We Don’t Shake Hands Here! We Give Bear Hugs!

January 5, 2009

Has your church ever planned a really big event, one in which you hoped a bunch of visitors would show up? Then a few of them actually show up, and now you’re not so sure the show you’re putting on will live up to their expectations? So you just try to welcome them the best you can and hope, for the love of all that is holy, that the preacher doesn’t get that crazy twitch he always gets.

That’s a little what I feel like today – my first entry since welcoming a few new readers from ‘Stuff Christians Like.’

Churches have tried all sorts of ways to properly welcome church visitors and make sure they come back. One of my seminary professors told us about how when he was pastoring, he took a church visitor, who just happened to be the president of the local bank to Taco Bell after church.

Yes, Taco Bell.

After their meal and conversation, the banker confessed that he had never eaten at Taco Bell. It wasn’t the meal that impressed him, but the gesture of the pastor. That banker became an attending, participating, tithing member for decades after that day. For a $5 taco lunch.

These days, visitors are expecting a lot more than the old handshake and ‘Glad to meet you.’ You need to really make an impression that will stick and make them come back for more! Take these steps, and you’ll never have to worry about visitors coming back.

Proven Ways to Get Visitors to Come Back to Church

Give Them a Snake: So you walk into the door of a church, and the church has a normal name. It isn’t called ‘Holy God Almighty Snake-Handlers Church,’ so you figure you won’t be touching any snakes. At the worst, you’ll have to touch someone’s hand. But then, as you walk in, dear brother Rufus smiles, hands you your bulletin, and your cobra.

And you say, “Snakes…Why did it have to be snakes?”

I’ve been told by a former pastor of a snake-handling church that the trick is the snakes are refrigerated. It makes the snakes calm and cuddly! They don’t want to bite anyone – they just want to get your body warmth. So if you’re handed a cold snake – you’ve got it made in the shade. If they hand you a hot snake…run.

Make Sure They Stand Up and Are Counted: If someone invited a visitor to church, they want credit. If you stand up as a visitor and the place is half visitors, you’ve shown up on ‘pack a pew’ Sunday. You were invited to church because your friend is competing with all the other church families for a new crock pot, to show off at the next potluck. It’s an annual clash of the titans, and there will be only one victor, and a lot of spurned losers. You have a small but integral part to play in this epic and perinnial war.

Speaking of which, it would be pretty sweet to have a ‘Church of No People’ crock pot sitting on my kitchen counter…hmmm…

Sell Them a Used Car: So I thought I was going to church, but the greeter in the plaid sport coat was talking so fast about getting me plugged in, signed up, and committed for life before I had even sat down in the sanctuary for one worship service. Looking back, it did seem to be an inordinate amount of paper work, just to go to church. Then he handed me the keys to a ‘98 Toyota. Well, maybe not that last part, but the rest is true, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had unwittingly purchased a Toyota.

Yell at Them as Soon as They Walk in the Door: This isn’t proven in church, but it has been proven at other venues. For example, Kansas City is a barbecue town. And one of our home-grown barbecue chains has a signature style. You walk in, get in line, which moves very quickly, and pretty much have to know what you’re going to order already. Because at the end of the line, a very large woman awaits to shout, “HI, MAY I HELLLLP YOU?!” And sonny, you’d better know if this woman can help you or not right away. The same thing would work great in church. Unsuspecting visitor walks in, big person shouts at them. Those visitors better know why they’re there, and quick! If they don’t know they’re at church for Jesus, then step aside, there are people HUNGRY for the Word of God!

Make Them Wear a Paper Hat: Not kidding. This is very real in at least one church somewhere far away, and no I cannot explain it. Newspaper…folded…easy to identify visitors…can’t…make…sense! But maybe it works for them. Maybe it’s such a strange place that people go there for the experience of wearing a paper hat and seeing the freak show – like a circus!

“Hey kids, we’re gonna go to the crazy church! Put on your paper hats!”


And if none of those work, just get them baptized and on the role books on the first Sunday, and then it won’t matter if they never show up again.

How does your church pack in the visitors and keep them coming back for more? Snakes? Toyotas? Hats? Tacos? What methods do our churches need to implement?