Most church visitors have a completely passive experience during their first time in church.
- They observe the lobby.
- They watch the sermon.
- They analyze the service program.
- They sort-of-pretend to know the music
The church welcome speech is the pastor’s one chance to make new visitors feel like they’re not aliens visiting from Mars.
The church welcome speech is the single opportunity that church leadership has to make an irreversible impression on newcomers.
Because here's the hard truth:
Visitors are judging.
Visitors are forming opinions.
Visitors are putting you in a box with other people they’ve experienced.
And you get about 3 minutes to proactively carve out a box for yourself, make visitors feel at ease, and communicate to them that your church is trustworthy, warm, energetic, and maybe even a place worthy of calling “home.”
Because this is the burden every welcome announcement carries for new visitors, the bar is very high.
If you’re too boring, you’ll lose visitors’ attention.
If you’re too dogmatic, you’ll lose the visitors’ trust.
If you’re too self-interested, you’ll lose the visitors’ good will.
And you know what?
That’s not a bad thing.
The fact that the welcome speech carries so much weight means it is a highly condensed opportunity to speak meaningfully to people who you’re encountering for the first time.
Here are 5 elements every welcome speech should have in order to keep attention, build trust, and grow good will among people visiting your church for the first time.
Perk: The better you are at welcoming people, the more your veteran members will enjoy it, too.
1. Make people laugh
Professional presenters often say: “If you can make ‘em laugh, you can make ‘em cry.”
The point is this: If you can make people laugh, it helps them relax.
Laughter will cause people to trust you more and be more interested in things you say.
If you say one thing that people find funny, they’ll believe you understand human nature and they’ll start to anticipate that your following comments will be profound and meaningful.
But making people laugh is about more than doing a standup routine.
The goal of the welcome speech isn’t about you being funny, but about the visitors feeling welcomed.
Here are a few tips to introduce humor into your welcome speech that don’t risk offending visitors, but which help you avoid being tacky:
- Never let your humor be at someone else’s expense (this makes you seem like a bully)
- Make a dad joke (this makes you seem fun-loving, but not self-serious)
- Use a pun or two (this adds light-heartedness to a church event)
- Reference your love of a local food favorite (it humanizes you so that people perceive you as relatable) — for example, “I pitched the elders that we move the church to Chick Fil A, but they didn’t want to do Sunday school in the drive thru, so we’re moving forward with the building campaign.”
Again, remember: Humor isn’t a frivolous matter.
If you can make them laugh, you can make them cry.
2. Give them something
Giving something away for free is a powerful way to put visitors at ease.
Try to find a way to give away a new item every single week to first-time visitors:
- A special invite to an event
- A free book for Bible study
- Church SWAG, such as branded mugs and coffee tumblers
- A Chick Fil A gift card
This may sound expensive, but the value of a first impression is priceless.
If your Chick Fil A gift card tips the scale for a first-time visitor to become a second-time visitor, you just paid $10 for a recurring attendee at your church. Google charges most people more than that just for a website visit.
Most businesses would pay $100 to convert a one-time user into a second-time user.
Don’t underestimate the value of your visitors by neglecting to utilize gifts to create good will with new church visitors.
The relational, communal, and financial payoff for the church of acquiring a new tithing member could have returns of 1000% and more.
3. Don’t use church welcome as an announcement junk drawer
Don’t use the church announcement time like a Starbucks bulletin board.
These precious few minutes are about people, not yammering on and on about in-house business that could be more easily and efficiently communicated through a church app.
Communicate logistical information to your church through email, text, and push notifications.
Use the precious real estate of your welcome speech to create a personal experience for new visitors.
Your return on investment will be much higher.
4. Always welcome newcomers
We’ve talked a lot about visitors so far, but it’s important not to forget the most important thing about a welcome speech — welcoming.
This means that you should speak directly to new visitors.
- Say “Thank you.” Express how grateful you are that visitors are at your church.
- Tell them where to go. Explain exactly where to go in the visitor’s center afterward.
- Tell them why you want them to go there. Explain that you would like to take new visitors out to lunch and learn more about them.
Create a script template that you can reuse week after week, using new humor, new ways of inflecting your invitation, and new offerings to give visitors.
5. Tell people to download the app
One of the most important elements of your welcome speech will be to direct people toward a tool that can immediately capture their information.
Ideally, you would have a church app that you can direct them to download directly during the welcome speech.
Tell them to enter their information in the church app, and then go to the visitor center after the service to collect this week’s free gift.
Use this prompt as a way to express to the entire congregation that they will need the church app for the best resources to follow along with the sermon, take notes, and share insights socially.
6. Explain the logistics of childcare
Childcare should be every church’s very first logistical priority.
If people don’t feel that a church has excellent childcare, they will not become members at that church.
Expressing clear childcare instructions to the congregation is the single greatest way to communicate to new visitors: “We care about you.”
Show how excellent your childcare is by preparing and communicating the necessary security, administrative, and custodial protocol so that visitors can simply enjoy the service and use your church's check-in station.
This will increase the rate at which you convert first-time visitors into second-time visitors, and second-time visitors into long-term members.
Take 15 seconds during the welcome speech to explain and detail instructions for parents.
Over to you
Many pastors spend hours a week preparing for the sermon, but they’ll wing the welcome speech.
The welcome speech is like the meet cute, and the sermon is the first date.
If you can spend 15 minutes preparing your welcome speech to optimize it for new visitors, you’ll have a much more eager audience among new visitors during the sermon.
Just follow this five-step protocol:
- Make them laugh
- Give them something
- Don’t use the church welcome speech as a church announcement junk drawer
- Always welcome newcomers
- Tell people to download the app
- Explain the logistics of childcare
You’ll be surprised how much return you’ll get on that 15 minutes of preparing and reviewing this welcome speech protocol every week.
Author: Paul Maxwell, Ph.D., is the Content Strategist at Tithe.ly. He lives in Fishers, IN with his beautiful wife and rowdy wheaten terrier.