This is the second post on this topic. Read the first here. UPDATE: Since writing about my experiences, I have pulled together some research and led a seminar on this subject. View the highlight and research here.
We’ve now visited six local congregations in our new town looking for a new church home, several of them two or three times. Over the past 12 twelve years my family and I have moved three times, and thus done church shopping in three different places. Hoping this next church will be the last.
I’m sure each of the six churches would say that “welcoming visitors” was an important ministry. Each church seemed nice, had a nice service, and seemed to be doing some good ministry. But with the exception of one, their outreach to visitors was not one of those things, -if our experience was typical. More importantly, what they COULD HAVE DONE BETTER would have been very EASY TO DO. As I mentioned in Part I, we’re probably not your average visitor, especially considering that I’ve pastored churches. We also know we need to ‘overlook’ some shortcomings. The question is, will other visitors do the same? And why should a church leave stumbling blocks in place if they can easily be moved? With that in mind, here are some suggestions for you…
1) Please have your CARD ready in your pocket when visitors walk up to you. None did. It will give you an opportunity to break the ice and extend an invitation for contact. Then do #2…
2) Please have a note card and pen ready to write down our names and a phone number as we come through the line and introduce ourselves. We have signed six pew pads and marked ourselves as “visitors” but didn’t include contact info. In my experience, most visitors don’t. (We did, however, write a check for each offering that did have our contact info on it. This could be important information for a pastor. To date, only one of the six churches has gotten in contact with us, and that may be because I already knew the pastor.)
In the six churches we have visited, none of the pastors did either of these two things, and only TWO of the nine pastors in the six churches we visited followed up on us. I already knew two of the nine by acquaintance, and one of them did email me and invite me to a Bible study. One of the Associate Pastors invited us after worship to contact him, but didn’t have a card with him, and we had already put our church bulletin in the recyle bin by the door. On a subsequent visit, he greeted us again as we walked out and invited us again to contact him. I told him that I had put my email address next to my name on the pew pad. That was four weeks ago, no contact yet. (Yes, I guess you could say this is sort of a test. But I promise, we will not pick a church based on the perfection of the pastor or myth of our own infalliability! But is contacting a potential new member a good idea? Yes.)
3a) After worship, by the time we got to the pastor via the line, five of the six of you looked shell-shocked and worn out. I understand you’re a bit exhausted by worship and the greeting line. Been there! But as a visitor, we’re looking for a connection of some sort, and not just a worn smile. You should have a stock line you ask visitors to open up a bit of conversation.
One pastor, after saying “hello”, physically turned and stepped away from us for a moment to greet someone else, then turned to speak to us again. He seemed like a nice guy. Even after he talked to us, however, both my wife and I thought he seemed uncomfortable. This is someone who needs training because like they say, you only get one time to make a first impression.
In Part I of this series, I note the one pastor who was welcoming people BEFORE worship. That was nice.
3b) Free up time and space in the greeting line. Suggest to your long-time regular members that they bypass the greeting line if they see it is too long. And ask your members to talk to others in the line instead of shuffling quietly forward.
4) Tell your greeters/elders to stick with visitors they greet and offer them a tour, show them to the coffee (it’s not that easy to find in some churches), and introduce them to others, including the pastor. I’m happy to report that in every church there were members who took the time to talk with us. One couple in one church was especially welcoming, and that was a church we wanted to return to for a second visit.
One church did a great job of greeting us before and after the service, both the members and the pastor. One. (I talk about what they did in Part 1 of this series.)
5) During the “passing of the peace” one pastor did a wonderful thing. He asked his members to stand up FIRST, and look around to see the visitors seated around them. Then he asked the visitors to stand and everyone to pass the peace. It was very effective, and was exactly the opposite of asking nervous visitors to identify themselves first. After worship, several members made sure we were welcome. The following Sunday we went back to that church and he did NOT do it. And guess what, …NOBODY welcomed us after worship.
6) Okay, we signed your pew pad, BUT…. did you look at it the following week? I told one pastor I had signed and put my email address on it. No contact to date. We signed pads in most of the churches, and some fellow pew sitters did look at our name when it was passed back. But not everyone looked or passed them.
We have identified TWO churched we’d like to get to know more. Other than a nice worship experience, here’s what attracted us to them:
a. The presence of families. Here in Florida, aka “God’s waiting room”, that’s not a given, but we think it’s a sign of health.
b. Pastors and liturgist with energy and a sense of joy.
c. Pleasant worship surroundings. (warm colors, textures and character). (Actually, one of the churches is in borrowed space, but it was their people who provided the warmth and texture!) Some of the other churches were nice and clean, but were nothing to write home about. When you are looking for a new “home” church, things like surroundings matter.
d. Good sermon. (Which I would say includes the defintion: “5 minutes shorter than you think”. All six churches have had good sermons, but each could have been shorter.)
e. Alternative worship opportunities that look interesting.
f. Interesting Adult education choices. “A year long study on The Gospel of Mark” isn’t very appealing to a visitor. Would have liked to have had adult ed immediately after worship too. This is something I’ve noticed about our “visitation” choices. We didn’t choose to come to adult ed before the service, but after the service, when we were already there, we would have stayed had you had an offering right after (and not 30 minutes later).
Interestingly, “proximity to our home” has turned into only a passing consideration. The two we are looking at more closely are 20 to 25 minutes away.
Check out my 1st and 3rd posts on this subject at http://sundayresources.net/neil/category/lam/ Each has some different observations and some suggestions for doing things better.
Learn more about Neil’s interactive lesson software about the
Ten Commandments at www.sundaysoftware.com/tenbrief.htm