17 Simple Ways to Make Your Church More Welcoming in 2022

Is everyone welcome at your church? I know you’re thinking, That’s crazy. Of course, everyone is welcome. Don’t be defensive my friend. I mean, really, really welcome. Like not just in theory, but in a practice. If we want to be welcoming we have to be on the offense. We need to be proactive but we need to go deeper. Sure everyone may be welcome to come through that door, but what happens next? Entry is just the first step.  I’ve been working in the field of disabilities for over 10 years, and I’ve also been a youth pastor. I can tell you that people with disabilities don’t want to be treated like they’re special, in fact, some people even hate that word. They just want to be treated like everyone else. So the best approach is working in advance to ensure that guests at your church of all abilities feel welcome.  So aside from guests, what about church members with disabilities? One of the most prominent truths that is pointed out to me by my disabled friends is this:  They don’t want to just feel welcome to attend the service, they want to be able to participate in the service. Worshippers of different abilities want to be able to lead or teach or sing and experience God in as many ways as their nondisabled believing friends.  Below are 17 Tips to make your church more accessible for everyone in the New Year.

  1. Resolve to take your disability access to the next level in your church. Church members take their cues from their leadership.  If the leadership makes accessing worship and all the benefits of your church seriously, then the congregation will follow suit. (Well, most of them, but we can pray right?).  Also, some churches may need to adapt or enrich their philosophy from providing services for respite for families touched by disability (which certainly may be important) to finding more ways for them to worship together as a family.
  2. Remember this! Disability access is more than just accessible parking. After all, it’s getting everyone into the church and then helping them find ways to engage with God that’s most important– but of course improving your grounds and parking access is a great way to start. Make sure you have plenty of Accessible Parking. The term accessible parking is becoming more common and is the most acceptable term.  Ensure that the designated accessible parking is located closest to the most accessible entrance and that it’s clearly marked.  As an aside, be sure to offer accessible parking for individuals in cars, and for people in vans or larger vehicles as well.
  3. Look for a Sign. Signage and directions are important and helpful for everyone.  You really can’t overdo the signage as long as it’s clearly labeled. It’s also not much more expensive to add braille to your church doors inside the building as well for your blind or visually impaired guests—especially on the bathrooms.
  4. Let Your People Go. Speaking of restrooms. Individuals with a variety of disabilities need the appropriate bars and handles and adequate space. Many churches still don’t have adequate bathroom stalls for disabled members and guests.  Accessible bathroom stalls are non-negotiables really.  Guests won’t be back if a prospective church doesn’t offer a private, adequate space to take care of basic needs. Besides, everyone can benefit from more spacious bathrooms, better signage, grab bars, and appropriately sized sinks, right?  The most intuitive tools are best: example, touchless faucets that don’t require twisting, towel dispensers or dryers that don’t require pushing or pulling.
  5. Labels! Ok so it’s one goal of the church to avoid labels maybe, but not where food is concerned. It’s really best practice for everyone to label foods and snacks that are made available especially at official church functions like Homecoming Dinners, Christmas, and Thanksgiving feasts. When there are ten bowls of potato salad on the table, it’s always good to know which bowl of potato salad is your favorite, like the one made by your Aunt Ethel, right? Some people have strong food sensitivities and listing a name for the dish, the ingredients, and who prepared it is just another way to make the event, and your church all the more welcoming for everyone. It may be awkward at first, but it’ll soon become a helpful tradition.  Important note: visitors with strong or life-threatening allergies beyond simpler sensitivities may not even attend, but just in case they do, show that you care by warning about nuts, eggs, and other serious allergens.
  6. Stop cramming! Make the written word accessible. I’m not talking about THE WORD, (that should always be easily accessible), I’m talking about church bulletins, handouts, and anything you put into the hands of people in your church.  Big tip–white space is always helpful.  We’ve all seen church bulletins that are crammed so full and the words are so small they’re almost illegible. It’s frustrating for everyone, especially anyone over 40 (Yes, I went there).  White space is not only pleasing, it helps readers visually organize information, and it helps those with visual disabilities as well.  No font should ever be smaller than 12pt. in a church-wide bulletin, and yes that means, you may have to use more paper. Remember, it’s about being welcoming and accessible. When it comes to font styles and themes, some fonts are better choices than others for people with visual disabilities, and for learning disabilities.  Avoid using curly, squiggly fonts that can be confusing. Times New Roman, Arial, and Verdana are all good choices, but there are many out there.  Also, it’s super helpful to spread the information around. If you offer information in written form on paper, offer it on the web, and project it onto screens. Why not go wild, and add an audio file on your church webpage, too!
  7. Project your welcome too! Much of what was said in number 5 applies to what you project on your worship screens as well.  Add lots of space between what’s written, and remember certain fonts are better than others while keeping your font size readable.  It’s easy enough to add more slides.  When it comes to your screen projection, pay attention to color contrasts also. Of course, if you have announcements on your slides, try your best to have those same announcements represented in other places as well. Above all make it a point to encourage speakers and worship leaders to describe what’s on the slide as they’re presenting at any opportunity.
