Preaching Articles

Have you had a guest come to your church who seemed excited but never came back? Maybe you had a big day on Christmas, Easter or Mother’s Day (our three biggest days), only to have no return guests? Maybe as a pastor you feel, “We’ve had a lot of guests, but no one seems to be sticking.”

What’s going on?

The reality is, your church competes with a lot on a Sunday morning, and that competition is not other churches.

It is being outside, kids’ sports, sleeping in, football, errands, a slow morning, catching up, working out.

So how do you make a guest’s experience one where they return and become a regular attender?

Answer this question: Does your church environment communicate something positive?

When a guest shows up, here is what is running through their head:

  • Am I already here? Is there anyone else like me?
  • Were they expecting me?
  • How uncomfortable am I going to be?
  • Are they going to ask for my money?
  • How long will this last?
  • Will I have to do anything weird?
  • Will I feel stupid if I don’t know what to do?
  • Will my kids be safe?

If you don’t answer these questions for guests, they won’t want to return. Their defenses are too high.

Here’s a way to break through those: Create a church environment that says, “We’ve been expecting you.”

Here are some ways to do that:

1. Signs

The moment you think you have enough signs as a church is the moment you should buy some more signs. You can never have too many signs at your church.

A guest should be able to navigate your church without asking anyone where anything is.

I know this sounds uncaring, and you want community and want them to talk to you and let you know that they are there, but they don’t want to let you know they are there. They want to let you know they are there when they are ready to let you know that they are there.

You should have signs where the bathroom is, the auditorium, the front door (I can’t tell you how many churches I’ve been to where the door wasn’t obvious), and where kids and students meet.

2.  Give them something

One of the fears that a guest has is that a church wants something from them. So, give them something. Throw them off balance. Thank them for being there. They could’ve been anywhere, but they used their time to come to your church. So thank them.

Give them a gift and don’t make them give you a name and email to get it. Just give it to them.

We have a gift bag that we give to guests with some fun things in it and some information about our church. We put them on a table that stands by itself with no one manning the table.

Remember, let guests make themselves known when they are ready to do so.

If they fill out a connection card, we send them a Starbucks gift card to say thanks again.

3. Security for kids.

One of the questions a guest has relates to their kids, and this is a big deal in our culture. I’m blown away that there are still churches that do not check kids in and give a tag to parents. When you do this, your church is communicating, “We know everyone here.” That is completely unwelcoming to a guest.

You wouldn’t put your child in a childcare at a YMCA without getting a tag. Why should church be any different?

A tag communicates safety and security, which are enormous desires for parents when they arrive at church.

4. Talk directly to them in the service.

Many pastors when they stand on stage seem to be oblivious to guests. They talk only to the insiders. This communicates to a guest, “We weren’t expecting you.”

When you talk to guests, you speak directly to them. You also tell your regular attenders that we expect guests to be here. You can do this in the welcome when you tell them how glad you are to have them. Invite them back at some point in the service. Also communicate how long the service will be as that is one of their main questions. In the sermon or scripture reading or singing (which might be new to them), you can say something like, “You might be new and maybe you aren’t sure that Jesus exists. Here’s something to think about.” Or, “Here’s what you can do in this moment while we sing or take communion.”

All of this communicates care and we expected you to be here.



Josh Reich is the lead pastor of Revolution Church in Tucson, AZ, which is trying to live out the rhythms of Jesus. The church's dream is to "help people find their way back to God."

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Robert Bellotte

commented on Feb 1, 2017

I like the idea of a gift bag, what would be in one?

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