TIPS: Become a Welcoming Congregation

Tips and Hints
By Danette Clifton
Director of Communication, North Alabama Conference of The United Methodist Church

As part of the Rethink Church welcoming ministry, the United Methodist Church has provided resources to help each United Methodist congregation become better at welcoming visitors.

One option congregations have is to apply to become a “Certified Welcoming Congregation.”  To qualify your congregation must achieve 100 points on a Welcoming Checklist. You can read more about becoming a Certified Welcoming Congregation at 

Below are some tips to help your church in each area that will help you qualify as a Certified Welcoming Congregation.

Even if you do not want to pursue Certified status, the following tips and hints can help your congregation become more welcoming.



 1. Welcoming coordinator/team

PURPOSE: To address the needs and concerns of newcomers and to develop and maintain a welcoming environment within the church.

This team should work closely with your church’s evangelism and discipleship teams.

Make sure to include greeters, ushers, nursery workers, visitor center volunteers, custodian, lay leader, church council representative and others with the spiritual gift of hospitality on this team.
TIP: Also make sure all age groups – children, youth, young adults, adults, senior adults – are represented so your congregation can prepare for newcomers of ALL AGES.

IMPORTANT: This team coordinates welcoming efforts but the WHOLE congregation must develop a welcoming lifestyle!

DOCUMENTATION: Send in a picture of your team working together and include a printed list of the team members and their responsibilities.

2. Church brochure
To introduce newcomers to the ministries of your congregation and to help them to “plug in” to your congregation.

Newcomers are the target audience for this brochure.  Avoid “insider” language – such as acronyms and abbreviations. Make sure your brochure answers the newcomer’s question, “How could this church be important to me?”

Explain any term that you don’t think the person standing in line at the local grocery would understand.
TIP: This brochure should be updated at least once a year… an out-of-date brochure says “Our congregation is out of touch and we don’t care!”
TIP: This brochure will be a reflection of your congregation. Make sure it is well done and of an acceptable quality (no crooked folds, typos or smudged print).
TIP: Develop a brochure and have a “shell” professionally printed. This will include the information not likely to change – church address, phone number, website; one paragraph church history; church vision statement, etc.  Then add in more timely information by printing that into the shell on your copier (or have Kinko’s do that for you!).  

DOCUMENTATION: Send in a brochure sample.

3. Welcoming 101 training for majority of members

PURPOSE: An organized way to begin the process of developing a lifestyle of welcoming and hospitality.

Use the Rethink Church resources available by clicking here.

TIP: Offer this training several times a year to include as many people as possible.
TIP: Offer the training at least one month prior to a special event (such as Easter, Christmas, Open House month.)

DOCUMENTATION: Take a picture of your Welcoming 101 training session or have someone write a brief essay entitled “What I learned in Welcoming 101.”

4.  Participation in September open house month
To give your congregation an opportunity to emphasize their inviting and welcoming skills.  Planning special events and worship festivals and making other efforts to welcome those in the community present perfect opportunities to intentionally recognize Christ in everyone – and to remember that newcomers may look for Christ in us.

United Methodist Open House month occurs across the country each September.

TIP: The national Rethink Church television commercials run in September. Join together with other Churches and add to the advertising effort locally – newspaper ads, billboards, radio ads, television ads.

DOCUMENTATION: Take pictures of the event(s). Send in samples of your advertising and direct mail invitations.


5.  Hold a community-wide event

PURPOSE: To give your congregation an opportunity to emphasize their inviting and welcoming skills.  Planning special events present perfect opportunities to intentionally recognize Christ in everyone – and to remember that newcomers may look for Christ in us.

The resource 50 Inviting, Welcoming and Discipling ideas for less than $500 has ideas for your congregation.

Plan special events to which those people in your community, who don’t regularly attend church, will be attracted. Send special invitations (direct mail pieces) and place advertising to reach those people.
TIP: Free food always gets people’s attention.

DOCUMENTATION: Take pictures of the event(s). Send in samples of your advertising and direct mail invitations.

6. Guesy material packet
To introduce newcomers to the ministries of your congregation. This is an expansion of your church brochure.

