Today, the Jennings family worshipped in Boone, Iowa. I was invited to be the guest preacher for their Consecration Celebration. I noticed that Nathan didn't go up for the Children's Time. In the car on the way home, I asked Nathan why he didn't go and his answer was very telling.
Nathan said, "Well, it was my first time there and I didn't know what to expect. Next time we go to church there, I'll go up."
This is how I imagine most folks feel when they come to a new church for the first time. I know that I feel the same way when I go somewhere I haven't been before, and it always helps when I know what to expect or can go with someone else.
I've seen some creative devices employed by churches to minimize the discomfort that comes with the unknown. Some put pictures of their entrances on their websites. Some will put images of their worship on their sites. I really like it when churches put video tours on their sites, with snippets of the music, the preaching, and the congregation worshipping so that potential guests can get a good feel of what they might experience when they come.
While these devices are great, nothing can beat the human element. A vast majority of people visit a church for the first time after being invited by someone they know. Inviting someone is the best way to reach out to new people and when you invite someone, that is the perfect time to tell them what they might expect. Tell them what you wear to church. Tell them what style of music they'll hear. Tell them that they are welcome to participate in every part of the service, including communion. Tell them what is available for their children. Tell them why you go to this church. This will alleviate their anxiety about coming for the first time.
But don't stop there. Offer to pick them up, or meet them at a specific time in the parking lot and walk them in. Introduce them to people so they'll know someone there besides you. Introduce them to your pastor.
It doesn't end when the service is over. Go to lunch and talk about the experience. Give them an opportunity to ask questions. Invite them to come again.
Help them to feel welcome before, during, and after worship. Maybe this will help them to come back again and participate in the things they just weren't sure about the first time.
Practice your faith every day.