Creating a seeker friendly environment
I remember the first time I attended a campus ministry in college. I walked into a small classroom with about ten people in it. With no clear direction as to what was going to happen, I wasn’t even sure where I should sit. I felt awkward trying to make conversation with complete strangers.
Then the worship leader made their best attempt to strum a few chords and get through a couple songs. Thankfully, I met some people who seemed cool and decided to give it another try, but it was pretty rough that first time.
I was a Christian and even I felt uncomfortable there!
I hate to say it, but churches and campus ministry meetings can be some of the most awkward places to visit.
Most people have preconceived ideas about Christians before they even walk through the door.
In a culture where many already see Christians as intolerant and unloving, we want people to feel as welcome as possible.
This starts with the moment they see our posters around campus, meet someone at a table, or show up to our meeting. It’s all about the environment you create, so here are some ways to make people feel welcome from their first interaction with your ministry.
The most important thing to remember is this, making people feel welcome takes effort. It never happens passively.
If you hang posters on campus or hand out invites make sure they don’t have any typical Christian symbols on them.
You should avoid fishes, doves, crosses, flames, etc. You’re not looking to hide what your club is all about, but many people have certain emotions that they immediately associate with those images.
Instead of using those symbols, you can put a short, simple description that makes it clear for people. The ministry I work with is called BASIC, which stands for Brothers And Sisters In Christ, so we just put that text on our flyers.
If your name doesn’t clearly communicate what your ministry is about you could use a simple sentence like, “A place to learn more about God and encourage one another.” Whatever you choose, make sure to keep it simple and concise.
Setting An Atmosphere
There’s a number of things you can do to set a great atmosphere for new people who attend your meetings.
We like to have popular music that everyone is familiar with playing when people first come in. It’s easy to find a Spotify playlist for this or create your own.
Make sure there’s some good food available. College students love to eat (really, who doesn’t?) and most are willing to be more social when there is food involved.
If you put out some great food and give people time to hang out it creates an environment that encourages interaction and engagement.
Find a way to incorporate something fun into your meetings.
If your meeting only consists of worship, announcements, and someone sharing a message then students will most likely be bored (or asleep) by the end.
Remember, they’ve sat in classes for a couple hours, so provide something fun to break things up. Here’s a post I wrote with ice breakers that are actually fun.
At large group meetings, have at least one person at the door every week with an email signup list for newcomers, greeting everyone with a smile and helping them feel welcome. If they have questions, they should feel comfortable asking that person.
It’s good to look around your meeting and find one person you don’t know and talk to them. Ask them to sit with you, making them feel welcome and build a relationship.
Try to find something you have in common with them. Once you find common ground they will feel more welcomed and interested in coming back.
Years ago I read a post from Benson Hines suggesting that each group have a designated “social connector.”
This is someone who is friendly and knows a lot of people in your group and their interests.
They are designated to connect with new people and look for interests they would have in common with others in the group. Once they get to know a newcomer, they can introduce them to people with similar interest, help facilitate the connection, and start up conversation.
The most important thing to remember is that making people feel welcome takes effort. It never happens passively.
So, consider how much more uncomfortable visiting your weekly meeting can be for those who are unchurched or unaccustomed to an evangelical setting. We don’t have to remove every single thing that could make people uncomfortable (worship is probably seen as odd to unbelievers). But if our goal is to reach the lost, and it should be our goal, we have to be aware of the environment we’re creating.
It’s important to remember that if people don’t want to come back we’ve missed out on our mission.