Newcomers are the target audience for this packet. Remember no “insider” information and make sure you provide information about the programs in which newcomers are most interested.

Package this information attractively – such as in a folder or bag with your church’s name on it. Update the contents of this welcome packet monthly (or better yet weekly).
TIP: Include things such as your church brochure; your latest newsletter; flyers and information about upcoming events for all age groups; a list of Sunday School classes and small groups to join; a schedule of children’s and youth activities; upcoming mission projects; a tape/CD of the latest sermon; and contact information for a person to help the newcomer “plug in” to your church. Also include some surprises and treats for the whole family – such as candy, bookmarks, etc.
TIP: This is a great thing to hand out at your VISITOR’S CENTER along with a HOSPITALITY GIFT when a newcomer signs the GUEST REGISTER.

DOCUMENTATION: Send in a sample welcome packet.

7. Welcoming Center
To provide a clearly marked and “staffed” area where newcomers can come to pick up information and ask questions.

This is your church’s “customer service” desk.  Remember “the customer is always right” and “there are no stupid questions.”

Make sure the Visitor Center is clearly labeled and located in a high traffic area in your church building.
TIP: Always have at least one person “staff” the visitor center during church events.  Make sure these volunteers have been trained and have all the information needed to answer common questions.
TIP: Have your CHURCH BROCHURE and WELCOMING MATERIALS as well as a MAP OF FACILITIES available at the Visitor’s Center.  

DOCUMENTATION: Send in a picture of your volunteers working the Welcoming Center.



8. Church cards for all members

PURPOSE: To provide church members a “calling card” they can use to both invite newcomers and follow up with newcomers.

These are business card size and have the Church name, address, phone number, website, worship times, etc. printed on one side. The other side is blank so church members can write their name and contact information on it and hand it to someone as either an invitation or follow up.

Encourage church members to keep these cards on hand at all times.
TIP: Encourage church members to give a newcomer their card if they have had an extended conversation with them at a church event. They can close the conversation by saying, “I’ve enjoyed meeting you.  Here’s my church card. Call me [e-mail me] if you have any questions.”

DOCUMENTATION: Send in a church card sample.

9. Designated guest parking
To let guests know that your congregation is expecting them and to ensure they get the best parking spaces available.

Purchase signs that are permanent and easily visible and place them at the available parking places closest to the main door of the church. (Taking into consideration Handicapped Parking).

To be even more welcoming, besides just “Visitor parking”, you may also want to designate close-to-the-door spaces as “Parents with Small Children Parking” or “Senior Citizen Parking.”
TIP: If your congregation has designated parking for the pastor and staff, make sure their spots are far away from the front door.  This sends the message that the pastor and staff are here to serve the visitors and congregation and not the other way around.

DOCUMENTATION: Take pictures of your designated parking in relation to the church building.

10. Greeters
To have smiling faces offer a hardy “hello” and warm handshake to everyone that comes into the church building.

Make sure all your greeters go through GREETER TRAINING at least once a year.  This will help keep their welcoming skills fresh and intentional.

Use a variety of people to serve as greeters. Remember newcomers ask, “Is there anyone here like me?”
TIP: Make sure this task is something all your greeters enjoy. If they don’t, your visitors will be the first to know!
TIP: Some of the BEST greeters in your congregation are under the age of 12.  They can be most effective when greeting with an adult buddy.

DOCUMENTATION: Take a picture of your greeting team in action.

11.  Quarterly greeter/usher training
To help ushers and greeters understand their jobs better and to give them an overview of the welcoming lifestyle your congregation is trying to develop.

Have both a list of practical duties for which greeters and ushers are responsible. But also include some theological background/ Biblical guidance as to why “welcoming the stranger” is so important in the life of the church. In other words, help them see this is their ministry not a duty.

Offer the training quarterly will allow you to constantly be adding more and more ushers and greeters.  This will keep “new energy” on the team and also will provide enough volunteers that long-time ushers and greeters don’t become overworked and burned-out.
TIP: This is a great ministry for new members.  They can better remember their first time through the church doors and know what was most helpful in making them feel welcome.
TIP: Also include at least a week of “on the job” training as part of this course.  Have newly trained greeters and ushers work side by side with seasoned veterans so they can ask questions an feel more comfortable in their new job.

