7 Ways We Put a Not Welcome Sign on Our Church

I was running once and saw this sign and the first word that popped in my head was “Closed”. Anything which seems exclusive to the people already on the inside makes me as an outsider seem unwelcome. I’m sure that’s not the intent this church has with this sign. It’s probably a very welcoming church. I also know there are circumstances which make some churches have to limit their parking. Again, probably not the intent, but the sign seemed so harsh to me as someone unfamiliar with the church.

As I continued running I kept thinking about that sign and implications for those who saw it. It then brought to mind signs I’ve seen in store windows – which I don’t completely understand. The signs say, “Closed for Business”. How can you be closed “for” business? Seems more like you’d be closed “from” business. If you’re closed you’re closed.

Of course, none of us would intentionally place a “Closed for Business” sign on our church doors. But, it was a great way to jar my thoughts about some practices churches occasionally have, which, intentional or not, serve essentially the same purpose.

Over the years, Cheryl and I have visited dozens of churches. Whenever we travel we try to find a church. I’ve spoken at and consulted with a lot of churches in all types and sizes.

From personal experience – here are some ways you can place a closed sign to visitors on your church.

Only do “church” on Sunday.

When we make no effort to build community with people who visit we let people know by our actions – or lack of actions – that we are comfortable with the people in the church now. And, there is little room for new friendships. (This could include not reaching out to people we haven’t seen in a while.) Not long ago, while out of town, Cheryl and I visited a church, filled out a visitor card, and only placed our email and phone number on the card. Months later we have yet to hear from anyone.

Don’t act like you’re happy to see people.

Have no one greeting in the parking lots or at the doors. And, don’t talk to people you don’t know if people actually make it inside the building. I once was the guest preacher at a church. Not one person greeted us in the church. I literally had to go find somebody to tell me when to preach. Not one other person besides the person I found ever spoke to us. I realize that’s the extreme but I wonder how many times visitors feel that same way in our own churches.

Confuse people.

Display confusing signage or, better yet, none at all. And, don’t think about using people as guest hosts. I can’t tell you how many churches we have been to where it was very confusing which door to enter and where to go once we entered the door. At times, if I weren’t the speaker – as an introvert especially – I might have left. (Just being honest.) I have to be honest even more and say that could have somewhat been said of the church where I am pastor now. After years of add-on projects it can be a very confusing building. Hopefully we are continuing to make strides towards overcoming that with signage and people.

Make it uncomfortable for visitors.

If you really want a closed sign up, everyone should talk to the only people they know. It’s either that, or you could make visitors feel very conspicuous. Have them stand up maybe – or raise their hands – and keep them up until an usher comes by. We once attended a church which made visitors stand up, introduce themselves, and tell why they came that day. Talk about awkward. Again, that’s extreme, but it certainly caused me to review how we make visitors feel welcome – and don’t.

Have your own language.

Use acronyms – for everything. When we pretend everyone already knows what we are talking about – don’t differentiate between VBS and Vacation Bible School – we make outsiders feel left out of the conversation. (Even with the name of it can be confusing as to what it really is without some description being given.) Another thing which is very anti-welcome is to use personal names during the announcements no one knows but the regulars. (“We’ll meet at Sally’s for the ice cream social. See Joe if you want more information.”)

Have closed groups within the church.

And, don’t start any new ones. It could be any group – Bible studies, service groups, but when any small group has been together more than a few years – with no new people entering the group – it’s a closed group. A new person coming in will not feel welcome. They won’t know the inside jokes. They don’t know the names of everyone’s children’s. They feel very left out when personal conversation begins.

Beat people up without giving them hope.

And, for this one I had to go all theological on you. But, when we are clearer about how bad people are than how great the Gospel is we can make outsiders – who may not yet be living the life we would suggest for them – like they don’t belong and have no chance of getting there. We should teach on sin – and not just certain sins, but all sin, including what I call the 3 G’s – gossip, gluttony and greed. But my goal is to always let people leave with the hope of the Gospel. It’s actually the only hope we all have.

Those are a few of my observations. Again, none of us would purposively place a “Closed for Business” sign on our churches – so we must be careful we haven’t done so by our unintentional actions.

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Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 25 Comments

  • Chris says:

    You mentioned using your own language eg “See Joe if you want more information”. I agree, this makes me feel really unwelcome unless I have been there for years and already know Joe. But what is a better way to do this?

    • Ron Edmondson says:

      Give them clear directions that do not need to know personalities or “insider information” to figure out. Instead of see Joe, you could easily point them to a web address with details, give them an email address such as info@churchname.com, some churches are using text for information, or if you want it to be a live person, position the person somewhere in the building and give clear directions how to find that person (Under the banner that says “information” – for example.) Lots of ways to do this, just make it clear.

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  • Dave Wollenberg says:

    I’ve seen this lately, in our worship times. Sure, the main leader has an ID graphic on the screen, but, he brings others up to sing a chorus, and THEY’RE not identified with an on-screen ID graphic. How’re we supposed to know who these people are, if there’s no ID graphic to tell us?

