Last summer, my wife and I moved to the Nashville area and started looking for a church with which to serve and grow. It was a somewhat strange experience for a couple who had never been in that position before. Until now, we had only visited new churches where I was a candidate for pastor.
I am writing this post to provide a fresh set of eyes through which to help you experience a typical visitor’s experience. I aspire to be a Barnabas to pastors and ministry leaders, so please don’t read into this a critical spirit.
Our search began here, and you can assume the same for most of your first-time guests. It was very helpful when the service times and location were on the front page of the site or just a click away behind a well marked tab.
Most of the churches we visited had adequate and well marked guest parking. Parking options in a couple of churches were less than visitor friendly—mostly because I had no idea where the front door was when I drove onto the property.
When a church clearly communicates that they are expecting guests, they are practicing pre-evangelism. They are also reinforcing their vision to mature believers.
We have all heard visitor horror stories from disenchanted church shoppers and hoppers. Janet and I didn’t go with a “white glove” attitude, so our smiles were almost always returned—especially from door greeters.
The hand-shaking thing is fortunately becoming a thing of the past, as Thom Rainer predicted. I don’t think it is fair for a guest to assume everyone they sit next to is a mature believer. Quite frankly, we were not looking for a church with that dynamic or demographic.
The preaching styles were as diverse as the preachers. The most common mistake made was assuming that everyone in the pew knew who was talking to them. Sometimes that clue is found in the bulletin, but most of the time it was assumed. Nashville has some great preachers, which made our decision on which church to join difficult.
It might surprise you that worship was the deciding factor for our membership choice. The church we joined was being led by an interim at the time. I consider worship as more than a pre-sermon activity. I won’t share our personal preference because each church and member has a different personality. Worship diversity is a good thing unless our preferences negatively affect the unity of the church.
My primary takeaway was that worship leaders need to make all of the songs singable. Solo voices are wonderful for solos, performances, and recordings—but not corporate worship. It takes more work to find the range of Joe-worshipper, but it is worth it.
Assume we all need to know, and need to go. Please make your signs visible during peak traffic so guests don’t have to ask for directions.
This can be a less awkward experience for your guests if you explain two things: You don’t expect guests to give; there are other ways to give (online, kiosk, mail, etc). We have given online for a decade, and it still feels strange passing the plate without putting anything in it.
Most churches made the next steps obvious for first timers. We usually wanted to meet the pastor(s), so it was helpful when the initiative and information came from the stage. Do not expect guests to figure it out by themselves by following signs, powerpoints, or instructions in the bulletin.
I hope this was helpful and would love to hear what is working in your church.