DOCUMENTATION: Send in a picture of a training session or a copy of the curriculum your congregation has developed for the training.

12. Intentional seating of guests
To help visitors feel welcome and to facilitate and environment where all church members engage in conversation with new comers.

Ushers should be trained to “ush” people and seat them near members they may have something in common with, or those members whole will show a genuine interest in them. Remember newcomers ask themselves “Does anybody here care about me?”

Ushers should be approachable and able to strike up conversations with newcomers to help in this process.
TIP: Remember, some visitors want to be anonymous, so it is best not to set up a “visitors” section, but to seat visitors among regular attenders.

DOCUMENTATION: Send in a sample of the usher training course you develop to help them learn about intentional seating.

13. Name badges for all members
To help facilitate fellowship among both members and newcomers by allowing them to learn each other’s name.

Newcomers are asking themselves “Is anybody here like me?” So don’t label newcomers with a nametag unless your members are also wearing nametags.

Use a computer to print the name tag and make sure the font is large enough to comfortably read the persons name for a social distance.
TIP: Once you make permanent nametags for your members, provide a system through which new members and new attenders can to request to have a nametag so they can feel a part of the congregation.

DOCUMENTATION: Send in a sample nametag.

14. Guest register
To have a specific place visitors can register and request specific information.

If a guest signs the guest register, he or she wants to be recognized.  Have a method- such as letter from the pastor, special postcard or greeting card – so that your congregation can properly recognize them and thank them for visiting.

This register is a good way to collect information specifically from your visitors, such as “How did you hear about our church?”
TIP: The guest register is also a good way to allow visitors to sign up to receive more information about things such as your church’s children’s program, youth program, small groups, mission opportunities, etc.
TIP: The GUEST REGISTER should be located at the VISITOR’S CENTER so the visitors also can have contact with a trained volunteer.

DOCUMENTATION: Send in a photo copy of one page of your guest register.

15. Church newsletter sent to visitors
To help visitors learn the current news and events in the life of your congregation.

Sending a newsletter to a visitor will not make him or her read it. For your newsletter to be effective, it must be attractive, reader-friendly and inviting to read.

For newcomers to get the most benefit from your newsletter, it should also be newcomer-friendly – no insider language; no acronyms or abbreviations; use first and last names to identify staff, leaders and other contact people.
TIP: To help you evaluate the quality of your newsletter, the Office of Communication has developed 20 Questions to a Better Newsletter.
TIP: To get the addresses of visitors, and members alike, develop a registration process – such as pew pads or cards in the bulletin.  Also it helps to have a computerized database to keep track of your members and visitors.
TIP: To respect former visitors and to help your church save money, also include a plan of when you remove someone from you mailing list – such as after they have gone 3 months without visiting again.  

DOCUMENTATION: Send in a sample of your newsletter and a written summary of how you add visitors to your mailing list.

16. Follow-up by clergy first week
17. Follow-up by clergy second week
To let your visitors know that their visit was noticed and appreciated.

Clergy can send a formal letter or a hand written card simply saying they appreciate the person’s visit.

Also, include information of the appropriate person to contact to find our more information about church events and how to “plug in” to church groups and activities.
TIP: Make sure the first week and the second week letters are different!

DOCUMENTATION: Send in sample letter(s) from the pastor.

18. Follow-up by Laity first week.
19. Follow-up by Laity second week

To let your visitors know that their visit was noticed and appreciated.

HINT: Newcomers often see the pastor as a person paid to be nice to them or to “be the church.” A letter from a caring layperson may be unexpected and make the visitor feel more welcomed.

Make the letter as personal as possible – hand written, mention any contact or conversation with the visitor.
TIP: Find a group of people who will commit to meeting visitors and writing letters each week.  They will be an important addition to your church’s WELCOMING TEAM.

NOTE: Some people will welcome a face-to-face follow-up, such as a visit to their home. However, many people are uncomfortable with this approach.  A letter is usually a good option.

DOCUMENTATION: Send in sample letter(s) from a layperson.