  8. Caption this! Add captions and transcripts when and where you can. This one can be controversial because of the costs involved. Many churches are on a limited budget and most churches don’t have captionists or transcription experts on staff (or even in the congregation for that matter). Consider this: when something is spoken, whether on a video or in your church service, there’s probably someone present who can’t hear it.  Captioning and transcription helps everyone, not just people with disabilities access and appreciate the information.  There are some very quick and easy captioning services.  Rev.com is a great and quick resource. While sites like Rev may be considered reasonable in the everyday captioning world, captioning is still not cheap (think a dollar a minute on a minimum).  Online services can take your sermon or your church video (with a link or uploaded file) and have it captioned or transcribed literally in a few hours. Captions take your videos and services to another level and everyone can benefit.
  9. Untangle your web. Church websites are becoming increasingly valuable, helpful resources, but many church websites are still not accessible to people with a variety of disabilities– especially those with visual impairments or blindness.  Ask your church web designer to add an accessibility checker widget to your website. Some enhancements are really quite simple.  If you add photos to your website, go in and add a photo description and alt-tags. If you upload a PDF, be sure it’s an accessible PDF. Otherwise, a blind person using a screen reader to surf your website will only see a random image message rather than the words you intend for them to read.  Also, fancy flashing photos and moving web pages are often inaccessible. Some such effects can even cause seizures. If you have videos or audio on your website it’s always best to caption them. Ask yourself this: Is your website meant to be entertaining or informational? Don’t sacrifice the message for fancy features. You can have a classy, clean or fun site without sacrificing accessibility. It’s about making everyone feel more welcome and letting them know you took the time to make a difference just for them.
  10. Amplify the Word. Many churches are providing headsets, FM systems, or small pocket amplifiers for checkout during service hours. Even a small church can have a couple of those on hand. They don’t have to be expensive. In fact, many have become very reasonable.  It may be as simple as the speaker wearing a transmitter around their neck or pinning it to their lapel which amplifies the message to the person wearing the receiving device.
  11. Adapt Your Curriculum, Programs, and Resources. If you want to be welcoming, look into a variety of adaptable materials. Many are even reasonably low-cost.  For example, people of different abilities and ages may have trouble with small pens, pencils or crayons. It’s best to have a variety of sizes available in the pews and in the classroom. Also, your recreation department may want to have adaptable recreation equipment on hand. It is also thoughtful to have alternative instructional materials, and enlarged print copies of materials or at least the ability to get them.  Assess the needs of students and participants in your classes, courses, and programming. Unfortunately, many people hold back on their needs until they’re asked.
  12. Most church leaders already try to find ways to engage the congregation more. This is particularly helpful for people with attentional issues, and people who like tactile, hands-on activities. Consider purchasing a clicker system (an automatic audience response system).  These systems are integrated with your projector.  Wanna survey the flock or check for understanding? Do you want to gauge your congregation’s opinions or thoughts on a particular subject or check to see if their views are anywhere close to in-line with the latest research? Clicker response systems will give you immediate feedback that will post results and project onto your screen right as you ask the question. Just be sure to purchase an accessible clicker system so everyone can be involved, and remember to read the results with the congregation, otherwise, your visually impaired guests and members won’t be able to participate and that will defeat the purpose right?  Some clicker systems can be easily integrated with your members’ and guests’ cell phones with little to no other equipment needed.
  13. Get Feedback! Speaking of surveys. The best way to know what your congregation needs or wants is to survey them regularly. If there’s something you need to know, take a survey. There are some great free online survey resources. Be sure to offer your survey on paper too.  You might start with topical surveys. How welcoming is our parking situation? or you might choose a comprehensive approach about facilities, programs, and services.  Some churches are incorporating online anonymous comments and suggestions.  Be sure to listen, and let people know you used the surveys in your decision-making, and remember some responses should be taken with a grain of salt, and others with expedience. They key is letting them know the feedback matters.
  14. Make your welcome official! Consider making a welcome packet for families with connections related to disabilities or at least make those resources available in your current welcome packet. Sometimes people just need to know they’re welcome, and they need to hear it and see evidence that you really care.
  15. Assume competence! Train your staff to always assume that people with disabilities no matter how seemingly simple or complex the disability, are competent and able to participate, they just may need some adaptations.
  16. Check it out! Church libraries and media centers should provide a variety of materials and resources. It’s great to have plenty of audio resources and books on hand as well or at least a way for members to request or order them. The church library is also a great built-in resource to start a request or check-in/check-out service for assistive technologies.
  17. Go Team! Start an access team, or dare I suggest, committee. An access team or committee can address accessibility in your church and find ways to make your services and programs more accessible. If you initiate a team, it’s great to have some people with differing abilities on the team for perspective.  If your church is larger and has the resources, nothing would say you care about these issues more than adding a paid staff member to your leadership—maybe a Pastor or Director of Welcome and Access. These teams or individuals can consistently address not only needs of people with varying abilities, but they can also assist in plugging people into the church service and leadership roles and making sure the facility, events, and resources are accessible to everyone.

