Around my home and for most people I know, one thing that always accompanies the holidays or any time guests are coming is a flurry of activity—cleaning, putting up decorations, making certain the bathrooms have nice soap and towels, flowers in the guest-room perhaps, and in special cases repainting and major household repairs. With actions big or little, we all do what we can to make guests feel welcome and the holidays special.
This is not only important for our homes when we are expecting visitors, but even more so for our churches. Not only is a check-up and perhaps some improvements important for the sake of a successful event, but if we want to make guests feel comfortable and come back, must make certain our church is ready for them.
Following are some areas that are important for you to check out and perhaps do a bit of renovation on before you invite your guests for holidays and special events so you'll not only be ready for the event itself, but for the growth in your church after it.
The physical plant of the church
The peeling paint in the bathroom, the junk stacked in the corner from a special event that has no permanent storage, the lack of handrails or handicapped access, the plants that need trimming—there are many things that we no longer see, because we see them every week, that are ugly eyesores to guests.
Take a clipboard in hand (or iPad these days) and go around the church asking the Lord to enable you to see the church as a visitor would see it. Note what needs to be done and schedule a "Welcome Home for the Holidays" workday at the church to tackle these tasks.
Ask an unchurched friend (pay them if possible) to come to your church and without any verbal help find:
- The children's ministry
- The nursery, a place to change diapers
- The worship center
- The bathrooms
- The bathroom with handicapped access
- Where to get coffee
- Adult Education classes
- A place to have questions answered
If they can't find them quickly and easily (and don't feel bad, most churches are challenged in this area) you need to work on your signage.
The best place to look at examples of good signage is your local hospital. Go on a field trip to check one out. In most, even as you drive up, you can see where the emergency room is, where visitor parking is located, what is the entrance for out-patients. Once inside you see directional signs to the various departments and every time you come to a fork in the hallway, there is clear signage telling you what is the next direction to go in.
In additions for directions on how to get places, be certain your rooms have labels outside them. It doesn't help at all if you were clear in your outreach mailing that a Crafts for Moms Free Morning was in your Fireplace Room, if a visitor has no idea where the Fireplace Room is or even that the Fireplace Room is the room behind a certain door. Remember you are doing outreach to people unfamiliar with the church—be very careful you give them clear directions how to get to where you want them to go and kindly let them know they got there when they get there.
Is there room at your church for newcomers?
Once people can find their way around and the Greeters welcome them into the main service, you also want visitors to come back next week you want them to try other ministries at the church, especially if growing a particular ministry at your church was the primary reason for your outreach. For example, it doesn't do any good to have a great community event that reaches out to children, such as a Trunk or Treat or Children's Christmas Party if you don't have an adequate children's ministry at your church that is ready and excited about welcoming new members.
It is futile for church growth to hold an extravagant Holiday Celebration for Single Adults in the community if you don't have a vibrant Single Adult Ministry for them to join after the party.
But oh, the fantastic ministry joy if these areas of ministry are in place and your holiday outreach is a way to welcome in new people.
Not only for these specialized ministries, but for all the ministries at your church, for major holidays such as Christmas or Easter, it does little to work hard on your holiday celebrations and communications as if your church isn't ready for the new people.
This is especially important for anything involving children. If you do a holiday outreach, get lots of people, are diligent about information you give out at the event about your church's ministry to children, and consistent in follow-up invitations, you will get new families and children to your church. In preparation for that, be sure you have:
- A clear welcome and information area for Children's Ministries, staffed at least a half an hour before and through the entire time the church is in session—newcomers may not know or forget the church schedule and wander in any time.
- Plenty of room and supplies in the nursery, including extra cribs and diapers. Your event most likely wasn't for babies, but younger children often have younger siblings. Be sure everyone in the family is welcome.
- Be certain all the children's classes or programs extra helpers on hand. Depending on the size of the church outreach, you may need to recruit new teachers. Plan ahead for the required training and background checks needed.
- Some kind of informational material to give new parents about check-in, paging at church if you have a system for that, what you will be teaching, etc. If you have handouts that give parenting advice or tips, you might consider a "New Parent's Information Packet."
- Just like before a new child is brought into a family, for a few weeks ahead prepare the children in your church for newcomers. Pray together for new children to come to your outreach event; equip your children with invitations to give to their friends, encourage the children to be welcome new people at the event and at church; tell them what is expected of them as little ambassadors of Jesus; reinforce welcoming behaviors.
In addition to the children's ministries, make certain every ministry in your church expects, looks for and is welcoming to new members.
Keep in mind that if you worked hard to get totally unchurched people to come to your event and if they come back to your regular church services or ministries they probably have no idea why your church does what it does. Be kind, explain, welcome. Invite them for coffee or brunch after church. Follow up with a phone call or added invitations. Nothing is worse than for a visitor to come to your church after a seasonal event and to walk away mumbling that "this place is for insiders only."
If you have materials for newcomers or follow-up events already in place visitors will feel welcomed and comfortable and more open to getting to know Jesus as well as becoming involved with your church. Nothing is more wonderful than for a visitor to say, "I felt like I came home, found a family I never knew I had, and a Savior who loves me."
Lots of work, but essential to the success of your event
All of the suggestions above might seem like an excessive amount of work when all you want to do is put on a successful Christmas party or other holiday celebration and then go away and sleep for a week. But this foundational work is vital for your seasonal or special event to be truly successful.
Remember you aren't doing all the work for your event simply to get a great turn out or for people to say at the end of it, "a good time was had by all." Though we do want to get a great turn out and we do want people to have a good time—our ultimate goal that we must never lose sight of is that we want people to connect with our church, to come to know our Savior, and grow in Him. To do the work required is demanding, but as this verse reminds us:
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58).