The Congregational Development Corner: Preparing for guests


The Congregational Development Corner: 10 for 10 (10 steps for 10 percent growth)

During the 2016 Annual Conference session, action steps for congregational growth were shared during a Fruitfulness in Evangelism panel discussion, moderated by Rev. Jay Hanson, director of Congregational Development. Five clergy – Rev. Antonie Walker, Rev. Leigh Ann Raynor, Rev. Hale Bishop, Rev. Matt Hearn, and Rev. Jim Cowart – each shared two key tools for evangelism and growth and together gave clergy and lay attendees 10 action steps for 10 percent growth. 

In the next several Advocate issues Congregational Development will share articles to give you and your congregation practical steps for church growth and development. 

Preparing for guests

By Rev. Matt Hearn

My family and I recently went on vacation. On the Sunday we were gone we decided to visit the local Methodist Church and we got to experience first hand what it’s like to be a guest in a new place. 

As we pulled in, I noticed the visitor parking signs, so I pulled into one of the empty spaces. I was excited to experience their hospitality. We got out of the car and no one welcomed us. We were not sure which door to go in because there was no parking team, or greeters, or signs to direct us. So we picked a door and went inside. Inside there were greeters with bulletins. They said good morning, but did not ask if we needed assistance. We eventually found our way to the sanctuary. The service was nice, and the people there all seemed to enjoy themselves and each other. We felt a little like guests at a family gathering. 

What our guests experience as they make their way onto our church campuses will set the tone for the rest of their experience. How we set the stage starts to break down walls long before they enter into the sanctuary. Here are some ideas to help guests at your church feel like they belong. 

Before guests arrive

  • Website: This is your new front porch. Most people visit your website before they visit your church. A church should seriously consider how its website looks to those visiting it. Many church websites look very unprofessional and are difficult to navigate. Build your website for those who are considering a visit by giving directions and service times. When someone visits your site, you want them to have a clear understanding of what to expect. Great photos of the church set expectations. You may also want to include a link to your most recent sermon series. Do not clutter your website with announcements, as members are probably not visiting your website.
  • Streetscape: Curb appeal is an important aspect to drawing people into the church. Take a look with fresh eyes at the exterior of your grounds and make sure it’s as attractive as possible from the curb.
  • Clutter: Do you have stuff just laying around in the hallways? Are office doors open to display cluttered desks? When was the last time you updated your bulletin boards? Many times we become so comfortable with clutter we don’t notice it anymore. Your guests will notice.
Guest experience

The first thing you need to know about preparing for guests is the Seven Minute Rule. The Seven Minute Rule simply means that a guest decides whether or not to return to your church within the first seven minutes of their visit. So you need to be prepared to make a great first impression. Here is a list of things to work on to make sure your first-time guest becomes a second-time guest. 
  • Parking Team: Consider adding a parking team to your hospitality team. The parking team extends the hospitality of your church into the parking lot. This is a friendly face that can answer a question and point your guest in the right     direction. It begins to lower the anxiety of the first time guest. 
  • Signage: Guests need to know their next step when they arrive on your campus. You are answering their question before they even ask. Please do not post handwritten signs. Make sure you have signs for three specific areas: 
    • Bathrooms: This sign needs to be visible from every entrance. A guest should not have to ask where the restrooms are located.
    • Children’s check-in area: Guests are asking: do you have a place for my children? Having signs directing them to the children’s check-in area answers that question. You also want to make sure this area is secure and clean. Make sure parents are comfortable with your process.
    • Sanctuary: The two greatest fears guests have when visiting a church are being asked to pray out loud and walking through the wrong door and ending up on stage. Make sure you point guests to the main entrance to your sanctuary so they don’t end up walking through the wrong door.
  • Host team: Do you have a team of volunteers to engage and assist guests? Do they talk to one another instead of engaging guests? Are they standing inside or are they outside so guests can see them? Make sure your host team is trained and understands how critical their ministry is to the work of the church. You may want to consider giving the host team a script to help them engage guests.
  • Culture: Is your hospitality engaging or just friendly? Most people believe that their church is friendly because their friends go to their church. You don’t want to be just a friendly church, you want to be an engaging church. This means going out of your way to make sure guests feel welcome and wanted.
Rev. Matt Hearn serves as senior pastor of Gateway Community Church in Pooler. Contact him at

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