Last Sunday, while visiting family in Sydney, I had the amazing opportunity to visit Hillsong Church. My parents attend a campus near their home in Marsfield, NSW, but they took us to the main campus for the full experience. What I experienced as a first time visitor made me realize that there is a lot more that today’s church bodies can be doing to make people feel welcomed, and also made me thankful for my home church at Alive Wesleyan.
When we entered, we immediately saw a table and banner labeled “Concierge for first time visitors.” After brief introductions, Laura and I were whisked away on a tour of the facilities while another volunteer led by parents to the children’s wing to drop off Noah. After our brief tour, we were reunited with my parents in the main sanctuary in a section reserved for first-time visitors. The volunteers invited us to join their hospitality team after the service for free hot drinks and desserts. I won’t go into too much detail about the service itself, since this will look different for every church body; but I will say that getting to see Hillsong United live and hear Pastor Brian Houston speak was unforgettable! After service, we were led to the cafe where we were greeted by members of the hospitality team. We got our drinks and snacks and sat down to get to know these beautiful fellow Christ-followers.
A few things stuck out to me that I really appreciated about my experience at Hillsong (thatt I also see implemented at Alive):
- I never felt out of place. From the moment I walked up to the concierge table, I never once felt lost, confused, or out of place. The staff/volunteers were constantly watching out for my family and making sure we got to where we needed to go.
- We didn’t have to announce ourselves. I’m sorry if your church does this, but it is one of my wife’s pet peeves when the pastor asks all new visitors to stand up in service and introduce themselves to the congregation. We like to be cared for, not paraded, thank you.
- Our child was taken care of. Ok, so your church may not have a ballpit and a room full of toys like Hillsong Church; but it’s a good sign when your child doesn’t want to leave at the end of service. The staff was kind and attentive, and we had confidence in their ability to watch our rambunctious toddler.
- There was post-service follow up. This is the part I see most neglected in church congregations. We were actually invited to sit down over coffee and desserts with other members and share our stories. (Food and drink really help this happen naturally!) If we had been local residents, we would have swapped numbers and gotten plugged into a small group.
Overall, it was a wonderful experience, and if I lived in Sydney, I would definitely consider bringing my family to Hillsong Church more regularly. What does your church do to make newcomers feel welcomed? I would love to hear your ideas!