Good, welcoming, authentic conversation is critical, and it can be tricky. Here are some conversation starters to engage in, as well as some to steer clear of:


  • “Hi, I’m (name).” If the guests respond with their names, either you write them down or have the guests write them down on your bulletin. Turn in the names. Follow up with them personally.
  • “Good to see you.”
  • “I don’t believe I have had the pleasure of meeting you. I’m (name).”


  • “You must be new here.”
  • “How long have you been coming here? I’ve never seen you before.”
  • “My name is (first and last name), and what is yours?”

3. Think Guest, Not Visitor

How do you prepare for visitors in your home? We think of visitors as people who drop by without an invitation. They just show up. We are not prepared for them. We might just stand with them in the entrance to visit. We don’t want them to see the dirty dishes in the sink, the unmade beds, and the towels on the bathroom floor. The visit is usually short. You may have been disrupted by it.

In contrast, how might you prepare for guests in your home? How does this differ from a visitor? Guests have been invited to your home. You are expecting their arrival. You are most likely looking forward to their time with you. You make special arrangements and preparations for them. You have likely done some extra cleaning. You might have prepared their favorite meal or dessert. You will likely offer them something to drink. You may allow them to sit in your favorite chair. You might even share the remote control with them. (Okay, now you think I am meddling!) If they are spending the night, you have placed fresh linens on the bed and your best towels on the vanity for their use. You are happy to see them and have them in your home, and the stay is usually longer in duration than that of a visitor.

How does this translate to church? Does your church have visitors drop by for worship? Does this take you by surprise, making you wish you had been more ready? Or do you prepare for guests each Sunday? Do you try to make them feel welcome and comfortable? When unconnected guests visit a church, they have a fear that it will be awkward. They are not sure what to expect. We want to ease those concerns as much as possible. We do that with a process and culture of radical hospitality. Remember, radical hospitality is going above and beyond the expectations of hospitality.

4. Connectors

Every church needs a connector. What is a connector? A connector is a person or group of people who invest in building relationships with guests and help them “connect” into a ministry where the guests will get their needs met. The connector will keep in contact with and track the guest until the guest becomes a regular attender, gets involved in ministry, and fosters a relationship with Christ through your church’s intentional faith development pathway.

Once a greeter has identified a guest, he or she should introduce the guest to a trained connector. This connector should be gifted with inter-personal skills, able to introduce him or herself, and escort guests to the hospitality area for a drink or refreshment. The connector should be equipped with questions that are friendly and unintimidating, while still obtaining necessary information for a follow-up and to introduce the guest to others. You may have people who seem to unofficially fill this role, but ask yourself: Does the connector invite the guest to sit with him or her during service? Is the connector assisting the guest in feeling comfortable during the worship experience? Is the connector introducing the guest to the pastor at the conclusion of worship? Does the connector invite the guest to lunch? Does the connector walk away with at least a name, address, and phone number and the reason the guest decided to attend worship? Is the connector aware of the next step in the connection process, and is he or she committed to take that step with this guest?

5. Meet and Greet

If there is a meet and greet time during worship, how comfortable is it for guests? Does it go longer than two minutes? Do people gravitate to those they already know? Are guests overwhelmed? Are guests ignored? Is this the only time regular attenders pay attention to guests? Are the greetings authentic for guests?

During a consultation weekend, I (Kay) was asked to sit in the front row. I did so by myself. When the meet and greet time came, I turned and greeted the two people behind me. There was no one else closer than three rows away. As I watched the scene unfold alone from the front row, I was simply amazed at what I witnessed. People were actually crisscrossing the sanctuary to greet one another, but none came to greet me. While it was an incredible scene to observe, I couldn’t help but feel awkward standing alone in the front pew for seven minutes! While these folks were being incredibly friendly (to one another), they were blind to the fact that they had left a guest feeling isolated and uncomfortable. If I felt that way, can you imagine how an unconnected “seeker” as a first-time guest might have felt? Do you think he or she would return? Each person in our congregation must be trained to become a personal missionary in the pew.

6. After-Worship Experience

One of the teachings from our mystery worshiper reports is the importance of the guest’s experience upon leaving worship. It is just as important as their experience upon arrival. But we rarely pay attention to the guest’s departure experience. Remember, any time people have a positive experience, they want to share it with others. This is true of a positive worship experience, too. Once the worship ends, many times the regular attenders go about their business of making lunch plans with their church friends, while the unconnected guests are left to fend for themselves.

This is a crucial time for guests. Greeters need to be at their stations after worship as well as before. The ten-minute period after service has concluded is a critical time to connect with the guest. Has the guest been introduced to the pastor yet? Invited to lunch? What is the next step? Are you offering tours of the building as an opportunity to show hospitality and engage in more conversation with the guest? Is a gift delivered to the guest’s door within the same day as the visit or at least within twenty-four hours? Depending on the needs of the guest, who is the right person or ministry to connect with the guest? Who is responsible for tracking all the guests? What can the church do to be helpful to this person?

It is absolutely critical to follow up within twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Otherwise it feels like “I was a guest but am now not invited back.” Let’s return to our analogy of hospitality as hosting a guest in our home. After you have invited people to your home, made special arrangements for their visit, enjoyed the time you spent together, and sent them on their way, imagine not ever speaking to them again. No note, no e-mail, no visit. Nothing! When your guests receive no second invitation, it makes them feel that the first visit didn’t go well. Now relate this to the follow-up process in your church. Do guests simply get a form letter? Do they get anything at all? What is the personal touch that gives them a sense of connection and makes them want to return after their first visit? Second visit? Third visit? Everyone is a missionary. Everybody has responsibility for following up with new people, turning the names into the office as well as making a personal connection.

Every church we have consulted with is convinced that it is the friendliest church in town. We often tease church leaders by saying we have yet to meet the unfriendliest church in town! Many times we pride ourselves in just how friendly we are. But unconnected guests in our churches are looking for friendships, not just friendly people. They are looking for relationships. This is a vital distinction. It is one thing to put on our Christian smile each Sunday and be polite. But it is quite another thing to be genuinely interested in people and have a desire to help them know and love Jesus Christ.

Excerpted and adapted from: Get Their Name: Grow Your Church by Building New Relationships by Bob Farr, Doug Anderson, and Kay Kotan. ©2013 by Abingdon Press. Used with permission.

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