Archives For welcome

4.16.14For churches, Easter is the “Superbowl” of Sundays. The bushes are spruced up, the pile of old bulletins is finally cleared out. We’re getting ready for the onslaught of guests that are expected to pour onto our campus this coming Sunday. But what determines whether guests will come back again or not after Easter? Will it be the biblical soundness of the preaching, the quality of the music, or the cleanliness of the nursery? I believe all of those are important, but not the determining factor. That is something far simpler.

Yesterday I took a survey of our staff to ask what they would consider as important if they were to visit a new church. The primary response is what I’ve experienced for years as a pastor: the overwhelming thing guests look for when they visit your church for the first time is whether or not they’ll feel welcome, whether or not anyone will talk to them. All those hours spent crafting an evangelistic sermon will be for naught if your members scare all the guests away. All those hours practicing that beautiful Easter cantata will be wasted if no one talks to the guests. It’s as simple as that.

A host team is a big deal. Making sure that your members are conditioned to make newcomers feel welcome is a big deal. Lead by example. Make it your goal this Easter not to talk to anyone you know, only engaging with folks who look like they’re new. I guarantee you, you’ll make an incredible first impression on someone.

I received two notes this week from recent first-time guests who have decided to make Mt Vernon their home. The thing both of them mentioned the most was how welcome we made them feel. We learned their names. We talked to them. We called them by name the second time they came. They felt welcome. They felt like they belonged. So they’re sticking around.

Want to make Easter a success this year? Don’t just preach at them, engage with them. Make them feel like they could belong at your church. Who knows? They might just decide to stick around.


4.10.14It’s the difference between attending a party and hosting a party. When you attend a party, what’s your goal and mindset? To have a good time, to make memories. Whose job is it to ensure you have a good time? Your host’s. When you host a party, everything is reversed. Your job is to ensure your guests have a good experience. Your sense of satisfaction derives from their enjoyment of the party. Make sense so far?

Now, let’s transpose this onto the church. What do most church people do? They “attend” church. Take my church for example. On a normal Sunday we’ll have over 400 on campus. That’s 400 “attenders.” Who’s the host? I am. You could also count the five other staff we have working Sundays, so 6 hosts for 400 people. That’s a lot of people to entertain! And if we’re solely focused on ensuring that our 400 attenders have a good experience, what’s the likelihood that we’ll get to the few dozen guests we’ll have each month? Slim to none. That’s why many guests come in and go out and never get noticed.

But what if? What if our church “attenders” could begin to see themselves as “hosts”? So, instead of 6 hosts trying to entertain the 400 attenders plus few dozen guests, we had 400 hosts ensuring that the few dozen guests that come each month would feel welcome? Here’s what would happen. In a year or two, we wouldn’t have 400 on campus, we’d have 800-900.

When the average church attender makes the shift from being a consumer to becoming a contributor, that’s when your church will be revolutionized.

It’s amazing to see the impact you can have at your church this Sunday if you simply open your eyes to needs around you. Leshay came to Mt Vernon several months ago looking for acceptance and a family to belong to. Because normal, everyday church members went out of their way to make her feel welcome, we’re blessed to now have Leshay as a part of our church family.

Watch this video and see who you God puts in your path this Sunday at church.


handshakeThis couple isn’t supposed to be at our church. One grew up Church of Christ, the other grew up in a traditional Baptist denomination. Both very conservative churches. Mt Vernon is about as contemporary and non-traditional as you can get. This couple isn’t supposed to be here, but they are, and this is their home now. Why? All because of a handshake.

When this couple first moved to town, they naturally tried out a local church of their denomination. Eager young couple, looking to build relationships and plant roots. Should be a home run for any church. When this couple walked up to their first church, they naturally stuck their hands out to the greeter at the door to shake his hand. We withdrew his hand and wouldn’t shake it. Just gave them a bulletin. They sat in church, and no one talked to them. No one. It didn’t matter if the location was convenient, the music was moving or the preaching was solid. They ruled out that church because of a handshake.

After that, they tried out Mt Vernon. They were blown away by our Welcome Team, and how friendly everyone was. They had their hands shook several times before they made it in our doors. (That’s intentional by the way). They sat in the back, and the couple in front of them turned around and engaged them in conversation. The next week, they sat in a different part of the worship center just to see if they would have the same experience. That Sunday the couple sitting in front of them (a different one) engaged them in conversation and invited them to lunch.

They’re here now, locked in and excited about getting plugged in at Mt Vernon. In reality, a handshake could have kept them at the other church.

That’s the power of a handshake.

Hooray! We Ruined Church!

February 19, 2014 — 1 Comment

2.19.14We ruined church for someone, and we’re excited about it. A few days ago I received a message from an Air Force family that was at Mt Vernon while they were stationed here, but a year ago moved to another part of the United States. Here’s their message:

Just thought we would let you know that because Mt Vernon set the standard of how a church family should be we think every church here stinks! We still have smiles on our faces when we think of the wonderful welcome team, the non showy praise team, your bible based challenging sermons and the love we felt from the church family. That’s all :)

All three things they mentioned are things we work incredibly hard at. We have dozens and dozens of dedicated volunteers who come to church early on Sunday mornings to stand at every door and fill the parking lot. Some say it’s overkill, but we say it’s making a difference.

We have a praise team that works incredibly hard to master their craft while not making a big deal out of themselves. I work tirelessly to make sure that my messages are scripturally sound, culturally relevant and personally challenging. We have a church family that genuinely likes each other and reaches out with open arms to newcomers.

What’s the result of all this? We ruined church for a family. And we couldn’t be happier about it!!