 

In the end, the most welcoming aspect of a church is the attitudes, openness, and compassion of its people. Taking action by doing any or all of the tips I’ve listed will begin to send the message that everyone matters at your church and that everyone is not only welcome to attend, but to participate in sharing a message that will impact hearts and ultimately change the world.

 

BIO: Dr. Chester Goad is a university administrator and graduate instructor, a former K12 principal, and teacher, former US Congressional staffer, author, and blogger.  He is co-author of Tennessee’s Dyslexia Is Real” law and he has presented on disability and leadership-related topics from Appalachia to Africa.  He sits on nationally recognized disability related boards.  A leader in education, non-profit advocacy, parenting issues, access and policy, Chester has been quoted in major media outlets such as CNBC, Yahoo, the Washington Post, Forbes Leadership, and others. He is a contributing writer for the Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, and Edutopia. More importantly, he loves God and is an active member of his local church. You can learn more about Chester by visiting his website at www.chesterg.com. He and his wife live in Tennessee with their teenage son.

Twitter: @chesterwgoad 

3 Ways to Still Have a Team After Christmas

So here we are – less than three months away from the biggest church season of the year. I just left a planning meeting with the worship pastor at my home church. We were talking about ways to turn first-time guests into second-time guests. We brainstormed about setting up a tent outside to welcome guests and give them a gift, as well as info about next steps.

The reality is all we planned to do takes a huge amount of volunteer leadership. I coached him on delegating and equipping the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4).

But here’s the real question:
How do we still have a team going forward after such a stressful and busy season as Christmas?

Here are some thoughts:

We live in a digital world. Texting, IMing, Facebook posts, Instagram posts, and daily tweets – truly a whirlwind when it comes to communicating these days. Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve found that a personal touch still goes a long way (yes, even in 2021).

  1. A Handwritten Note

Everybody loves to receive a handwritten note thanking them for their service on your team. We’re coming up on one of the busiest times of the year with Christmas. We all know that Christmas is like the Super Bowl for churches. More people will visit your congregation than any other season of the year.

Your volunteers are going to work countless hours (your staff, too). Take the time to write out ‘Thank You’ notes to each and every one of them. If you have the budget, include a gift card in the note to them. Sometimes I do Chilis gift cards for $25. Sometimes I can only do a $10 Starbucks card. Whatever your budget can do – make it happen.

  1. Phone Calls

Another thing that goes a long way in this digital world is phone calls. It seems we’ve lost the art of picking up the phone and checking on our team and seeing how they’re doing. I used to go through my team’s list of names and give them a call just to see how they were doing and if there was anything I could pray for them about. This went a long way!

