Have you ever considered how much preparation and planning goes into getting ready for a typical Sunday when we gather for worship and Bible study? We do it every week—plan and rehearse music, sermon preparation, Bible studies planned, volunteers contacted and more!

We love to get together as the “family” of God, but we are ever aware that it is our joy and privilege to welcome guests who are new to the community or might even be starting on a new journey of faith, and they want to connect with a local church. The Bible tells us to “welcome one another as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom 15:7).

We have heard the stories and may have even seen “the greeter” in action, as the worst- and best-case scenarios of being a welcoming, loving church come to mind. If you have been around ministry for very long, you probably have a few stories about people who did not feel welcomed at church.

Stories abound about people who come into our churches, and no one speaks to them. They are asked to move from someone’s saved seat, etc. In my role as the worship specialist for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, I go to many churches, so I see firsthand how churches care for guests and welcome regular attenders back from week to week.

Most of us cannot even remember the first time we stepped into a church, and chances are, we were there with family and friends. Can you imagine what it must be like as a “non-church” person to come to your church? Would they know where to go or what to do?

Becoming a “welcoming church” is not a marketing gimmick or should not be based on some survey that says more people return or join our church if they feel welcome. The motivation for welcoming guests and greeting our members each week should be out a motivation to treat others as we want to be treated. I believe Jesus had something to say about that (see Matt. 7:12).

1. Be intentional and have a plan. Many churches have a “First Impressions” ministry and are very strategic in their approach to make everyone welcome. Some studies have shown that when people visit a church for the first time, they make up their mind whether to return in the first five minutes. Training and recruitment are key. Get a plan and make sure it is working. As they say, “You don’t get a second chance to make good first impression.”

2. Select your team carefully. I served in a church (not in Oklahoma) where our “greeters” had been in the greeting business for many, many years. It was not a matter of age, but a matter of function. Have friendly, people-loving people to greet and welcome. In the training time, communicate where to be, what to do, how long to stay, etc. This is huge! Set the bar high—this is an important ministry and can affect every ministry area in your church.

3. Start in the parking lot. Having greeters in the parking lot sends a great signal. It says, “We are expecting you.” Have your parking lot greeters in brightly colored vests and make sure they are “happy” people.

4. Signage matters. I’ve driven to churches on Sunday morning and literally did not know where to enter the church. Some churches have multiple entry points, so communicate clearly to guests where to park and where to enter the church. Have signage that is fresh, current—no outdated faded signs here. Signage matters inside as well. Directions to restrooms should be clearly marked, so guests don’t have ask. Also, signage and directions to the children’s area is important. If there is a “check-in station,” please make sure to have one or two people who know how to check a child in and give instructions for pick-up, etc.

But wait, there’s more! To hear four other steps and for more ideas, join me for a breakout session at the State Evangelism Conference, Jan. 28-29, at Del City, First Southern.

Visit sec.okbaptist.com to learn more.