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A Place To Belong–Making Visitors Feel At Home

Ric Shields

After our pastor launched a live talk radio program our church became host to scores of visitors. Some were students attending a local university. Others came from diverse backgrounds. Most were from the metropolitan area–a rich blend of singles, couples, and families. Attendance grew from 250 to 1,200.

I’ve had opportunity to see how scores of churches respond to first-time guests. A compound acrostic helps remember some simple guidelines: Visitor-MATIC.

The word visitor is appropriate because visitors should receive consideration in our services. We tend to direct comments to the home folk but they will understand what’s being said and may even be humored. However, by placing ourselves in the visitors’ shoes we’ll realize that few things in life are more frustrating than being an outsider to an insider’s joke.

Make a special effort to explain what’s happening in the services, especially when the gifts of the Holy Spirit are in operation. Visitors will welcome this.

The second half of Visitor-MATIC stands for these simple steps:

MAINTAIN THE FACILITY

When looking for a church home, visitors usually compare one or more churches. The church with the fewest negative points will likely be the place they choose to attend. Little things that we take for granted may make a big difference to them.

Apart from advertising or a persona invitation from a friend, visitors’ first impressions of the church take place as they enter from the outside. Is the exterior of the facility attractive and well-maintained? Is the lawn freshly mowed? is the exterior sign up to date? Are the windows and doors clean? Is the trim carefully painted? If the exterior of the building doesn’t say, "We care," visitors will be less likely to enter.

Once inside, the discriminating guest will continue to make a mental note of the facility: neat bulletin boards and displays, clean carpet, orderly pew racks, no Styrofoam cups left lying around, the American and Christian flags properly displayed, and clean rest rooms.

ACCOUNT FOR ALL VISITORS

If the church uses printed visitor cards, make sure a supply is available in classrooms, the foyer, and on display or pew racks. At a predetermine time during the service, instruct guest to complete the information on the card and place it in the offering receptacle when it is passed.

TRAIN USHERS AND HOSTS

Have quarterly meetings for instruction, training, and fellowship. Share new ideas. Remind ushers that a visitor’s first impressions are the most important. Ushers should introduce themselves with a warm handshake and a smile, ask the visitors for their names, and repeat the names when speaking to them.

Bulletins and printed materials, such as the Pentecostal Evangel, can be offered as a way of introduction.

Ushers and hosts should offer information such as when the service begins, where restrooms are located, and details on children’s ministry if appropriate. Escort guests to comfortable seats where others won’t be stepping over them when entering the same pew.

INTRODUCE VISITORS TO KEY LEADERS

Meeting key people makes guests feel important. When these same key people participate as leaders during the service, visitors readily identify with them and know them by name. At the end of the service or when they return the next time, guests won’t feel like complete strangers.

CONTACT VISITORS WITHIN 24 HOURS

Phone calls to say, "Thanks for worshiping with us this morning," tell guests they were both noticed and appreciated. Solicit volunteers to help make these contacts with visitors. Other volunteers can follow up with personal visits if guests indicate that desire on either the visitor card or during the initial phone call.

The pastor should write a letter that can be kept on a computer or word processor. Letters mailed Monday morning will likely reach guests on Tuesday. If young people or children attend with friends or family, encourage the youth or children’s ministry director and Sunday school teachers to write a card or letter specifically to them. Kids love to get mail, and parents like knowing that their children are important, too.

No concrete rules will ensure a visitor’s integration into a church. Church visitors are likely to have already discussed the options available and will probably shop around for the church most suited to their needs before making a decision to attend. However, the Visitor-MATIC church will undoubtedly be the standout when decisions are reached, for visitors will not longer feel like strangers. They will know they are returning to a place where they’ll make and become friends–a place to belong.