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  • GLT says:

    While most of your points are good ones, having "No Parking" signs are not a good measure of welcoming. In our case, we are next to apartments, and we tried to be lenient with tenants. They repeatedly left our lot a mess, leaving trash all over, oil leaks, etc. It eventually go to the point that on Sunday mornings, almost 1/2 of our lot was filled with cars of people who lived in the apartments meaning that we ran out of room to park. On snowy days, parked cars meant that our lot could not be plowed, or at least that half of it would have to be shoveled if the people ever moved their cars. We had to put our proverbial foot down on the matter.

    There are other good reasons, such as insurance to prohibit parking.

    However, pastors and regulars should be park in the furthest spots, leaving the closer spots for others to park in.

    • ronedmondson says:

      The real key here is not the sign. Its the content on the sign. Just like a door you don't want people to enter. You can say do not enter. Or you can say please use other entrance. It's the way you communicate don't.

      • GLT says:

        Thanks. Obviously, it's not the sign, but the content of it. But remember, you can ask people to do something all you want, but until there is some level of enforcement, you have no ultimate leverage. In our situation, we had asked people not to litter, not to leave messes, not to park there on Sundays, and to move their cars when it snowed. I had talked to many of them personally on several occasions. In snow storms, I would leave letters on their cars asking them to move so we could plow. It didn't work. We had to enforce it (only once or twice) and then people got the message.

        In the case of parking, I am not sure how it could be worded any better. We considered a number of ways to word a sign so that it wouldn't be prohibitive or sound negative. There was just no way to do it that we could come up with.

        I took your approach for several years against the desires of the leadership team, and it backfired on us.

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  • bpowers1011 says:

    We changed our signs from "Church Parking" to WELCOME! We are across from a hospital and have an agreement with them, allowing their employees to park in one of our lots and our employees to park in their lot (these lots are actually closer to the entrances employees use in each case.) The only time this is not possible is when we are having a funeral or some other event during the day. Then, we do have to put chains across the lot for part of the day, until the event time. This allows our members and guests easier access to the church. However, most of those in the downtown area on weekdays know that this is the only time the chains are up. One of our other lots is near a bar and it has a WELCOME sign also. That lot is often utilized by the bar patrons, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. But instead of telling them CHURCH ONLY, we want them to know they are welcome here.

  • […] also shared, “7 Easy Ways to Put a Not Welcome Sign on Your Church.” Again, file this one away in the “What to Not Not Do” […]

  • Kory says:

    While I totally agree with you on all of these, I do feel I should point out that in some places the “Church parking only” signs are required. Our last church was not allowed per the city to let anyone park in our lot except for church business – it was right across the street from a major university and I guess they didn’t want private groups profiting from parking availability. They tried to push back to no avail. Certainly not all with such signs would be in that boat and I don’t disagree with you that it’s off-putting, just saying perhaps there actually IS a good reason.

    • ronedmondson says:

      And, yes, there may be a legal requirement in some places. That's not the case with this one but I certainly understand your point.However, even with that being said, the way you say something often lowers the boom. Perhaps you say, according to state law we are not allowed to let you park here. Maybe you even have the word please on the sign.  But I do understand your point, I would just simply have to look for a better way to say it. 

  • naeloy says:

    I've seen chains across church driveways. I have to think that those churches had some pretty good reasons for locking up but still, the message is not welcoming.

    • ronedmondson says:

      There's one in our community and the area actually could use the parking lots during the week to promote commerce in the district. The same district they probably review the most support from. 

  • Sue Mosher says:

    I hate to see verses posted outside a church like "The wages of sin is death…" So disheartening. I don't know why they would expect anyone to feel welcome because of seeing that.

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  • Jackie says:

    We have been visiting several churches lately looking for a new church home and the one thing that I wish that more of them would do is introduce themselves before they start speaking. There may be several people that come to the platform and lead singing, read scripture, announcements, pray, and preach. Who are you? Are you the pastor? or the assistant pastor? Who just prayed for sick or the offering? A deacon? A pastor? A layperson? Who are you people?! Yes members know who you are but the visitors do not.

  • Jason says:

    I visited a church last Sunday where not a single person spoke to me the entire time. I found it hilarious after a while and wondered if anyone would say anything to me before the night was over…and I walked out without even a man who bumped into me saying "excuse me."

    As for making visitors stand up…well…if a church does that, I will NEVER go back there. A corollary to that is a church hosting an event and then forcing everyone to "contribute" to the gathering in some way. Some of us visiting a new place want to get a feel for it, not be put in the spotlight right away.

    • ronedmondson says:

      I so agree. Thanks. And, in fairness, you could have easily been in our church, sat in some sections, and got away without anyone speaking to you. I've heard from a few who that happened to — but, as a whole, that's rare in our church, thankfully. We do a pretty good job of talking to people. And, as an introvert, I strive not to put people on the spot when they are new. It's always a work in progress. Thanks for sharing.

  • […] Guests, visitors & welcome: * 11 Church Hospitality Tips to Serve Guests; * 7 Easy Ways to Put a Not Welcome Sign on Your Church […]

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