What’s Your Church’s First Message?


We all want to believe we are friendly. I’ve never been to a church that said, “we’re not friendly.” Well, I take that back. I once visited with a minister who said “we’re not a very friendly congregation.” And boy, he meant it. But usually churches I work with are evangelical protestant congregations with a heart for those outside the faith. Such churches want newcomers to feel welcomed and go through great lengths to create environments that say, “we’re glad you here.” But sometimes there’s a disconnect between what happens inside and what people see on the outside.

Recently I saw this sign outside a church’s front door:

Unfriendly Church Sign

In principle I don’t have a problem with a church not wanting people to eat, talk on the phone or even chew gum. Ok, I have a problem with not being able to chew gum at church. But should that be the first message someone new to your church sees? Is that the most important thing you want to tell a person outside the faith before they even get into the building? Come on, now.

Churches can spend a lot of effort and money on special services, websites and marketing materials only to have a small, ill-conceived sign ruin the experience for someone new. You might see it as an inconsequential detail. I believe it’s a consequential fail. When was the last time you walked around your church building with someone new and really took inventory of what you’re communicating?

Am I being over sensitive? What’s the first message someone new “sees” as they come to your church?

  • Robert Lewis

    I don't think you are over sensitive Maurilio. The first impression my church gives is "tired" Our buildings need some serious maintenance and everything looks old not in a charming way but in a dilapidated way.

    • I hope your church can get a handle on those issues. People will church the church on the appearance of its buildings.

  • 100% agree. To me, these are seemingly small barriers that need to be removed. When we are too close to it we can often get blinded by our own curse of knowledge and begin to think things like a sign or silly rule are not important but, as you noted, they are often more important than we think (to someone new). Small barriers like that can become amplified and even become hurdles to someone new or who is already stepping in with preconceived notions of what the church is "against." No need for us to add to that. We should be looking for ways to remove barriers at every turn we can.

    • Yes, Daniel, Christians, as well as churches, are often known for what we are "against" and seldom for what we are "for." Good thought.

  • Joy

    I’ve thought about this too. The building in which we meet now used to have a sign with massive Olde English font that to me screamed “KJV-only fundy women-must-wear-dresses-and-never-cut-their-hair church.” Not true, but that was the image.

    Now a new church meets there with a much nicer sign. But the next sign you see is on a side door: “Please use front doors.” I *think* it’s ok, but sometimes I wonder what visitors think.

  • What's really missing here? The joy of the Lord. Without it, all you have to cling to is rules. With it, you are free to accept people the way they are and love them unconditionally.

  • Joy

    I've thought about this too. The building in which we meet now used to have a sign with massive Olde English font that to me screamed "KJV-only fundy women-must-wear-dresses-and-never-cut-their-hair church." Not true, but that was the image.

    Now a new church meets there with a much nicer sign. But the next sign you see is on a side door: "Please use front doors." I *think* it's ok, but sometimes I wonder what visitors think.

    • If we thought more our churches like we think of our homes, we would be a lot more accommodating and gracious. We need to lose the institutional mindset that use when thinking of churches. Thanks for stopping by, Joy.

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  • You are preaching to the choir here.

    What I find ironic is that most churches try to be so inviting, they will actually create an uncomfortable environment by doing things like have the whole church turn around and shake the hands of new people attending. (if you have not figured it out I hate the church handshake. Probably because I am a bit of a germaphobe).

    I think the most inviting churches are those where people really are themselves. Folks gather with friends, have coffee etc and what tends to happen is that a welcomeness comes through in the environment.

    It starts with the pastor first, then heads down the line.

    One fail for sure will be relevant in the next few weeks as guests attend for the Holidays. I have been in churches more than once who shut the "welcoming" door by condeming those who only appear at the Holidays. Church needs to live by one motto. It is not if they show up. It is if you give them a good reason to come back that counts.

  • mo

    We try to make sure everyone’s greeted with a smile and handshake. We’ve got greeters set up all over the place. We rent out a night club (really), so its easy to get lost 🙂

  • Tom Jamieson

    Hey Maurilio! I have to agree with you. One of the first things I did when I started at my current church was remove all the signs that said "No Food or Drink." Like you, I think it makes a difference. I also started a "fellowship time" with free coffee and donuts on Sunday mornings and most people really like it. Thanks for sharing!

    • Good for you Tom. You can never go wrong with free coffee and donuts.

  • ooh, that sounds rough.

  • davidlermy

    I am like Daniel – I 100% agree with this post. Why spend all our time finding great ways to reach people and then shoot ourselves in the foot before the person ever enters the church building? People make decisions about returning to a church before the music is sung and the sermon is preached and that is a fact!

    I think all of us that read UnChristian by Lyons and Kinnaman were convicted to be known for what we are for and not against, as Daniel also mentioned. However, I was highly encouraged reading chapter 6 of Lyon's new book The Next Christians. The chapter deals with restorers of the Christian faith becoming creators and not critics. We have the great responsibility to help create experiences at church to help welcome people instead of critical environments that will turn them off to the Gospel before they even hear the Gospel. I know this personally because I am tasked with being part of a team that is creating connections for people at our church on a weekly basis. I am constantly reminding myself that "everything speaks" to first time guests and members of our church.

    Thanks for reminding us what is important! Let's not mix our messages. May we be clear in what we believe and create simple processes to achieve those beliefs!

    • It looks like you're the right man for the job. Your church is blessed to have you engaged in ministry. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  • A church's greatest strength is its people. I wonder how many are turned off because people seem to wear the same kind of signs: keep away, don't intrude, keep a plastic smile. May it be that the people of the church become deeply welcoming because they are fascinated by the people God has place in their path.

  • Robert Wright

    There is definitely truth in the old cliche, "First impressions matter."

    I completely agree with Scott. There is tremendous freedom and joy that comes when focused on the greatest commandments of all: love God, love people. When people go beyond having faith and begin exercising and living it is when things get exciting and God begins to work. There is nothing more inviting than a group of people who are genuine, real, and with a servant's heart show true compassion and love towards all people they encounter.

  • Would you mind if I borrow your idea for my blog about retreat events? I've seen lots of people that focus on regulations and requirements as they promote their events, giving their guests a so so welcome, when they really have a desire for people to come to know Jesus.

    This may be a little too dramatic, but in some ways, us worrying about preventing a mess or whatever is pretty selfish. We should be focused on others more than making it easier for us.

    • Zach, feel free to use anything you want if it will help you communicate better.

  • Jeff Anderson


    We are glad you are here!

    You are not alone!

    Something that tells people that whatever they are going through or feeling like, they are not alone and they are not judged. They need to feel God's love permeated through the entire body of Christ when they come to church. There are so many hurts and baggage that they just need to feel safe, welcomed and loved.

    (thinking outloud)


  • A few year's ago my (former) church put out a bunch of "marriage = 1 man + 1 woman" yard signs supporting an amendment to the state constitution to ban same sex marriage. It's why we decided to leave.

    Great post.

  • Blanca

    Wow !!! Yes, I agree. Welcoming the people is right and is very important. However, if people knew how to behave inside Church, we would not need signs to reminds us that we are entering a Blessed place where due respect should be followed. Other countries, even with different beliefs , show more respect in their temples .nn

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