Kelly Fryer has a nice piece on schmoozing on her blog this week. It’s stunning how easily church members focus on our own comfort – such as the fear of having to ask someone’s name – rather than the obvious discomfort a visitor experiences in a new place. I've learned the hard way that you just have to ask people's names until you get it right, and not not ask for fear of embarrassment.
Since I've been on the other side of the visitor/ member divide the last couple Sundays, I second Fryer's remarks even more. That being said, I will add this – whether a church is welcoming tends to have no relation at all to its formality in worship. I’ve been in places with nosebleed-high liturgical practice where the community is warm and inviting -- especially toward children -- and I’ve been to churches that are very chatty, informal, and simultaneously quite exclusive toward anyone who is new. Bottom line: while some people find it easier to reach out than others, the most welcoming communities are those who actually expect visitors, plan for them and intentionally provide ways for the newcomer to get connected. (Fewer chairs at coffee hour isn’t a bad start.)