  1. Personal Touch

One final thought I’ll mention on a personal touch is to give out hugs. You wouldn’t believe it, but a hug goes a long way. Now I know that some people don’t like to be touched and freak out if you try to hug them. You need to be aware of body language and know if you’re making someone uncomfortable, but by and large, most people like a good ole hug.

On Wednesday nights, I greeted my team members with hugs and asked how they were doing. This is in contrast to barking to get your post or “Did you hear about the changes we made?”

I’ve made it a point to not let something business come out of my mouth first. The person is always more important than the thing we’re trying to accomplish or produce. Check on them first and then update them on the changes. Lastly, greet them with a warm smile. Let your people know you love and care for them.

This is about valuing people over production. People are more important than what they can produce and we shouldn’t prostitute them and their gifts. God has entrusted them to us and our team and we should value them.

How long has it been since you wrote a note? How long since you called a team member? Given any hugs lately?

Let’s surprise our team and volunteers with a personal touch and an attitude of gratitude this holiday season.

 

*** Want help reaching and KEEPING more guests at your local church?

Signup for the November 10-12 (ALL ONLINE) First Impressions Conference here.

PLEASE NOTE: You don’t have to watch it all live. When you signup for the VIP Replay Pass, you can watch all 18 hours of video content at any time later on-demand! (Plus you get some amazing bonus content)

Introducing the First Impressions Challenge

Who else wants to fix their church’s guest retention problem once and for all?
The average church guest makes up their mind if they’ll come back for a second visit within 7 minutes of driving in the parking lot…
Long before you step into the pulpit and deliver the sermon you’ve been working on all week, people are deciding if they’ll come back for a second visit.
I know what it feels like to be frustrated by this problem because I’ve served for nearly 3 decades as a pastor at small, medium, and large churches that struggled with this exact issue.
In fact, we had so many guests who would show up once or twice then never return that we actually called them “drive-bys!”

That’s why I created the FREE 5-Day First Impressions Challenge.

 

So you can discover how to close the ‘back door’ and get people coming back and plugged into the life of your church.
During this free workshop you’re going to learn:
  • How to collect guests information in the most efficient and effective way possible
  • How companies like Chick-fil-A and Disney WOW their guests
  • This is the same follow-up system I use to train the largest and fastest-growing churches in the world to quickly connect with people and see them return for a second and third visit

Join the free 5-Day First Impressions Challenge today: https://firstimpressionschallenge.com/

FREE COVID-19 Christmas Resources

Hi. I hope you’re doing well. I’m not going to lie to you. COVID-19 is on the rise and is the highest it’s ever been. This Christmas is going to be the most unique Christmas we’ve ever experienced.

Some churches have canceled in-person services and gone back online-only (I, personally, think that’s the right call). Some are doing a hybrid approach.

We at the First Impressions Conferencealong with one of our speakers, Ben Stapley of Christ Fellowship Miami, have put together a FREE COVID Christmas Resource Kit for you to help you and your team prepare for what’s sure to be the most unprecedented Christmas we’ve ever experienced as the Big “C” Church.

Go HERE to download your FREE resource. No strings attached. Enjoy!

Thanks and happy holidays!– Greg Atkinson, Founder Worship Impressions & First Impressions Conference

 

 

*** Again: Download your FREE resource list HERE.

The First Impressions Workshop featuring Greg Atkinson

Join First Impressions Conference Founder Greg Atkinson as he teaches you how to lead first impressions in the new normal. Greg discusses the Post-COVID Church and how to welcome guests in the new reality.

Sign up here for access. http://firstimpressionsworkshop.com/

 

First Impressions and Church Guest Experience Podcasts

Hello, friends. I’ve had the honor of being on several podcasts over the years. Recently, I was a guest on some great podcasts where we discussed my books The Hospitality Ministry Handbook for Volunteers and my bestselling book Secrets of a Secret Shopper.  

I realized that I haven’t told you all about them, so I wanted to post them here for you to check out.

I’m in the process of recording several more, so stay tuned for updates.

For now, give these a listen!

