This weeks guest post is by my wife Joy Ross, follow her on Twitter @joyleanne.
I remember the first few weeks in New Orleans visiting churches. To my recall, I don’t think I’d ever visited a church in my life, well maybe on vacation as a kid! I’ve never had an option of where I would go to church, but then all the sudden I came to the realization of not being the preacher's wife, not being the preacher's daughter, and that I'm just a visitor, not a soul here will know me.
As freeing as this might sound for some people, it was very hard for me. I remember lots of smiles, and several people said, "Welcome!" Even some said, "Nice to meet you!" I got my children situated in class and found a seat. Sometimes George was preaching somewhere else, and sometimes he was with me. When he wasn’t with me, I sat down alone. People walked by and visited with their friends, grouped together, and found their usual spots. No one purposefully was trying to make me feel bad, but I remember being alone and wishing someone would say to me, "come sit with me!" No one ever did, though.
I vividly remember this. The Lord impressed it on my heart, and it will hopefully forever change me. It was as He said,
“Joy, never forget this moment. You will not be the new person for long, and you will make friends, but NEVER forget this feeling, LONILENESS! Don't be that girl Joy, that just walks by and smiles. Get out of your comfort zone! Ask people to sit with you, better yet just sit with them. People are hurting. You are not hurting Joy; you know me. Some of these people that walk into the church will never walk in again because while you were wanting to fellowship and speak to that same person you’ve texted all week long and will hang out this weekend, they sat alone, and you missed that opportunity to be me! Be JESUS Joy! Open your eyes, walk with me. This is for my glory and your good. That feeling right now. Don’t forget it, may it lead you to be more like me!"
Here are five practical ways you can help visitors feel welcome and provide a pathway for connection.
1. Ask visitors that are alone to sit with you.
Go above and beyond to make them feel welcome into your church body. Introduce them to others. If it’s a male, find a male. If it’s a college student, find a college student, if it’s a student, find a student (You get the picture. Be wise).
2. Provide needed information.
If they are trying to find a ministry or looking for someone, don’t just point out where to go; show them, introduce them, talk to them, stay with them. Be a minister and make your smile count for the glory of the Lord.
3. Collect information and Prayer Requests
Your church should have some form of visitor card that is purposeful for collecting valuable information and prayer requests. Offer to help the visitor complete one and drop it off for them when they are done. We collect information and prayer requests because we care, not to add them to another list.
4. Use Social Media.
Offer to exchange emails and give them your social media information. Point them to the social media platforms of the church and encourage them to visit the churches website for more information and ministry opportunities.
5. Be intentional.
Go to church with a mindset that many visitors show up on any given Sunday because they have found themselves feeling alone and in a hopeless situation. Followers of Jesus should be the most hopeful people on the planet, don't forfeit the opportunity to manifest living hope to those that visit your church.
For the first time in my life, my sanguine-self remembered being very lonely. I wondered if this is what it had felt like to visit our previous church? I wondered how many times I had smiled and walked past someone with a well-meaning smile and nod. I asked the Lord to forgive me for the times I had been too busy to make a difference in the lives of just one visitor.