005: 7 Hidden Ways Your Church Makes Visitors Feel Awkward

Is your church making visitors feel awkward? We’ve all been there. We visit a church and get that undeniable feeling that can only be described as . . .well . . . awkward. I’m sure it isn’t intentional, or at least I hope it isn’t. No one expects a brass band and a ticker tape parade. But, a simple smile, a word of welcome and a warm handshake isn’t too much to expect either. You’ve got wonderful greeters and they are well trained. But, people aren’t returning or don’t stay very long. Is there something that you are missing?

Train Your Members Not Just Greeters

I’m an advocate for training the people who greet church guests. But, I think we may want to take it a step further. I believe we should train our entire church on how to treat guests as well.

Most people visiting a church want a little anonymity. They need a safe place to explore your church. If they feel awkward they’re not going to come back. People will remember how a church made them feel longer than anything else it does. . The first question they ask themselves is “Am I welcome here?”. If they  respond to that question with “I’m not sure”, they probably won’t be back.

So, Who’s Making It Awkward?

I’ve spoken in hundreds of churches in the U.S. I can’t say I’ve seen everything, but I’ve seen a lot in the last 35 years. This has given me insight in many areas of church life. Certain patterns start to emerge.  Unfortunately churches are blind to most of them. One of those blind spots is how they treat guests. Often, I was scheduled to speak at churches that had never seen my family and I.  So, they treated us as if we were just another visiting family. We saw first hand what a first time guest can experience. Oh, the stories I could tell you. But, I’ll save that for another time.

7 Hidden Things Creating Awkwardness And How To Fix Them

Ok, what or more precisely “who” is creating this awkwardness. I understand that we all have different personalities. And, I know that we all have to work toward being more welcoming. To solve any problem we must first acknowledge that there is a problem. Once we do that we can begin moving forward. Here’s a list of 7 things that cause hidden awkwardness for visitors and how you can begin fixing them.

  1. Be Aware Of Guests.  This tops my list, because I believe it’s the main reason many visitors feel awkward.  They get the feeling that they are intruders rather than guests. It’s plain and simple. Your church members get immersed in their duties or engaged in fellowship and ignore visitors. Help your members be more aware of guests and be ready to take the time to make them feel welcome.
  2. Use Some Diplomacy.  Sometimes there are folks in your church who come on too strong. They overwhelm visitors with doctrinal information or diatribes against other churches. Sometimes they give visitors the impression they are being interrogated. In all honesty, they drive more people away than you’ll ever know. Help this group to see the need to dial it back and be more tactful when dealing with guests.
  3. Reassure Your Members. Occasionally there are people in your church who are insecure. They view guests as a potential threat to their existing relationships. Their intimidating glares and quick brush offs send the message loud and clear. “Private property keep out.” Guests feel unwelcome and will not return, it’s just too awkward. Help them see that their existing relationships shouldn’t be jeopardized by visiting guests. And, that as the body of Christ we should receive others as Christ has received us.
  4. Give Affirmation To Your Leaders.   Insecurity can affect anyone, even those who hold positions of leadership. Sometimes they view a visitor with church leadership experience as a threat. Their fear is reflected in their body language, verbal clues and other indicators. A visitor can usually pick up on this quickly. It gets awkward for them even if they like your church. But, they probably will not return unless you’re the only place in town. Help your leaders feel secure by affirming their worth and giving them additional training.
  5. Be Authentic.  Everyone wants a warm greeting, but there are those who go a little over the top. They can be seen as unauthentic and needy. They tend to give the impression your church must be desperate for new members. Instruct your church to be friendly, but authentic. Show them how visitors may perceive both them as individuals and the church as a whole.
  6. Control The Curiosity.  No one wants to play 40 questions when visiting a new church. Maybe there are folks in your church who just want to get acquainted with guests. But, bombarding them with questions isn’t a good way to do that. Again, most people visiting a church want a little space. They don’t want to feel like someone is writing their biography. Perhaps it would be helpful by suggesting some tips on manners and etiquette.
  7. Exit The Comfort Zone. It’s one thing to be shy or reserved and another to be impolite. Every church has folks who kind of stay to themselves. There can be many reasons for this. But, they can give off an elitist and egotistical attitude. They walk right past visitors without so much as a nod. It’s hard to tell if these people are introverts, preoccupied or just plain rude. Maybe they are unaware of their actions. Some might need a gentle reminder of how they are being perceived.

Conclusion

Making guests feel welcome at your church is everyone’s job, not just the greeters. None of us are perfect. We all have good days and bad days. And, we all have a lot to learn about how to welcome visitors more efficiently. People have enough obstacles in their path that keep them from connecting with God. Let’s not be one of them.