Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Visitor" vs "Guest"

It's amazing how one little word can affect the church's perception of people and people's perception of the church. For example, how many times have you ever heard or used the word "visitor" when referring to people who are not regulars at your church? What if, instead of thinking of people as a "visitors" at our churches, we thought of them as "guests"?

A “visitor” is typically somebody who comes and goes without much preparation on our part or much thought afterward. Most of the time, a visitor is a consumer only...a person who is simply looking for a specific service or product. A visitor is only interested in investing whatever (time, energy, money) is necessary to to get what they want out of their stop.

Hospitals have visitors. Museums have visitors. Grocery stores have visitors. Usually, some amount of effort is made to prepare for visitors, to make them feel welcome, to clean the floor, to have the service or product hot and ready. But, the primary purpose of preparing for a visitor is to serve their consumer mentality...do just enough to entice them to buy into a certain product or service, with the hope that maybe they'll exit quickly to make room for another consumer and return when they need that same product or service again. The bottom line when focusing on visitors is about getting as many satisfied people in and out the door as possible.

A “guest”, in comparison, is typically a person who is cared for and has been intentionally invited. Most of the time, a guest is somebody who is a participant...a person who looking for a specific experience. A guest is often interested in investing in the greater purpose of the group.

Homes have guests. Elementary classrooms have guests. And, churches should have guests. A guest is somebody you’ve dusted every nook and cranny for, put out your best china for, prepared a certain meal for. You wait for them at the door, offer them your favorite chair, spend time getting to know them, and invite them to be an active participant in what you are doing. The primary purpose of preparing for a guest is to serve their felt needs...do everything possible to offer them the opportunity to experience change, with the hope that maybe they'll have a desire to enter into a deeper relationship. The bottom line when focusing on guests is about being ready to have a life-altering connection with every person who comes through the doors.

I don't know about you, but I want to see people as guests and not visitors. I want people to see the church as a community, not a retail store. I want the members of my church to realize that their interaction with our guests, whether a quick "hello" or an extended conversation, could have an eternal impact. I want our guests to come to my church hoping for something more than friendly people, a positive message and some feel-good music.

What about you? Are you serving visitors or are you serving guests on Sunday morning? Does it really matter? If so, what would it take to change the focus of your church?



Tracy Edwards said...

Our service uses the word Guest. I was a guest at your Church the 4th of July weekend while on vacation this summer. I personally think either word is good. Tracy Edwards/Chesapeake/Hickory
PS I plan on being a guest the next time we are in your parts.

Anonymous said...

I wish there were more churches out here in Washington that felt that way. I have 'visited' a few churches since moving here, and have never been made to feel very comfortable in any of them. Sadly, I have not even been invited to a church here but once since I moved here 5 years ago.

Perhaps if more churches looked at first timers as guests, than visitors, I may actually have a church to call home.

I really like your point of view on this one, Nate.

Current WA state resident.

Aggiema (Michelle) said...

I enjoyed reading your post, you made some interesting points. I have heard the elders and the preachers at the church I attend say...."To our visitors, we want you to know that you are our honored guest." Which kind of covers it all but can come across as a "catch phrase" sometimes---similar to how "in Jesus name Amen" sometimes comes across more as " okay I am done now, we can go on" instead of conveying the privilege of being able to speak with our Father because of the great sacrifice of Jesus.

Ellen said...

You have a very good point in your Visitor vs Guest article. How much warmer a new person in attendance would feel by being referred to as a welcomed guest, rather than a stranger/visitor. I would love to post a link to this on my Facebook, if you have no objection.

Rick Lawrenson said...

I long ago eliminated"visitor" from my vocabulary. If it creeps back in I'll chalk it up to dementia.