I was invited to speak at the online First Impressions Conference, a conference designed to help churches think about the experience first time guests have when they visit a church. It is an important topic so I was honored to speak, and speaking at the conference caused me to think once again about what is most important for a guest services team at a church.
Even among churches who prioritize welcoming and serving guests, churches approach this area of ministry differently and structure their team differently. By team, I am referring to the group of people who welcome guests in the parking lot, greet guests throughout the facility, usher guests, serve drinks and snacks to guests, welcome guests at information or welcome centers (or some other name), and host guests at an orientation or welcome/connection class. It takes a lot of great thinking and great people to pull that off well. Some churches call the team of people the “guest services team.” Others go with “first impressions” or “connections.” It is not only nomenclature that varies but the scope of responsibility. Some churches have the leader of that ministry take responsibility for each guest until the guest is connected to a group or goes through a class. Others are responsible for the weekend experience only, and another team is responsible for connecting the guests. But regardless of structure or scope of responsibility, this is THE most important responsibility of a guest services team:
Information for the guest (important but not most important)
First-time guests may have a variety of questions as they arrive. Where is the best place to park? Where do our kids go? Which door do we go through? Where do we sit? I am always reminded how overwhelming going to church can be for someone when I visit a church for the first time. I feel uneasy because I don’t know the answers to those questions. And I am a pastor. I know how this works!
Assimilation to the church (important but not the most important)
Helping a guest get connected into the life of the church is massively important. Helping a guest know what is next for them, in order to get connected, is important. Whether that next step is an orientation, a new member’s class, or a welcome lunch – knowing what the next step for a guest is equips the ministry leaders plan their communication and the invitations to guests with that next step in mind.
Demonstration of the gospel (most important)
Multiple times in the Scripture, Christians are commanded to be hospitable (I Peter 4:9, Hebrews 13:2, Romans 12:13, Titus 1:8). Hospitality is the combination of two words: stranger and love. To be hospitable is to welcome strangers with love, to welcome strangers as family. And why is this so important? We are commanded to be hospitable because Christ was hospitable towards us. He loved us while we were still strangers. While we were His enemies, He pursued us. A church’s guest services team should be a tangible demonstration of what we believe about God – that He welcomes strangers with love. This is most important because how we treat people can be a glimpse or a reminder to them of how God treats them. This is most important because this attribute of a guest services team impacts all the other attributes; it impacts how they share information with a guest and why they invite a guest to take a next step.
Information for the guest. Assimilation to the church. Demonstration of the gospel. I want all three. A team can do all three. But the most essential must be held as the most essential. Information for the guest and assimilation to the church are important, but not as important as demonstration of the gospel. A team of people who welcomes guests as Christ welcomes us is a beautiful demonstration of the message that has changed us.