by Ken Rolheiser
Growing a Welcoming Church

A man forgot to switch off his cell phone in church. The pastor scolded him, and the worshippers admonished him, and his wife lectured him all the way home. Ashamed, embarrassed and humiliated, he never stepped foot in the church again.

That evening he went to a bar. Nervous and trembling, he spilled his drink. The waiter apologized and gave him a napkin. The janitor mopped the floor. The female manager offered him a complimentary drink, gave him a hug and said, “Don’t worry. Who doesn’t make mistakes?” He has not stopped going to that bar since. (

Research shows that churches are often less welcoming than they believe, and that visitors who experience a warm greeting and a hospitable community are more likely to return. “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7). 

A true story: My family and I went to church last weekend. We hadn’t been in over a year and decided to attend one we had never been to before. My five-year-old daughter, my seven-year-old son, my husband and I dressed for the occasion. It felt good.

We had put off attending church for several reasons, one of which was simply how we felt after going. Every time we went, someone would say, “We haven’t seen you in a while.”

As our family of four climbed out of our car we saw a familiar family, smiling and waving, making us feel welcome. As we entered the church, the little girl burst out, “Can I take them upstairs to where the kids learn?”

Her father, “Of course.” She grabbed my kids’ hands, and together, the three of them dashed upstairs. My husband and I entered the church where worship music played live on stage. No one swarmed us. And being new, that felt good. We could just settle in and be.
After the service, a woman who used to work at my kids’ school approached me and gave me a hug. We small-talked about her retirement, but she never mentioned that this was the first time our family had been there.

Welcoming is the role of every Christian who attends church. Methodist Ed Mackenzie poses ten quick questions to help your church community become more welcoming:
1. Do you expect people to visit? Most people visit because they are invited. 
2. Does your church building communicate warmth and attractiveness? 
3. Is your church prepared for all sorts of visitors? Your church should create space for children, young people and those with disabilities,
4. Do you take time to greet visitors warmly and sensitively? If no one talks to a first-time visitor, they’re unlikely to ever come back. 
5. Does your church have a welcome pack? This could simply be an attractive leaflet, with information on service times, the vision and values of the church. 
6. Do visitors know what’s happening in the service? 
7. Does your church provide quality lunch after the service?
8. Do you chat with visitors after the service? Make sure that people aren’t left alone. Invite visitors to events run by the church.
9. Do you know what church is all about? Church members should feel confident to explain what church is all about.
10. Do you expect God to be there? Whether traditional or contemporary, services need to reflect that “God is here,” and show that God’s invitation to a life of discipleship is open to all.