Dr. Charles Revis, Executive Minister, ABC Northwest

Hilton Welcome
Hilton Welcome

On a recent trip to the Tri-Cities area in WA I snagged a great deal through hotwire.com and ended up in a nice Hilton Gardens Hotel. I love getting 3-star service at a 2-star price. Throughout my experience of walking through the door, registering and settling into my room it was evident that Hilton anticipated my every move and need. They made certain that my experience would be positive and welcoming. The desk person was warm and informative. Fresh cookies were on the counter for the taking. I received a personal, hand-written welcome note from the hotel manager. In my room there was a clear and comprehensive “Comfort Guide” to the room’s amenities. On the desk was a welcome letter from the C.E.O. of Hilton. They did this without a hint of intrusion. I have to say, I was impressed. I felt welcomed and appreciated. 

This experience made me reflect on what it’s like to be a church visitor and how churches welcome and follow up with their guests. In this realm churches could learn a thing or two from the business world.

Churches that grow attract guests, welcome guests and retain guests. First, they have a proactive plan for attracting guests.

This is bolstered with systems that guide and anticipate each stage of the guest’s experience to make it as positive and inviting as possible. Growing churches are sensitive to the fears and concerns of guests, and they try their best to put them at ease and provide helpful information. They’re careful not to intrude, giving appropriate space to their visitors. They follow-up with them in smart ways that encourage return visits. 

Because of intentionality with their visitor processes such churches have a high number of guests each Sunday and they’re able to retain a respectable percentage of them. All of this focus on guests contributes to their growth. Seems simple. It is. Seems obvious. No doubt. But, too often what is simple and obvious is underappreciated and overlooked in church life. Having no plan and no system for gathering and welcoming guests is a guaranteed way to block church growth.

Hilton Comfort Guide
Hilton Comfort Guide

In light of this here’s a good question for church leaders to wrestle with, “Are we as a church focused on guests with the goal of retaining them?” Here’s another question, “What are our guest focused systems? Are they working, that is, are they producing the results we envision?”

After honest evaluation if answers to these questions are unsatisfactory, and nothing is done to improve the church’s guest systems don’t expect to grow. It’s that simple. Simply being friendly on Sunday morning with a decent worship and preaching experience is not enough to attract and retain new people. Churches in these times need redundant systems for attracting, welcoming and retaining guests. Remember my experience at Hilton? Although the Hilton Garden Inn is an attractive hotel in its own right, the Hilton did not take my presence for granted. They made sure that I knew they greatly appreciated my business, and they expressed it through attentiveness to me as a customer. Churches should do no less for their guests.

So, how does a church address this issue? First, there are excellent resources available for tackling this challenge. A church doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel. I’ll list a few of these at the end of this article so your church will know where to start. Second, be aware that there are several components in such a system that build on each other. It’s not a complicated project. However, it isn’t simple either. Planning and intentionality is required in order to put enough pieces in place to truly be successful. Third, it will take at least a year of working the system to insure that the system is having the results desired. Fourth, these systems require regular maintenance, or they fall into disrepair and a church will find itself back at square one with no system in place.

A “fly over” of what such a system looks like can be found in

Church That Works

by Gary McIntosh. (By the way, this was a 2005 LLC book and should be referenced as a regular resource by pastors and church leaders.) McIntosh devotes 9 brief chapters to this topic. The chapter topics alone are instructive for what churches need to consider: 1) Attracting guests 2) Starting good rumors (about the church) 3) How do you say hello? 4) Is your church friendly? 5) What guests see 6) Pathways of belonging 7) Assimilating newcomers 8) Getting ready for company 9) Visitor follow-up that works.

If you are interested in developing your church’s guest system here’s a list of resources in addition to the aforementioned book. These will provide most of what you will need to design a fruitful guest welcome and retention system:



by Nelson Searcy – provides a comprehensive step-by-step plan for welcoming guests and follow-up. Several ABCNW churches are using this system.


After the First Visit

by Gary McIntosh – builds on the theological perspective of God as a "welcomer.” Churches are wise to reflect God’s attitude in the way they treat their guests. McIntosh offers sound advice on assessing and improving the ways in which churches attract people, welcome them, do follow-up, and bring them into the church family. 


First Impressions: Creating Wow Experiences in Your Church


Lasting Impressions: From Visiting to Belonging

by Mark Waltz – Mark shares boatloads of ideas that are easily adopted by churches in any setting. He is passionate about ministering to people who show up at church in a personal way. He eschews the assimilation schemes that view the attender as merely a faceless number or financial contributor. 


Thriving Churches in the 21st Century: 10 Life Giving Systems for Vibrant Ministry

- Using the analogy of the human body, this book explores ten interacting systems that make up a healthy church body. It’s a good foundational work for understanding church systems and how they contribute to growth and health.

© Dr. Charles Revis 2012