NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–April Fool’s Day is behind us, but it is still close enough for some people — like me — to slip in some tongue-in-cheek jesting. So in honor of April Fool’s Day, this list is for all those churches who really would rather people just leave them alone.
Got too many people visiting your church? Need to do some things to discourage them from coming back a second time? Here are a list of ways to make guests feel unwelcome should they show up at your church or class. You don’t even need to do all of them. But be careful — if you do the opposite of even six or seven of the items on this list, you might discover that guests are returning for a second visit. Do the opposite of eight or nine of them, and you could discover that they come back a third or fourth time. Some will even enroll in your Sunday School or join the church. To keep people away, try a few of these ideas:
— Make parking for first-time guests inconvenient. This is probably your best first line of defense against visitors, particularly first-time guests. Welcoming churches have parking spaces close to the main entrance of the building marked clearly “For First-Time Guests.” Some even have a special team of volunteers whose job is to warmly greet first-time guests and give them immediate directions, perhaps even providing a map and marking the parking area on it. Some churches have a sign at the entrance that reads “First Time Guests: Please Flash Your Lights,” with volunteers in the parking lot to direct them to the special parking area.
— Get grouchy greeters. A friendly smile and a warm handshake at the door goes a long way to make guests feel welcome. You could just get rid of greeters altogether of course, but if you’re trying to make guests feel unwelcome, it is actually more effective to have grouchy greeters. Train them to carry on conversations with other greeters, and sort of just grunt at people they don’t recognize. And make sure they don’t direct guests to a welcome center.
— Forego a welcome center. Even a clearly marked table or desk exclusively for guest information can make a really big positive impression. Especially if there is clear information about classes.
— Treat guests like a doctor’s office treats new patients. Here’s a tricky one. Go ahead and staff a welcome desk, but make sure the experience is as close to that of a new patient as possible. Ignore the guest for a few minutes. Act like the guest has been there before and knows what to do. Post a lot of signs. And best of all, hand them a clipboard and demand they fill out some forms. On the other hand, good churches do get the guest’s information; they’re just nice about it.
— Don’t escort guests to their classrooms. Really welcoming churches don’t send people to their classrooms. They escort them. Starting with the youngest child (if there are children), a family is dropped off one-by-one at their classes, with the last stop being the adult class. So, just cut out this whole step if you want guests to feel unwelcome.
— Make finding a seat really hard. All members can participate in this one. Just “save” all the seats at the back of the room or on the aisles. This works in the worship center and in the student or adult classroom. If you want to do more, make sure the chairs face the door, so everyone can stare at a newcomer as soon as they reach they door. If you can make a guest come to the front of the room, or crawl over several people to find a seat, you’ll almost guarantee they’ll feel unwelcome.
— Have guests stand up while everyone else sits, or sit while everyone else stands. I am not sure which of these works better to run people off. I almost think the practice of having guests remain seated while everyone around them stands is better if you want to make guests feel unwelcome. It is sort of like being a little baby in a crib surrounded by doting relatives. In a Sunday School class, it feels much better to a guest if they are acknowledged, and someone else introduces them.
— Randomly call on people to read or pray. You don’t even need to pick on guests. Just call on random members to pray or read Scripture. That will serve to create anxiety in your guests that they may be next. Wise teachers always ask members ahead of time if they will read from the Bible, perhaps handing them the “address” of the verses on an index card so the member can mark his Bible and familiarize himself with the passage. Likewise, they ask a member before class if she would be willing to lead in prayer. Then during class, they make it clear by saying, “I have asked Kim to lead us in prayer after we’ve taken requests for about 5 minutes.” Or, “Who did I ask to read verses 35-38?”
— Don’t wear name tags. There is nothing that makes a guest feel more welcome than a room full of people wearing name tags. Absolutely nothing. Wearing a name tag is an act of faith. It says, “I’m expecting God to send someone to our class today who doesn’t yet know us.” The stick-on kind works fine. I remember how welcome I felt the first time I visited Hope Fellowship Church in Cambridge, Mass. As soon as I walked into the tiny foyer, some young people –- probably students at nearby Harvard or MIT –- invited me to stick on a name tag. They were all wearing them, too. Everyone was calling me by name, and I them. At a new church meeting in a middle school in Wake Forest, N.C., everyone wore name tags, and many stopped dead in their tracks to greet me. I discovered the next day that I had been handed a name tag with a subtle red border. Members knew to wear a name tag with a green border. Regular attenders wore yellow. It was like a conspiracy -– a whole church full of greeters anticipating newcomers each week. So, if you want to make guests feel unwelcome, by all means do not wear name tags!
David Francis serves as director of Sunday School for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.