October 19, 2015

4 Questions to Ask a Church Visitor

Churches need new people. Most new people come to us as visitors who are strangers. The Bible wants us to welcome strangers and meet their needs (Matthew 25:35), but some people don't talk to strangers. I hear many reasons for their hesitancy, such as fear that the "visitor" has been attending for a year already or inability to deal with awkward silences.

I agree that some visitors are private, reserved types who don't want to answer lots of probing questions. And, most people are not comfortable with a church on the first visit. In fact, my husband and I repeatedly tried, and then disregarded, a common hospitality idea for first-time visitors. A recent Christward Collective article* stated the suggestion like this, "You will find that almost anyone visiting will jump at the invitation to come to your home for lunch." Not in New England. Not when it is the pastor's house. Inviting new people to our house assured that we didn't see 80% of them again. Ever.

So, how do we welcome strangers, avoid intimidating visitors, and encourage them to come back to our church? Here are some general ideas.
  • Seek out new people and introduce yourself.
  • Start slow. You don't need to obtain 30 years of backstory in one conversation or invite them over on the first visit.
  • Listen well. You will be able to tell if something makes them uncomfortable. You will also learn things that you can mention in future conversations.
  • Introduce them to someone else in the church. Think of a member who has something in common with the visitor.
  • Ask a question that doesn't have a yes or no answer.
Questions to Ask a Church Visitor

1) What is your name? Preface this question with "Hello. I'm xxx. I am glad to see you here." Remember the visitor's name. Write it down if you have to. Review the name before next Sunday so that you can call them by name next time. Even though I have trouble remembering names, I believe this is the most important question I can ask.

2) How did you discover our church? On a basic level, this will tell you what types of outreach are successful. And, you will find out what the visitor already knows, e.g., from looking at the church's website. In addition, some visitors are comfortable with sharing more without being asked. You might learn that they are dissatisfied with their current church or that they are new to the area and don't know anyone. This will help you understand them better.

3) What do you do for your job? Most people can easily talk about their job, if they have one. However, you need to be sensitive to those who might be students, retired, unemployed, disabled or raising children. You don't want to suggest that only people who work outside the home have worth. So, you can lead off with this question instead or use it as a follow-up for those who don't have a career. How do you spend your days?

4) What about the style or culture of our church is different than what you are used to? The answer to this question will allow you to explain things and help the visitor get acclaimed to a new environment. Being a visitor is a tough job, especially for one who doesn't go to church much. Some churches have kneelers, and some have hipsters. Some think Calvin is not Calvinistic enough, and others have never heard of Calvin. In addition, visitors face more practical matters of where to sit so that they don't take someone's regular spot, how to find the rest room and when to stand up in the service.

Even if the visitor dashes for the door at the first opportunity, and you never get a chance to ask any of these questions, the warm smile you offer from across the room may be the start of a great conversation. Next Sunday.

Ways to Become a Welcoming Church accessed 10-18-25.

More in the 4 Questions series:
4 Questions to Ask a Stay-at-Home-Mom
4 Questions to Ask an Older Woman
4 Questions to Ask a Child
4 Questions to Ask College Students
4 Questions to Ask Your Pastor

2 comments:

  1. I love the question about "what is different than what you are used to?" I think this demonstrates interest in the visitor's past church experiences without seeming critical or nosy. It also shows humility--I realize that what we do might seem strange, and that's okay.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I second what Megan said! That is a good question. Thanks for the ideas, Mom.

    ReplyDelete

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