Greg Atkinson Knows Church Guest Experience

Someone recently interviewed me and asked me what I do. I thought I would state it plainly here on my blog again. I’m still coaching and consulting – yes, even in this crazy 2020 year.

Greg Atkinson and the team at Worship Impressions specialize in church guest experience. From the basic church secret shopper or mystery worshiper weekend experience to online presence evaluations to coaching and training – we do it all and stand ready to serve you.

I’ve recently partnered with a company and offer all kinds of services including renovation, AVL, signage, platform design, and more.

Greg Atkinson has been considered an expert in church guest experience, guest services, first impressions, hospitality, worship, and overall church leadership. You can read more about him HERE.

Interested in hiring Greg? Contact Greg by filling out the GET STARTED form (found at the top of his business website).

And be sure to check out the fourth all-new: First Impressions Conference featuring a killer lineup of over 100 speakers.

Did you know you can interact with me and nearly 15,000 church leaders from around the world? You can join us at http://guestexperience.church/

Also, we have a brand new group focused on assimilation and helping guests take their next steps. You can join us at https://www.facebook.com/groups/churchassimilation/

Weekend Worship, Guest Services, Church Guest Experience, and the First Impressions Conference

Hey, friends! Did you know that there is a Facebook group where we talk about everything that happens on a weekend at the local church? There is!

If you serve as a pastor, church staff member (Communications, Children’s, worship, guest services, church guest experience, first impressions, hospitality – or even on the security team) – this is a great place to share best practices, ask questions, and learn.

Go HERE to join in the discussion with nearly 15,000 other church leaders from around the world! Remember – this week could very well be someone’s first Sunday at your church. LOVE and SERVE them well.

  • And if you haven’t already, go sign-up for the fourth First Impressions Conference. It’s November 4-6, and it’s all online (no travel). Featuring over 100 speakers. You’ve got to see this killer church guest experience and first impressions lineup featuring bestselling authors, pastors, practitioners, thought leaders, and church communications specialists.
  • See you in November! Register now for half off with the Early Bird discount. https://firstimpressionsconference.com/

 

10 Questions to Ask Your Congregation Before You Reopen

“When can we reopen our church?” That is the question that keeps getting asked. I want to help you make an informed decision.

Pastor Judah Smith recently said that now is a great time to survey your congregation. We wholeheartedly agree. Our fear is that church leaders and pastors may be assuming things that their people aren’t thinking or on the same page with. 

What if you have a church of 500 people but when you reopen the doors only 100 show up? What if all 500 show up, but your Governor has put social distancing guidelines and maximum occupancy numbers in place?

What if it takes 50 volunteers to pull off a Sunday, but only 10 return? 

What are you going to do about children’s ministry? How will you keep them safe?

Who is going to completely sanitize the church? How will that be communicated to the congregation? 

Will you be adding services? Will you be roping off seats and dividing up sections of the auditorium for seating?

What about the drive-in church? Many churches are talking about starting back outside (drive-in) first before going back inside the church building?

Will you continue to live stream and do all the online church stuff you’ve been doing the past month? 

Will you continue to pass the offering plate? How will you handle giving? Are you adding giving boxes and continuing to encourage online giving?

How will you celebrate Mother’s Day? 

These are things that must be thought through and discussed as church leaders.

Here are some sample questions for your congregational survey to get you thinking. Use whatever works best in your context:

 

  1. When is the soonest you would consider coming back to the church building?
  2. Would you come if we had a drive-in service?
  3. Do you expect the church to provide you a mask?
  4. If you volunteer, are you planning to volunteer in the same spot if we reopen?
  5. If you have kids, will you be putting your kids in children’s ministry?
  6. Do you want the church to serve coffee and refreshments? (If you used to)
  7. When churches resume worship services in their facilities, will you be more likely to attend services in person, or online?
  8. In the last 6 weeks, how many times have you watched services online?
  9. How many times a month do you typically attend church?
  10. Have you ever given online to our church?
  11. Are you comfortable with us passing the offering plate?
  12. Are you comfortable with us serving Communion?
  13. Are you in favor of us rolling out house churches/small groups of 10 people to get back to meeting together physically until it is safe to do so at our full size?

