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October 6, 2010

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True Confessions of a Chronic Church Visitor

by Kenny Lamm
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Next week, I plan to dive into a series of hard hitting posts looking at the state of worship in NC Baptist churches coming off of weeks of observations. But first, I want to reflect on an element of church life that has much to do with reaching people and discipling them–the first steps of providing a welcoming environment.

Over the past four months, I have had opportunity to visit in many churches across North Carolina to worship with congregations of various sizes and worship styles.  I found some churches to be very warm and friendly, making me feel a part of the family (as much as one can in an initial visit). Other churches were very cold in their treatment of visitors, making me feel like an outsider who was not really welcomed. I don’t think I have ever thought so much about the process that churches use to welcome visitors each week until I became one of them on a weekly basis.

How does your church welcome guests from the time they drive into your parking lot until they drive out at the end of the services?  Do your people provide a warm, welcoming environment for visitors, or do they act as if the church is an exclusive social club?  How do you handle follow up with your guests?

I would venture to say that the level of acceptance a person feels in your congregation affects the worship experience of the visitor.

To give you an example of the vast differences in how churches provide a welcoming environment for visitors, I will illustrate with a few churches that my wife and I (occasionally with 1-2 college children with us) have visited in the last couple of months:

  • Church A:  We were warmly greeted by an usher upon arrival and had several people welcome us. The person in the seat beside us chatted quite a bit with us, getting to know us and welcoming us to their congregation. The same afternoon we visited the church, a couple of people came by our house to again welcome us and share with us what God is doing in their church and answer any questions we might have. In the days that followed, we received a couple of cards and at least two phone calls from different people, again welcoming us and answering any questions we might have. We also had a phone call from the pastor.
  • Church B:  We were handed a bulletin as we arrived. No one spoke to us before or after the service other than the usher. We filled out a visitor card asking to receive more information about the church. We never received a letter, phone call, or visit from this church.
  • Church C:  We were greeted as we arrived and someone near us welcomed us to their church. The pastor made special effort at the close of the service to welcome us. We later received a nice welcome letter and a phone call from people in the church, welcoming us and offering to answer any questions we have about the church.
  • Church D:  We were warmly greeted by the pastor as we entered the church building and handed a bulletin with a warm smile and welcome. We stopped by the guest welcome center on the way out and were given material about the church and warmly welcomed. Later that day, two people came by our house, sharing their testimonies of God’s work at their church, asking us about our spiritual journey, and answering any questions we had about the church.  We received a letter of welcome from the church with a hand written note added by the pastor. We also received a call from the pastor with an invitation to meet him and get to know him better.

Put yourself in my family’s place. How would you feel about finding a church in which you can grow and serve God?

It might be time to take a hard look at your church’s welcoming (or non-welcoming) environment. Do you want your church to come across as an exclusive social club or as a place for all to come and encounter the wonderful grace of Jesus?

Pray for my family as we seek the church that God has for us.  I’m tired of visiting!

Join me next week as we take a hard look at worship in NC Baptist Churches.

As always, please feel free to leave your comments.

[Note: Please do not think I am implying that a church is a social club if they are not a welcoming church.  All of these churches may be doing a great job in worship and discipleship.  My point is that the welcoming climate can create perceptions of a church, whether or not those perceptions are founded.]

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1 Comment Post a comment
  1. Elissa Corrie
    Mar 23 2012

    I recently visited a church in my area that I was very interested in attending. I was so disappointed with the way I was treated. I took my 6 year old daughter with me. We walked past 10 people near the sidewalks on the way in, but no one spoke until the last group had one woman who smiled and said hello.
    We were greeted inside the door by the nursery worker, whose door was right inside the entrance. She showed us the table where the bulletins were, no ushers or greeters other than that. She was very nice and told me how they handle the children’s service and where to pick up my child.
    We found a seat that ended up being someone else’s. He asked me to hand him his hat and he moved somewhere else. I said I was sorry, he said it was all right, he’ll just sit in another seat. A woman beside me and one in front of me said hello and complimented my child. They were both very nice and sweet. The one in front of me helped my daughter take the offering to the box at the front of the room.
    The pastor asked the visitors to fill out the visitor’s card and drop in the basket on the table in the hallway, where we picked up our bulletins. He said they had a special gift for us.
    The card asked for our contact info, names of children, phone, address, and email address. This is Friday and I haven’t been contacted as of yet.
    During the greeting part of the service, 2 or 3 people shook my hand, while others walked right past. One woman came across the room, shook my hand and looked away with her hand still in mine!
    The pastor shook my hand during this time.
    At the end of the service, I spoke for a minute to the nice woman beside me . She asked me to come back. Her hospitality alone encouraged me to try this church another 2 or 3 times before I make a final decision
    .The pastor came to the back of the church at the end of the service, to speak to someone in the room. I tried to linger a few minutes, allowing time for people to approach me, or for the pastor or his wife to come over and greet me. I ended up just walking right past the pastor but he was busy and I didn’t want to interrupt.
    When I went to pick up my daughter, she came out of the classroom into the hallway. I wanted to meet her teacher, but decided to wait until the next time as she was busy with other children. The only thing about this is, did anyone realize I had picked up my child, or did she just come out on her own? I don’t know. There was no adult in the doorway to the classroom.
    We parked across the street and walked to our cars, walking past several people who never looked at us.
    I was pretty disappointed in my visit to this church as it is the newest church in the county. The building is modern, a immaculate, and the church seems to be growing pretty quickly.
    I was so looking forward to becoming acquainted with the church and its ministries. The church has local and foreign outreaches, food pantry, youth and children’s ministries, bible studies, home groups, everything I was hoping to find. The sermon was about doing ministry and being active, with plenty of scripture. I appreciate Scripture references in a sermon. So many these days seem to talk without much scripture.
    I just don’t think they want or need any new people.
    This is not the first cold church I have been to. I find that cool treatment seems to be the normal in this county.
    One last thing. People most definitely saw us, as they all looked at us coming in the door to the sanctuary and watched us try to find a seat. After all, we were new. They just didn’t talk to us.
    Thanks for your time.

    Reply

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