7 Ways Your Church Can Project the Message ‘You’re Not Welcome’

Church sign
Does your church signage tend to repel visitors? (Photo courtesy of Ron Edmondson)

I was running recently on a route I've run many times, but I missed this sign until this particular run. It was too "good" not to stop and take a picture with my phone.

I saw the sign and the first word that popped in my head was "closed." As another sign I saw in a store window said recently (which I don't completely understand) "Closed for Business." How can you be closed "for" business?

None of us would intentionally place a sign like that on our church doors. "Closed for business." I'm sure that's not the intent this church has with this sign. Yet, I'm certain that some of our practices serve 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 of all types and sizes.

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

1. Only do "church" on Sunday. Don't attempt to build community with people who attend—especially not with someone new to "the community." Let people know by your actions—or lack of actions—that you're comfortable with the people with you now and there is little room for new friendships. Don't reach out to people you haven't seen in a while. We recently visited a church, filled out a visitor card, and only placed our email and phone number on the card. Two months later we have yet to hear from anyone.

2. Don't act like you're happy to see people. Have no one greeting in the parking lots or at the doors. 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.

3. 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 was somewhat true of the church where I am pastor now. Hopefully we are making strides towards correcting that with signage and people.

4. 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.

5. Have your own language. Use acronyms. Yes, acronyms please. Just pretend like everyone already knows what you're talking about. Don't differentiate between VBS and vacation Bible school. Everyone knows that, right? And, use names during the announcements that no one knows but the regulars without any explanation of who they are.

6. Have closed groups. And don't start any new ones. 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 left out when personal conversation begins.

7. Beat people up without giving them hope. Be clearer about how bad they are than how great the gospel is.

Those are a few of my suggestions—if you're looking for a way to put up a closed sign.

Ron Edmondson is the senior pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. For the original article, visit ronedmondson.com.

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