20. Hospitality gift to each new visitor
To give visitors a tangible token of appreciation for their visit.

HINT: Select a gift that many people will appreciate and use – such a coffee mug, t-shirt, mouse pad, umbrella, etc.  Have a set printed with your church name and logo.  This way, every time they use your gift, the visitors will remember your church.

TIP: Have these gifts available at the VISITOR’S CENTER.
TIP: Another option – immediately following the worship service, have a team of people go through the registration forms and deliver the gift to first-time visitors homes.  Make sure this team is trained to keep their time at the person’s home brief with no motive other than to drop off the hospitality gift.

DOCUMENTATION: Send in a picture of your hospitality gifts.

21. Tour of facilities for each new visitor
To help your visitors feel “more at home” inside your church building.

HINT: Plan who is responsible for giving the tours – Visitor Center volunteers, ushers, or greeters – then train any potential tour guides.

TIP: Advertise that a tour option is available.  Put a sign up at the VISITOR’S CENTER and put a note in the bulletin.

DOCUMENTATION: Send in a picture of your tour guide training.

22.  Map of facilities posted
To help people learn their way around your church building and to “feel more at home” there.

Make the map clear and readable on white paper.  Include ALL portions of your facility on the map.

TIP: Make the map available at the VISITOR’S CENTER.
TIP: Also post maps throughout the building, always marking “You are here.”

DOCUMENTATION: Send in a copy of the map.

23. New class begun for visitors and new members - especially children and youth
To help newcomers move toward growing in Christian discipleship.

There are two approaches to this one.  The first option is to develop a short term class for visitors and people thinking of joining the church.  In this class they can meet the pastor, learn about the Christian faith, learn about The United Methodist Church, learn the history of your congregation, learn the future plans of your congregation and how they can get more involved.  The second option is to begin new Sunday School classes and/or small groups that are designed around the interests of newcomers more so than current members.

TIP: In a newcomer class provide a FACILITY TOUR and a chance to meet the staff and lay leadership – don’t assume anyone has already done all of this on their own before they decide to join your church.
TIP: Use the people in these classes to serve as a “focus group” that will honestly tell you how welcoming your congregation is and where you could improve and what would have been more helpful during the time they were first visiting the church.

DOCUMENTATION: Send in a picture of a new class or send in a written description of an new classes.

24. Use an invitational program, i.e. “Bring a Friend” at least once a year.
PURPOSE: To provide an opportunity that will encourage your members to invite non-church attenders to church.  This will also be an opportunity to focus on the entire congregation’s welcoming skills.

When your congregation plans a “Bring a Friend” event or worship service, plan that event or worship service with the newcomers in mind.

Use the invitational program more than once, it will take a couple of times for some of your members to get the courage to invite someone to church.
TIP:  OPEN HOUSE MONTH is a great time to implement an invitational program.

DOCUMENTATION: Send in the announcements or instructions members got as to how they could participate. Also, send in the number of visitors on that special weekend.

25. Renovate or fix up entry (or other areas)
To help make your church building more inviting to newcomers (and members).

You never have a second chance to make a good first impression.

TIP: Make the entrance as inviting as the front door of someone’s house – fresh paint, flowers, a clean porch, safe steps to climb. Think about both the exterior and interior part of the entrance.
TIP: Consider safety as much as the cosmetic look of the entrance.
TIP: Don’t stop at the front door – make sure your sanctuary is clean and inviting, your nursery is clean and child friendly, the bathrooms are pleasant, Sunday School rooms and hall ways are clean and freshly painted.
TIP:  This is a great project to get your youth involved.  They can help evaluate the building and will honestly tell you what looks good and what parts of your church building seem “scary” or “smelly.”  

DOCUMENTATION: Send in “before” and “after” pictures.

26.  Welcoming sign at the street
To help passersby and those seeking to visit your church know where you church is located.

Make sure your sign is visible from the street and has your church name printed large enough and clearly enough to read.

If there are two streets that pass your church, consider a sign for each one.
TIP: Keep the area around the sign well groomed.  This WILL be the first part of your church visitors notice.

DOCUMENTATION: Send in a picture of your church sign.

27. Mystery Guest Audit
PURPOSE: To have a person not connected to your congregation to visit your church with the mission of evaluating your congregations welcoming skills.

