It’s always interesting to visit in churches where you’re not known. Whether on vacation, or passing through an area on a Sunday after having taught the day before in another city, or just taking a Sunday when at home to drive to a church where we’ve never been, Diane and I have visited in many churches.
You should try this sometime. You’ll learn a lot about how first-time visitors might feel coming to your church.
In our experience, many of the churches were very friendly. Their members introduced themselves to us, and even chatted a moment. In other churches, I had only one or two people, if any at all, speak to me. Even with many people all around, a visitor could feel quite lonely in that situation. Here are two examples of our visits:
Diane and I went away for a couple of days of R&R. This was over a Sunday, so we looked on the internet for information about churches in that area, and chose one to visit. We’d never been there before. From what we read, it was one of the larger Christian churches in that area, with a blended/contemporary style of music (which we enjoy). We arrived 20 minutes early.
When we walked in the door, there was a lot going on. Straight ahead was the worship area, but to the left was an extra-large lobby with tables advertising various ministries of the church. Many people were milling around there.
The man who was assigned to hold open the front door said, “Good morning” to us. When we entered the lobby, we stood for a couple of minutes just looking around. Then we slowly walked around, looking every bit the part of visitors who didn’t know where to go or what was going on. Nobody spoke to us. After several minutes, we decided to head to the worship area.
A woman just outside that door handed Diane a bulletin. She looked at me and asked, “Do you need one, too?” We chose aisle seats along the busiest aisle. Though a lot of people walked up and down that aisle before the service, not one stopped to speak to us. We settled in for the worship service.
After the service, we again lingered in the lobby area between the worship center and the door. After being there several minutes, we walked out the door and to the car. During that entire time not one person came up to us to ask if we were new, to find out if we were visiting, or even to say hello.
Our next experience was at First Christian Church in Canton, Ohio. Our oldest son, Jimmy, had just been hired on staff there, and we visited on his first Sunday. Nobody knew us except for a couple of the staff members I know, who weren’t in the lobby when we arrived.
When we walked in the door, we waited for just a moment while deciding whether to stop at the Welcome Center (straight across from the doors—visitors would see it immediately). Before we could get to it, a man named Aaron came up to us, introduced himself, and asked if we were new and if he could help us find anything. We talked for a couple of minutes. He told us where the restrooms were, where we could get some coffee, where the children’s department was (he saw that we had our two small granddaughters with us) and then he was off down the hallway. Every church needs at least one Aaron!
Others would smile and say hello to us, and a couple of them would stop and speak for a moment. How comfortable and welcomed we felt!
Visitors to your church will often decide in the first three minutes whether they want to return or not. For us, we return to FCC Canton periodically (okay—the fact that Jimmy is Student Minister there doesn’t hurt!). But when we vacation in the other area again, we might choose a different church to attend. And had we been living in that area and were looking for a new church home, we probably would have settled elsewhere.
What about your church? What are you doing to make sure new people are noticed and welcomed? Any special tips for other readers?
(End of Part 1. To be continued…)
[NOTE: This is a re-post of a blog I had written on my previous website, and it got quite a positive response from readers. I hope it provides you with some good insight.]
© 2015 by Jim McLoud. All rights reserved.