10.21.13Yesterday at Mt Vernon I received a comment from a first time guest that I hear at least once or twice a month. Speaking with a new guest about their experience so far at church, this gentlemen commented on how much he was impressed with our Host Team (up to recently referred to as our Welcome Team). To paraphrase him, “I am really impressed with all the greeters you have outside. Being greeted five or six times before I ever came through the doors meant a lot to me.”

One ministry that every church should have is a Host Team. (Some call it Welcome Team, First Impressions Team, Greeter Ministry or Guest Services). We call it Host Team because it is a team of volunteers dedicated to make sure that all people (regular attenders and guests alike) have a positive experience while on our campus. Every Sunday, upwards of a hundred folks will put on a lanyard and stand at various posts throughout our campus: all exterior doors, major thoroughfares and in our main lobby. You can’t get anywhere on campus without being greeted in a friendly fashion by dozens of folks.

But more than that, our Host Team doesn’t wait until you wander into the building on your own. Our Host Team starts in the parking lot, welcoming you as you exit your car and walk along our sidewalk. You’ll be greeted half a dozen times before you can even make it into our building. If you have a small child, one of our Host Team members will come up with a little red wagon and offer them a ride in, just to make their experience that much more spectacular.

Recruiting and training an effective Host Team is a ton of work, and we have a paid staff member dedicated to this very ministry. It’s not an afterthought for us. It’s front and center in our strategy to “create contagious communities of hope.” For us, it’s been an overwhelming success. Try it at your church and see what happens!

4.3.13It happened to me (again) this past Sunday. That awkward moment when you introduce yourself to a new couple at church, and they tell you they met you last week. Mike and Shelly. I won’t forget their names anytime soon. Here’s how the conversation went:


ME: Hey, I don’t think I’ve met you. My name’s Josh.

MIKE and SHELLY: Yeah, we met last week when you introduced yourself to us.

(awkward silence as I try to figure out how to get out of this social snafu). Thankfully, they threw me a lifeline:

MIKE and SHELLY: I’m sure you meet a lot of new people each week and it’s tough to keep all their names straight.

ME: Yes, but I’m sorry I forgot yours.


As the conversation went on, our conversation from last week came to mind, and I was able to add enough tidbits to make sure they knew that I did in fact remember meeting them last week (although belatedly).

Some people are afraid to meet new people at church because they’re afraid they’d make a fool of themselves. Take it from me, sometimes that happens. But it can’t stop you from doing your part and making newcomers feel welcome. And if you do embarrass yourself, don’t worry. I’ve done much worse.

QUESTION: Have you ever had a similar experience at church?


Today’s guest post is by Brandon Yopp, Student Pastor at Mt Vernon Church. You can find him on Twitter here:

While I was out of town visiting family, I decided to visit a local “contemporary” church that I had heard a lot about, but had never attended.  Bethany and I went to church and left the kids at home with their grandmother, unsure of the quality of childcare and just excited to be a part of a worship service where I had no responsibilities!

We arrived just a few minutes before the service started and began the dreaded “first time guest” walk up to the church. It’s that awkward moment when you feel like the new kid at the school cafeteria, desperately trying to find a safe place to sit before nauseous shame overwhelms you. The building and the modern styling of the church impressed me.  They had a couple of men who opened the doors and welcomed us in.  I immediately noticed a huge, beautiful coffee area with a plethora of options.  Being a member of Mt Vernon, I felt I had a duty to test every kind of coffee they had!  However, it was time for the service to start and no one offered to show me the coffee area.  So, we headed to the worship center.

Being a student pastor I plan and execute the student worship services every week.  I cannot help but take notes to critique other services in order to help gain new ideas about what to do and what to avoid.  As Bethany and I left, we began to discuss the service.

For the first time, in a long time, I was in the shoes of a first time guest.  I had no idea how great Mt Vernon is and how blessed I am to serve with such a wonderful church!  I begin to critique Mt Vernon from the perspective that I had just gained as a first time guest.  I have grown accustomed to being greeted as soon as I enter the parking lot and never having to open a door.  I feel safe and confident leaving my children in Discovery Zone because I know they will be loved and cared for.

I know that I have taken for granted the professionalism and poise with which Josh and Jordan lead the service.  If you notice there is almost no dead time and certainly no awkward silence.  The service flows, and there is never a time where a guest feels isolated.  Josh preaches biblically and includes a lot of life application.  I am not insinuating that Mt Vernon has arrived or is the only church that has it right.  I am saying that I am so glad that I get to serve at Mt Vernon and with such great people!

12.17.12Here’s part of an email our church recently received, “Thank you for making us feel so welcomed, we have been enjoying the church services and my heart is so happy that my children are also enjoying it too!” This is from a family who’s recently attended and has decided to make Mt Vernon their church home. What helped make the difference? We knew their names.

This family came late to our 10:30 service, dropping their kids off and slipping in before anyone could properly greet them. But our staff are highly trained welcoming ninjas. They will not let a new couple go away ungreeted! At the end of the service, while our Worship Pastor was closing out the service, one of our staff informed me that we had a new couple that came in late, but we didn’t know their names. They had kids, however, that they had registered in our children’s environments. Checkmate.

I quickly walked over to our children’s environment, got the names of the kids and the parents when they registered. By the time they came to pick them up, I was ready for them. I greeted them by name and talked with them for about five minutes. They couldn’t get out of our building without two or three other couples coming up and introducing themselves.

Two weeks later, they were back. This time to stay. They’ve found their home at Mt Vernon. Once we knew their name, they were family. Do whatever you have to do to learn someone’s name.

QUESTION: Has knowing someone’s name ever helped you connect someone with your church?

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