: Arrange for more than one mystery guest – making sure they represent two different age groups and cultural backgrounds. This will give you a fuller picture of your congregation’s welcoming lifestyle.

Have a friend from another church to find the mystery guests to visit your congregation.  This way, no one in your congregation will know the guests or know when to expect them.  You can then return the favor for your friend’s church.
TIP: Have each guest fill out the Audit form and then be available for a face to face conversation with members of your WELCOMING TEAM.

DOCUMENTATION: Send in photocopies of the completed Mystery Guest audit or other documentation from your mystery guests.

28. Internal signs
To help newcomers find their way around your church building.

HINT: Members of your church know where the restrooms are and where the nursery is, however, this is important information to visitors and many of them will be too shy to ask someone.  Clear internal signs help these visitors feel more comfortable in your church building.

Include signs at the ends of each hall way directing people to specific places within the church (nursery, youth room, church office, sanctuary, etc.).
TIP: Also make sure ALL the entrances are labeled and include directional signs on the outside of the building to help visitors to decide which door to use in order to get to a specific part of the church.

DOCUMENTATION: Send in pictures of your internal signs.

29. Visitors joined small groups or Sunday School classes
To help visitors transition into being a part of the congregation and growing in Christian discipleship.

How to “join” a Sunday School class or small group is often confusing. Visitors aren’t sure if they can just show up, if they have to pay membership dues or learn the secret handshake.

TIP: Some people need a specific invitation to try something new. Develop a system where newcomers are intentionally given information about Sunday School classes and small groups along with a sincere invitation to join one.
TIP: A personal invitation from someone in that class or group is usually best.

DOCUMENTATION: Send in a list (or a numerical count) of newcomers who have joined Sunday School classes or small groups in the last 6 months.

30. Conduct a Friendliness audit
PURPOSE: To help your congregation be aware of how they naturally receive and welcome new people.

This can be a powerful exercise that helps church members come to terms with how they view their congregation. This exercise will also lead to discussion as to whom your church is here to serve.  There may be disagreements among members.  So conduct this exercise in a “safe environment” that encourages dialogue, not harmful conflict.

TIP: Remember as United Methodists we are a connectional church.  If your church does not have programs or facilities to best serve certain people, find another United Methodist Church near you that might have ministries for that person.  However, don’t let our connectional nature turn you away from starting a new ministry God is leading you to begin!

DOCUMENTATION: Send in a sampling of completed audits or a written summary of your discussion.

31. Yearly documented visitors total (10% or membership)
PURPOSE: To gain some statistical perspective as to how inviting and welcoming your congregation is becoming.

These number can best be documented with a attendance registration system in place and a database of all church members, attenders and visitor.

TIP: Many people will become actively “involved” in the life of your congregation long before they decide to take membership vows.
TIP: Decide how you define “newcomer.”  Does this mean only new members? Does it mean people who have visited consistently for more than 6 months?  Is it peopling who have become a part of some ministry in the church – a small group or worked on a mission project.  However you define this term, develop a system to keep track of the numbers.

DOCUMENTATION: Send in a print out with the numbers of visitors and newcomers for the last year.


32. Join and add social networking to your website
To use the internet as a means to both invite and welcome people to your church.

HINT: The key to social networking technology is people connect to people and organizations through the people they know.  Kinda like old fashion evangelism...

If you are going to participate in social networking you must be social.  Offer helpful and timely updates.

DOCUMENTATION: Send in the name or address of your church's social networking presense.

33. Up-to-date website with welcoming page
To use the internet as a means to both invite and welcome people to your church.

HINT: Many people now use the internet like they once used the yellow pages.  They seek out information about your church before they decide to visit.

Your website should be updated at least once a week… an out-of-date website says “Our congregation is out of touch and we don’t care!”
TIP: Have a section of your website just for potential visitors and newcomers with the basic information they need and want to know.
TIP: Your website is a representation of your congregation, make sure it looks professional, is easy to navigate and is updated often!
TIP: United Methodist Communications has developed a deal with E-zekiel to provide web resourcing to United Methodist Churches at a discounted price.    With the E-zekiel program you will be provided templates and web space.  A member of your congregation can keep your website up-to-date without having to become a computer/website expert.  Contact Danette Clifton in the Office of Communication (205) 226-7973 or  for more information.

