I read a two-part blog series about welcoming worship guests that has many points that can be retasked to our Sunday School efforts. The two post posts are 10 Practices to Welcome Church Visitors Part 1 and 10 Practices to Welcome Church Visitors Part 2. The two posts offer many additional resources to help improve your first impressions. The ten practices are in all capitals (changed and in italics where necessary to apply to Sunday School) followed by my commentary:
- RECRUIT A GREETING MINISTRY TEAM. Here the emphasis is on a general team to welcome guests at entrances. Make sure they are in place 15-30 minutes before Sunday School starts and stay in place for 10-15 minutes after it has started. Worship greeters should be in place similarly before and after worship. Enlist friendly people. Look for an opportunity to serve. Register guests. Take them to classes. Introduce them to the classes with as little interruption or embarrassment as possible. Share a copy of the registration information.
- REGULARLY TRAIN NEW GREETERS. Train new general and class greeters, but also provide reminders and updates for greeters already serving. Depending on greeter turnover and church size, training twice yearly or quarterly should be enough. Help greeters know how to serve people, break the ice conversationally, and do the basics.
- HOSPITALITY OR WELCOME CENTER. Door greeters direct people to your welcome center greeters who greet guests, register them, share church and Sunday School information, and escort them to classes.
- CLASS WELCOME FOLDER OR PACKET. Why not develop a brochure for your class or Sunday School as a whole? For more information, check out this blog post: Company’s Coming: Writing a Promotional Piece to Attract Sunday School Guests for a Second Visit. Give them out at the welcome center or in the classes. Add a few nice expressions of appreciation for their visit to each packet.
- "GO AND GREET SOMEONE" OR "PASS THE PEACE." The teacher or other class leader initiates this time which could take place just before the official start of the Sunday School lesson. Or it could take place at lesson end after the closing prayer (make sure you save time). The original post referenced above suggests four actions: get up, go meet, give your name, and greet (especially focused on guests). We do this whenever we have guests in my Sunday School class at the end of class.
- SECRET GREETERS. Why not enlist a few "unofficial" greeters to supplement the greeting of your officially enlisted general and class greeters? Release the willingness to serve by extroverts, former pastors, and others who can give extra attention to guests and members alike.
- TEACHER RECOGNITION. Russ, the teacher of my class, at the end of class simply thanks guests (by name) for attending and encourages class members to introduce ourselves before leaving the class. The blog post referenced above shared a quote from page 110 of a great book by Gary McIntosh entitled Beyond the First Visit: The Complete Guide to Connecting Guests to Your Church. Here is the quote: "Whatever you do, take great pains not to embarrass the newcomer. Among other things this means you should not identify new people by placing a ribbon, flower, or name tag on them. Do not ask visitors to stand and speak before the entire congregation. A survey of one thousand adults 18 years of age or older reported that “making a speech” was the number one event causing adults to be nervous. It ranked first, ahead of, in order, getting married, interviewing for a job, going to the dentist, a first date, and getting a divorce."
- FRIENDSHIP PADS, FELLOWSHIP BOOKS. These are more often used in worship, but they could be used in medium and larger classes. The blog post says, "These are books that gather attendance information and provide a place for visitors to identify themselves by checking a box on the form. The idea is that other people in the row would see the check in the visitor box and take the initiative to greet." Another way to get guest contact information is to have all attenders complete a card/slip. Members can turn in prayer requests, number of ministry contacts made, etc. while guests give personal contact information. This is the system mentioned in another great book: Fusion: Turning First-Time Guests into Fully-Engaged Members of Your Church.
- QUALITY SNACKS AND BEVERAGES. Make a great impression. Don't offer stale cookies and burnt coffee. Keep it fresh. While quality costs a bit more, it is worth the difference. Warn if a food contains nuts or other allergen. Healthy options are also appreciated by many. Look for opportunities to connect especially with those who are by themselves around the snacks and beverages.
- SUNDAY SCHOOL GREETERS AND HOSTS. Class greeters/hosts can make members and guests feel welcome. Class greeters greet guests, register them, introduce them, and escort them to find their children, restrooms, and worship. Bottom line, class greeters extend interest and care to the guests. For more ideas about greeters and care group leaders, check out these posts: A Simple Two-Part System for Getting Sunday School Class Ministry Done, Part 1, A Simple Two-Part System for Getting Sunday School Class Ministry Done, Part 2, A Simple Two-Part System for Getting Sunday School Class Ministry Done, Part 3, and A Simple Two-Part System for Getting Sunday School Class Ministry Done, Part 4.