Would you like to increase the number of people who attend your church on a weekly basis–both Christians and non-Christians? For most pastors, the answer is a clear yes!
Yet, this desire to reach new people doesn’t always translate into meaningful action.
Many churches tell unbelievers, “You’re not welcome here,” without realizing it.
If you want your church to be a friendly place where first-time visitors and non-Christians feel welcome (and want to return!), you need to be intentional.
Why Creating a Welcoming Church Matters
Perhaps you’re thinking, “Our church is small,” “All of our church members have been with us for years,” or “We don’t get many visitors.” Maybe you think these tips don’t apply or aren’t a big priority.
Yet, it’s important to remember: You attract what you openly communicate.
If your sermons are written only with life-long believers in mind, and you never address non-believers, two things are likely to happen. First, your current congregation may hesitate to bring their friends, family, or coworkers, knowing that they wouldn’t be comfortable there. Secondly, if the new visitors you do have don’t feel welcome, they likely won’t return.
This doesn’t mean you need to water down your teaching, but you do need to be intentional.
Here’s how to do just that.
1. Avoid Insider Language (“Christianese”)
You know what words and phrases like “justification,” “salvation,” “fellowship,” “quiet time,” “home group,” and “the body of Christ” mean, but does everyone in your congregation know?
Non-Christians, new Christians, and people who have been away from the church for a while may not. The most eloquent, well-researched sermon won’t serve your congregation if they don’t know what you’re talking about.
Thankfully, this is an easy fix. As you prepare your sermon in advance, look for words the average new or non-believer may not fully understand. Then, be sure to explain them briefly as you preach.
2. Don’t Assume Everyone Believes the Same Thing
Similarly, be careful to avoid making statements that assume or imply that everyone in your congregation holds the same moral, social, or political convictions you do.
While it can certainly be appropriate to share the Bible’s teaching on moral issues, you will want to do so in a way that acknowledges that some people may still have struggles, doubts, or disagreements.
For example, if you say, “We all know this particular controversial sin is wrong…” or “We all want this political candidate to win the upcoming election, because we believe the other candidate is a terrible sinner…” you’re likely to alienate those who disagree with you before you have a chance to share God’s Truth on the matter.
This type of insider language sends a clear message to outsiders: “You don’t belong here. This church isn’t for people like you.”
3. Don’t Ask for Too Much Personal Information
While you will want to connect with new visitors so you can follow up and invite them to return, it’s important not to ask for too much personal information all at once.
Asking new visitors to fill out a connection card with their name and email is completely appropriate. Similarly, it’s completely appropriate to ask parents to share their phone number and any relevant allergy information before they drop their little ones off in the nursery or at children’s church.
However, you will want to avoid asking for personal information or too much information that people may feel uncomfortable giving. Even common questions such as, “How long have you been a Christian,” can make people feel uncomfortable.
4. Address Obvious Questions and Concerns During the Sermon
If you’re preaching through tough texts, it’s natural that both the Christians and non-Christians in your audience may have doubts, questions, concerns, or objections.
Rather than ignoring the obvious questions or side-stepping the potential issues, address them openly and honestly.
Andy Stanley and Timothy Keller are two pastors who do an excellent job of acknowledging the theological elephant in the room and addressing the unbeliever in a way that’s very tactful, if you’d like an example.
Otherwise, simply acknowledge the difficulty, then share what the Bible has to say along with any background information that will help people understand the Bible’s teaching more clearly.
5. Don’t Assume Everyone Knows Every Bible Story
Even if you typically preach through the Bible verse by verse with an expository or running commentary preaching style, chances are, you’ll want to reference a verse or story from a different part of the Bible at some point.
When you do, be careful not to assume everyone in your congregation is familiar with the story or remembers all of the details. Even among people who have grown up in church, we all forget the details of various Bible studies if it’s been a while since we last heard or read it. And non-Christians may have never heard of the story at all.
Either take a moment to explain any relevant information people need to know to understand the reference, or skip the reference altogether.
6. Clearly Communicate What’s Happening During the Service
As a pastor or church staff member, you’ve likely been to hundreds, if not thousands, of worship services throughout your life. You’re an expert when it comes to attending church.
Because of this, it’s easy to forget how confusing, overwhelming, or difficult attending a new church can be, particularly for those who aren’t Christian and who didn’t grow up in the church.
Take time to explain your church’s traditions, such as communion, baptism, raising hands, speaking in tongues, or any other traditions non-Christians may not be familiar with.
Briefly explain how to participate, who should participate, and what these traditions mean within your particular denomination, especially if they’re unique or vary from church to church.
A few sentences about what to expect or how to participate can make a world of difference for both non-Christians and Christians attending your church for the first time.
Whether your church regularly hosts non-Christian visitors or you receive new visitors rarely, you want everyone who walks through your front doors to feel welcome.
You may never remove all of the awkwardness new visitors feel, but these six tips can go a long way toward making non-Christians feel welcome and want to come back.