Is Your Assembly A Welcoming Church?

If you were to ask most people in assemblies today whether they thought their church was welcoming to visitors you would probably get a positive answer. The reality is that for many of us it’s very difficult to put ourselves in the shoes of a first-time visitor.

We are so used to seeing what we are so used to seeing that we miss the glaring weaknesses and how we are perceived by visitors.

In his book, Becoming A Welcoming Church, Thom Rainer shares some very practical and helpful thoughts on how we can be as welcoming as possible to a first-time visitor.

It’s the simple things

Some of the things that turn people away are so simple such as how clean or cluttered the entrance or foyer is, being confused as to where to go for children’s programs, restrooms Etc.

One of the big hindrances to a person’s positive experience is a lack of information. People who do not go to church have no idea what the culture of church is like. It’s important for an assembly to have clear and attractive information to help visitors understand more about that culture.

This could contain information such as Services for children, adults and seniors, a mission statement, what the church believes and practices etc. Just don’t assume that a visitor is going to know anything about who you are or what you do.

The first impression

What if you were to walk into a restaurant and no one greeted you and you stood there for quite a while wondering what to do? For many people they would simply leave. This is so important in a church that there is a team of greeters ready with a smile to help those who are coming in for the first time.

These greeters should be friendly, have all the information necessary to answer questions about the church and point them in the right direction for where to take children or where to go next.

A gift for you

Who doesn’t like to get a gift? A very practical way to make a good first impression is to give a gift to first-time visitors. This gift could be something as simple as a mug and some literature or maybe a book explaining the gospel or a CD with a gospel message on it. Giving a gift is just a nice gesture to help people feel more welcome.

Safety and security

With so much scandal going on in the world today it’s imperative that every assembly has a plan for Safety and Security. If people are going to come back to your church they need to feel safe especially when it concerns their children.

Have a clear plan to protect children and those who are vulnerable. Make that plan known to visitors so they can feel safe. If your assembly does not have a plan for Safety and Security then it’s time to start right now.

Just as I am

Does your assembly accept people as they are? If a person is seeking God and comes to your church for the very first time they are going to be confused and turned off if you expect them to conform to your practices before even presenting the gospel to them.

This is a fundamental challenge for the assemblies. Do you ask a female visitor to wear a head covering before you even know if she’s saved? Would you ask a young man to take his hat off in order to listen to the message?

People are all on a journey and as representatives of the Lord Jesus we need to meet people where they are at and accept them for who they are. Showing them the love of Christ is paramount to presenting the gospel.

Not those people!

When someone walks into your church covered in tattoos and piercings how would you look at them? What if two men walked in holding hands how would you look at them? With disgust? Or would you look at them through the eyes of Christ with love? Would you walk up to them and with a smile welcome them and shake their hand? This is all part of accepting people as they are.

So take some time to evaluate your assembly. If you were to walk in the door for the very first time and you knew nothing about church what would your perception be? Would you feel welcome? Would you feel safe? Would you feel accepted? Would you want to come back?



  1. Avatar

    Great article. Real food for thought here Crawford. Thanks. We live in a day when there are people walking through our doors and have never been in a church before. They are often hurting, sometimes desperate, frightened and need love and warmth. For some, we are the emergency room for their souls and have the opportunity to point them to the Healer. You’re right, we need to evaluate what would it be like to be in their situation walking through our doors for the first time. A great challenge for us all to consider.


  2. Avatar

    Not thrilled, Crawford. I’m all for us being welcoming, but let’s not forget what the local church is there for; not for outreach, but for edification.

    Some of what you say is fair, and I’m glad you said it; but some of it reminds me of the ’70s trend toward “seeker sensitivity” transformations in church structure and doctrine. I think we both realize that only some of the truth we stand for can be presented in ways accommodating to visitors. On the other hand, some cannot, without us compromising the truth of God.

    When people come into our assemblies, it should not be the case that we suddenly stumble over ourselves to change our behaviour or our manner of meeting. If we find that we have to do that, it just shows we’ve become inauthentic, and that’s a much bigger problem.

    The bottom line is this: the church is for believers to be built up, and evangelism is for the streets. If we ever forget that, we end up hiding the gospel inside a building, and weakening the church so it no longer makes its first priority its real priority.


