Many years ago I joined the Women’s Ministry Team at our church, and they put me in charge of “Assimilation.” I have to admit I didn’t like the term as it conjured up images of the Borg in old “Star Trek” shows, with their cries of , “Resistance is futile…you will be assimilated.”
However, I realized how important it was to make ladies visiting our church feel welcomed and included, so I jumped into the job with enthusiasm. In the process I learned much about what makes people give up on going to church.
While I hope I did a good job of making changes to that organization, I had to give up the position when my husband and I moved to Florida. In my search for a new church here, I had an opportunity to be on the other side of the issue.
Many of the churches I visited didn’t really seem to be visitor friendly, and I faced some alarming problems when I tried to get to know a new group of Christians. If you are hoping to attract new folks to join your family of faith, maybe you can learn from my experiences. (Note: These are experiences from a variety of churches, not just one!)
1. It felt like no one cared about visitors.
I entered the building and saw a sign which read, “Visitor Center.” Thinking I would learn something there about the church, I walked over. The young girl who seemed to be “on duty” was talking with a boy. She glanced at me and kept talking for some time.
When she finally realized I wasn’t going away, she asked if she could help me. I told her I was a visitor, and she gasped and apologized – too late to change that first impression.
The building presented another problem. Where were the restrooms? The coat storage area? No signs were visible, no one asked to help me, and there were no visitor information packets to answer my questions.
2. The children’s area was not very secure.
This isn’t one that relates to me any more as I don’t have any young children, but as a mother who had a child stolen, it is a deep concern of mine. And, believe me, it is a great concern to parents of young children!
If there is no way for a parent to feel assured that his or her child will be safe and secure, and that no one else can pick the child up during or after the service, he or she will not leave the child. They probably won’t stay in the adult services, either.
3. There was no place to sit.
To be honest, there were a lot of places that seemed empty when I arrived, but when I got closer I could see that people had put Bibles and handbags on them so no one else would take the spot. Most of the available seats were in the center of a row so I had to ask strangers to move and make room for me. Very embarrassing!
Like most visitors, I timed my arrival so it was close to the start of service because I didn’t want to stand out. I was looking at many churches, and I wanted to check out each one before making any commitments. When I couldn’t find a seat in the back, I was very uncomfortable walking to the front as everyone watched me. One time I chose to leave instead.
4. They made me stand up and introduce myself during the service.
It was pretty obvious I was a visitor as no one there knew me. It felt like I had no choice but to stand up and introduce myself. Most people are very uncomfortable speaking before any group, let alone one made up of strangers, so why do churches insist on doing it?
5. The church members seemed to use a different language – I felt like an outsider.
It was like the people were talking in code, and I had no idea what it meant, even though I have been in churches all my life.
Who is Joe and where is his house? What is the WELCA? What are they studying in STAIR? I’m sure the letters stood for something, and the regulars knew who Joe was, but I had no clue.
If you are having a special breakfast or a regular Bible study, take time to explain the details for visitors! When you abbreviate words, be sure you tell folks what they mean in the bulletin or somewhere they can easily find them.
6. The service seemed so unorganized.
The words to the songs were on an overhead projector, but I couldn’t see them. When I moved to see them better, it appeared the people were singing verses not shown. Also, some of the words were misspelled.
I figured out when to sit and stand by watching the folks around me, but no one up front explained the process. Even prayer time surprised me as no one said they were about to pray.
When they passed a basket at the end of the service, it looked like the men didn’t know what they were doing. They even missed a row and passed it 2 times to another row. My Bible says God is a God of order, and I think a worship service should be conducted in an orderly fashion. If your workers have problems with this, take some time to train them!
7. Worst of all, no one spoke to me.
They were certainly friendly to each other, apparently enjoying conversations with people they knew, but I wasn’t part of their clique. When I had to ask someone to move so I could get into a seat, I was sorry to interrupt their discussion.
The “official greeter” at the door welcomed me, but it seemed that was her job. When I got the bulletin I was on my own, not knowing what I might need for the service. In the last church I visited, someone spoke to me, welcomed me and invited me back. I still attend that church!