Survey creation and sharing options:

SurveyMonkey.com

Google forms

Gravity form

JotForm

Formstack

Typeform.com

Your church’s ChMS (Example: FaithTeams, Tithely, Rock, Planning Center, CCB, Fellowship One, etc.)

 

SO… When you do decide to open up, here are some great resources like hand sanitizer stations from my friends at Outreach.

 

Articles and resources for consideration as you make these decisions:

 

https://www.whitehouse.gov/openingamerica/

 

https://www.aei.org/research-products/report/national-coronavirus-response-a-road-map-to-reopening/

 

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/church-after-quarantine-5-strategic-questions-help-your-ted-vaughn/

 

https://kenbraddy.com/2020/04/18/20-questions-your-church-should-answer-before-people-return/

 

24 More Questions the Church Should Ask Before People Return

 

https://www.tnbaptist.org/reopen

 

https://www.columbiametro.org/relaunching-your-congregation/

 

https://medium.com/@pastorbrandonweddle/how-to-re-open-your-church-after-covid-19-bd10ad5b2fd6

 

https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2020/april/what-relaunching-church-might-look-like-over-next-312-month.html

 

https://www.ministrytogether.com/what-to-do-now-as-we-enter-coronavirus-phase-2/

 

https://www.vanderbloemen.com/reopening-church

 

https://www.vanderbloemen.com/blog/reopening-the-church-after-covid19

 

https://malphursgroup.com/ready-to-reopen-church-checklist/

 

https://www.smartchurchsolutions.com/blog/church-facility-re-opening-checklist

 

https://stateofthechurch.com/churchpulseweekly

 

*** For a free downloadable PDF of this resource along with tons of other resources for the Church and Coronavirus (including free webinars), join the Weekend Worship and Guest Services Facebook group and join the discussion of 13,000 church leaders from around the world sharing resources. You can join for free HERE.

SO… When you do decide to open up, here are some great resources like hand sanitizer stations and face masks from my friends at Outreach.

*** If you’d like a downloadable copy of this resource of top questions to ask to pass out to your leadership team, click HERE.

How Your Church’s Website Homepage Should Look

For well over a decade I’ve evaluated church’s online presence across North America. For over 200 churches, I’ve critiqued their social media and website and given them feedback – all without having to get on an airplane. If you’d like to hire me to evaluate your church’s online presence like I talked about on Carey Nieuwhof’s podcast, go HERE to get more details.

However, many of the things that I looked for and advised are no longer relevant. For example, people don’t need to see a homepage with service times and directions like I’ve always advised. They don’t need to see an “I’m New” or “What to Expect” or “Plan Your Visit” button.

Now, in the midst of the Coronavirus, you should have an overhaul of your church’s homepage.

Here’s what people need to see when they go to your church’s website:

  • Online services (You should have your messages/services playing on your home page).
  • Online small groups
  • Online giving
  • Links to social media (Facebook and YouTube)
  • Daily Devotionals (if you do them)
  • Links to what you’re doing in your community

Here are some great churches for you to get inspiration from:

PRO-TIP: You don’t have to stream your service once a week (Sunday at 11am for example). You can have multiple services play throughout the week. As a matter of fact, you could be delivering online content to your people daily. Set up your service to play on-demand!

BONUS: Also, why not do daily devotionals? Why not use an online connection card like my friends at Vous Church? Get creative.

SPECIAL SHOUT OUT AND RECOGNITION TO MY FRIENDS AT ACCESS CHURCH THAT I CONSULTED WITH: https://couch.church/

I’ve been saying: “Digital = Daily” – Greg Atkinson

 

*** Since I’m grounded and not traveling like I normally do for secret shopper consultations, I can do more of my Package Three (online presence evaluations). I can evaluate your church’s social media, website, and online service. If this is something that interests you, go HERE for more details.

*** Looking to start using a true ChMS/church database with online giving built-in? Have you seen that FaithTeams is offering a FREE 60-day trial due to the Covid virus? Sign-up HERE.

*** My small church plant got up-and-going in minutes with our online giving through Tithe.ly. Here’s my link to them.

 

HAPPY EASTER!

  • Here are some essential and insightful thoughts from my friend Carey Nieuwhof about this first all digital Easter. Check them out HERE.
  • Here are all kinds of FREE Easter resources from Life.Church HERE.