DOCUMENTATION: Send in the address of your website.

35.  Weekly hospitality time
To provide a comfortable time for members to interact and talk with newcomers.  
HINT: Many newcomers are not accustomed to attending church. The experience can become uncomfortable to them.  The hospitality time provides a setting that is more familiar to them. Food and drink help put people at ease.

TIP: This is a great way to feature the talents of your congregation - ask your best cooks to provide homemade goodies, find more smiling faces who will pour coffee and soda.
TIP: Hold the hospitality time at a place and time each week where visitors will not have to go out of their way to attend.
TIP: Remember not everyone likes coffee and donuts.  Offer a variety of snacks and drinks so that all visitors can find something they like.  

DOCUMENTATION: Send in pictures of a hospitality time.  (Maybe even a sample of some of the goodies you serve).

36. Transportation to church available
To help eliminate possible transportation barriers that keep people from attending your church.

HINT: This is a great ministry for a group of people in your congregation. Many enjoy driving the church van or bus to pick up people.

TIP: Advertise transportation is available in all your advertising, on your website and in your church newsletter.
TIP: Possibly target a specific apartment complex, retirement community or a housing project and faithfully have a van make a run to and from that place each Sunday morning.  Check with the management of the facility and find ways to advertise this service to the residents.

DOCUMENTATION: Send in samples of advertising about the transportation, or a picture of your shuttle and shuttle drivers.

37. Utilize Rethink Church resources
To give your congregation helpful and practical resources to imporve your hospitality and outreach ministries.

HINT: Click here for resources online

TIP: There are a variety of resources avaialble. Different groups may choose to
use differentresources.

DOCUMENTATION: Send in pictures, copies of completed worksheets or have someone write a brief summary of how the resources helped them think of new ways to be a welcoming church.

38. Accessibility
To eliminate any physical barriers that will keep newcomers from feeling welcome in your congregation.

HINT: Click here for resources on the North Alabama Conference website

TIP: Start with your congregation and have then honestly tell you of accessibility problems they may have.  And then ask yourself, “What other accessibility issues does our church building have that are keeping others away?”

DOCUMENTATION: Send in pictures of improvements you made or send in a step by step plan your congregation has adopted to become more accessible.

39. Newcomer-friendly worship bulletin
To help newcomers comfortably follow the flow of the worship service and to gain basic instructions as to how they can participate.

HINT: Bulletins are often a comfort to visitors.  They provide something to hold, something to read when you don’t want to make eye contact with someone, etc.  When your church bulletin is newcomer-friendly they will also be able to learn more about the life of your congregation and be invited to participate in the worship service fully.

Clear your bulletin of any “insider language” – such as acronyms, abbreviations, first name only listings of staff and leaders.  Use the person in the grocery line test (see item #2 above).
TIP: Extent your newcomer-friendly style beyond the bulletin.  Take time to explain aspects of worship during the worship service.  This will not only help newcomers become more comfortable with the service, but may also help your members and regular attenders gain a deeper understanding of worship.

DOCUMENTATION: Send in a bulletin sample.


39. Complete Evaluation of Printed Materials
To do a quality and content check of all your church’s printed materials to make sure they are welcoming and informative to newcomers.

HINT: Remember, all your print materials are a representation of your church.  

Use the worksheet in the Planning Kit to evaluate your church bulletin, church newsletter and CHURCH BROCHURE.
TIP: Find someone outside your congregation (and better yet, a non-church attender) who will look over your printed materials and honestly tell you what they don’t understand and what doesn’t communicate well to them.
TIP: The Office of Communication can provide more guideline as to how to improve your printed materials.  Contact Danette Clifton at (205) 226-7973 or

DOCUMENTATION: Send in samples of all your print materials.

40. Other
To fully extend the hospitality of Jesus Christ.

Be creative.  Discover the needs of your visitors and find the best way to meet those needs so that all visitors can feel well welcomed into your congregation.
If you have any questions or want more information…
Contact: Danette Clifton in the North Alabama Conference Office of Communication  at (205) 226-7973.