Welcome to Worship
I've been telling folks at church that we don't have visitors, only guests. A little more explanation may be in order about welcoming our guests.
1. Why I prefer the term "guests" over visitors: It was pointed out to me at a hospitality seminar some years ago (I don't recall the presenter) that to call someone a visitor can send the subtle message they're 'just visiting' which means we don't expect them to stay around. Five star hotels don't call their guests visitors. It's okay if you forget, but we'll try a few things to remind ourselves to make the change.
2. In an attempt to make people feel welcome, many churches have a practice of pointing out guests during the service and asking their names, where they're from and saying a hearty 'welcome.' And for many of our guests that works great--if they're extroverts, or if they're church members somewhere else, and they feel like insiders already. But the average person from our neighborhood who might attend our church for the first time to see what it's like, could easily be horrified by that kind of attention. Why? Because it exposes them as newcomers, and asks them to share personal information in front of a room full of strangers. This is why I'm asking everyone, whether you're on the platform or in the congregation to be very careful about spotlighting guests. As a general rule, please do not point out people whom you have not met and ask them for information in front of everyone. The social pressure to respond is so great that they will most likely speak, but some will never come back because of it. In that case, it would be much better to look out over the congregation and say, "If you're a guest with us today, we're glad you've chosen to worship with us. Welcome!"
3. Are there exceptions? Sure. If you have spoken with a guest and know they want to be welcomed publicly, go for it--and sometimes we'll have public figures from the community who may expect such a welcome, or former members who are in the area for a short time . . . I hope you get the idea. It's the person who's exploring and testing us out that we don't want to scare away.
4. But what if no one welcomes those people! Won't they be less likely to come back? Good questions. We do want to notice and welcome these folks, and there are two ways we can. First our greeters do a good job of welcoming people when they come in the door. But since that's their job, people don't take it as seriously. When someone wearing a pin that says 'greeter' greets them, they say, "Okay, but you're supposed to do that." But if you, the regular person without a title, see someone you've not met and take it upon yourself to greet them and talk to them one-on-one, that says, "I'm interested in you as a person." So go for it, when you see someone you don't know, engage them in a conversation if they're willing.
5. But what do I say? When you talk to someone you don't recognize, don't walk up and say, "Are you a visitor?" Say, "I'm X. I don't think we've met yet. How long have you been worshiping here with us?" They can say, "It's my first time," or "I've been a member here since 1975." If they say the latter, you'll be spared the embarrassment of revealing that you thought they were brand new.