Dave Ketelsen is the pastor of the Peachtree City Church in Atlanta, Georgia.

A certain visitor showed up early one Sabbath to attend services. Upon arriving, he pulled into a parking space, not knowing he’d receive a honk from someone behind him, “Hey, that’s my parking space, you took my place,” yelled the other driver. So the visitor found another spot.

As he entered the church, no one shook his hand to welcome him, so he went and found a seat in an almost-empty room where the teacher was frantically making last-minute preparations before class. When others entered, a middle-aged couple encountered the young man and said, “You’re sitting in our place, you took our place.” He moved over to let them have “their place.”

When Sabbath School ended, none of the other class members introduced themselves to him; it was as if he wasn’t even there, other than his taking their place.

Finally, upon entering the sanctuary, he found a spot where no one was sitting, and—you guessed it—someone came by and let him know that he was once again sitting in “their place.” “You took my place,” said the old lady. Again he found another place to sit.

Suddenly, just before the preacher got up to speak, the visitor stood up, and an incredible transforma - tion took place. Everyone watched as he lifted his arms so the worshipers could see nail scars in his hands. “What happened to you?” shouted someone. 

The visitor spoke, “I took your place.”

If Jesus Christ showed up in person at your church, what kind of a reception would He receive? We must always remember that Jesus represents Himself as one of the least of these.

Recently two families from my church came back from their vacations over spring break. They told me of how they had visited a nearby Seventh-day Adventist church and that not one person had spoken to them during their entire visit. That was of interest to me and made me think, “I wonder how my church is doing?”

What is a friendly church? What does it look, feel, and sound like? I sat down with my church leadership and asked them that very question. Here’s what we came up with.

All of my church members know that they’re ministers, which means we’re all in this together. More importantly, we’re all servants, and part of being a servant is being a greeter. (Every member’s a greeter). 

If I were to go into a church and someone handed me a bulletin and said “Hi,” that would be nice, but if someone met me in the parking lot and offered to help me carry something or held out an umbrella on a rainy day with a huge smile and authentic greeting, that would be great! I’d probably want to go back to that church.

While walking through a store, I heard an incredible little phrase that made me think. Over the loudspeaker, the announcer proclaimed, “The only difference between our store and theirs is the way we treat our customers.” Wow! That really opened my eyes as to how we as a church should be treating our members and our visitors. 

Is it safe to say that “the only difference between our church and theirs is the way we treat each oth - er?” I believe in everything we teach as Seventh-day Adventists; however, I wonder if we can learn a few things about how to be more evangelistic during our time together on Sabbath mornings. We may have the truth, but is the truth reflected in our every action and in the way we treat others at church?

They say that the first 90 seconds determines whether someone will stay the next 90 minutes or never come back. Here are some suggestions for reaching out as a friendly church:

Meet people in the parking lot (umbrella in hand if raining and ready to help with little ones or even your own members’ food for the fellowship meal).

Smile, smile, smile. A smile never goes up in price or down in value. I tell my members, “Of all the things you wear, a smile is always the most attractive.”

Go out of your way to say ´Hello.´ I’ve never heard anyone say, “Boy that church is just too friendly. I’m not going back there again!”

Let visitors go through line first during fellowship meals, but assign friendly members to sit with your visitors, making the entire Sabbath experience a memorable one. In one church I pastored, we even formed a hospitality committee to invite visitors home on Sabbath when there wasn’t a fellowship meal.

If a visitor comes to your church and lives in the area, within 48 hours bake some cookies and deliver them to the visitor’s front door. Don’t stay long—just let the visitor know you’re so glad he or she came to your church. 

During the first part of the worship service, invite everyone to reach out and shake a few hands, saying something like, “I’m so happy you’re here today.”

If you’ve ever stayed in a nice hotel, you know that not only does it cost more, it also has more amenities: chocolates on the pillows, fresh flowers on the table, bottled water in the fridge, and a reminder that if there’s anything you need, the staff stands ready to serve you. Of course, such service comes with a price; however, the price has already been paid for us, and that’s why we want to make our churches as friendly as possible.

Can you imagine the welcome we’re going to get in heaven? Now let your imagination run wild and think of things you can do to make someone feel welcome in your church. The possibilities are endless, and you can make it happen. I recently visited the CNN website and read an interesting article about a church where first-time visitors received a $15.00 iTunes gift card. Pastor David Hughes in South Florida posted a billboard near his church in Glades, and his website got 50,000 hits during the first week. His church is now one of the fastest growing churches in America. While your church may not get the same results, you can develop an intentional strategy to get visitors to come to your church. Once they come, you can be intentional in making sure they come back.

Of course, new and innovative ways go only so far; it’s still the personal touch that makes the difference. Like I said, no visitor has ever said to me, “Your members are just too friendly. I’m never coming back.” But I have heard visitors say how much they enjoyed being at our church because of how friendly our church members are. We still can improve and are always looking for ways to make our church a place to which visitors want to return and where a connection with Christ is number one. 

Dave Ketelsen is the pastor of the Peachtree City Church in Atlanta, Georgia.