    • Avatar

      Thanks Orvis. I only agree with part of what you said. While church meetings are for the church there is definitely a ministry of the church to be evangelistic. You see this many times in the book of Acts. The church was heavily involved and visible in the community and they were known for their love and joy.

      The assemblies (and other churches) have lost sight of being a witness. The “Holy Huddle” has left believers with the mindset that we don’t need to be active in reaching the community. A person should be able to walk in off the street and find loving, welcoming saints who are not going to judge them. They should find Christ in the church. Of all people he was the most accepting and welcoming to the lost.


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        Actually, Crawford, I wonder what passages you can possibly be thinking of when you say you see something like a church meeting for evangelism “many times” in Acts. In fact, we in Scripture we NEVER see a church meeting for evangelism. Not one, not once.

        Now, you’ll note that when the Great Commission was given, it was given to the disciples personally, but never to the Church. No example of an in-church evangelization happens anywhere in the NT. Peter, Paul, Phillip — none of them ever ran a church meeting for evangelism. And you’ll note that in Revelation, none of the churches, from Ephesus to Laodicea, is either praised for its evangelism nor condemned for its failure to evangelize.

        The upshot of this is very clear: evangelism was never part of the church-gathering mandate: it was for the believers themselves to do personally. Even the gift of evangelism is never seen operating in the context of the local church. Our problem is not a “holy huddle.” It’s that we’re not taking the gospel to the streets, where it reaches those we’ve been told to reach.

        Now, I understand how popular it is to day to re-imagine the local church as a community gathering centre or evangelism plant; and in that line of thought, it’s not hard to see why people imagine it ought to be “welcoming.” But that’s not the hallmark of the healthy local church in Scripture. According to the Word of God, the people who “walk in off the street” hoping to find people who “aren’t going to judge them,” would be very disappointed with the early church in Acts 5:13, wouldn’t they? And they’d also be equally upset by the church meeting described in the one and only passage in which we find any unbeliever entering into the meetings of the local church, in 1 Cor. 14:24-25. In fact, the hallmark of a really spiritual local church is that people CAN’T just walk in there casually and feel good about themselves.

        So the goal of “welcoming” unbelievers is very far from the Biblical pattern for a church, I think you’ll find. We’d be better to work on doing what the Scriptures tell us to do: “let all things be done for edification.” (1 Cor. 14:26)


  3. Gary McBride

    I agree that the primer focus of a local church is edification, equipping, encouraging and even exhorting but there are some indicators of evangelism. The local church is a “lamp stand”, in Phil.2:13 we are to be lights in the world, and in 1 Peter 2 we are a “royal priesthood” bearing witness. Priesthood is a collective noun and is only demonstrated when believers gather. The Thessalonians were commended because the word of the Lord “sounded forth” from them.
    The issue of a “welcoming church” can apply to believers who happen to visit our Assembly. In my travels this is lacking in many places. I wonder at times if I was not “the speaker” if anyone would bother talking to me.


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      Well, Gary, I’ve got to say heard these sorts of explanations before, and nothing in them surprises me or comes close to being convincing, honestly. And I owe you reasons, I’m sure.

      Does a “lamp stand” mean “evangelism,” rather than, say “light” or “truth”? That seems most unlikely. The job of priests is essentially directing toward God on behalf of men (Heb. 5:1), not to evangelize men. As for the Thessalonians, you’ll note what that passage actually says; that the word certainly didn’t “sound in” their gathering, but “sounded forth” so that all those in Macedonia and Achaia, as well as “every place.” Now, last time I looked, none of these places was in a church building, nor was any even in Thessalonica the city. So how does one get “evangelism” from any of these? Not by any reasonable exegesis I can see.

      So yes, the church CAN be welcoming. No problem there. But it cannot legitimately take its shape or morph its services and mandate to fit a purpose of creating in-church evangelism, a pattern that literally exists nowhere in Scripture. And the local believers are using the meeting as an organ of evangelism, so they don’t have to do any, then what they’re doing is actually disobedient. And I’m pretty sure you’d agree with that.

      The local church is for the edification of believers. The presence of unbelievers in the meetings is considered as a possibility in Scripture, but only once (1 Cor. 14: 24-26 is the only example), and then it is indisputably in a situation in which the church is edifying its members and using its gifts, causing the unbeliever to “fall on his face and confess that God is among you of a truth.” That’s not evangelism, as the context clearly shows. And it may not be particularly the “welcome” an unbeliever anticipated, right?


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