My husband, Larry and I have been visiting a lot of churches lately. I’m not very good at getting to know new people, so visiting a church is not easy for me. Every time I go through the process of being a church visitor, I learn something new about myself and about church people.
It is also my nature to try and figure out what makes visiting a good experience versus one that makes me feel unwelcome or uncomfortable. I try to put myself in “their” place, to see from the perspective of the person seeing a visitor come in. Since I struggle with getting to know new people, I really do understand it isn’t easy, even when you have the best of intentions.
So I decided to share my take on what it’s like to be “the visitor.” I decided to share what I am looking for when I visit a church. Now I realize that “what I’m looking for” may be unique. Few people walk through a church’s doors looking for exactly what I’m looking for. But I think there are at least some similarities, and if nothing else at least now you will know what I’m looking for, for what it’s worth.
- Greet me. Seems simple enough, but I want people to notice that I’m a visitor and to welcome me. When no one notices that I am a visitor, in my thinking it means one of two things. Either the church people in question don’t know each other well enough to know when someone new is among them, or they’re just cliquish, they just don’t care about getting to know new people. Even when I think this, I try to give them the benefit of doubt, because I too have a hard time greeting new people. But if you don’t want me to struggle with these thoughts, greet me.
- Tell me your name, and ask me my name. And really care about my answer. Don’t ask my name and then not listen to the answer (yes, that has happened). Use my name and I will know you got it. I’ve attended churches where the congregation did a “meet and greet” early on in the service, and quite a few people came by to shake my hand and “welcome me.” But they didn’t bother to ask my name or even tell me their own name. That didn’t exactly make me feel welcome, nor did it give me the impression they really wanted to get to know me. This kind of “greeting” comes across more as a duty or ritual. Maybe their motive was to “be friendly” and “welcome visitors” but they showed no interest in me personally. So their efforts did not have the outcome they might have intended.
- I enjoy really good Bible based teaching, but honestly I did not come just to hear a sermon or meet your “pastor.” So the “pastor” greeting me is no more impressive than any other Christian attending the meeting. In fact, it means more to me when members with nothing personal to gain greet me. So please don’t direct me to your pastor when you meet me as if that is supposed to impress me more than just getting to know you. And I will notice if only the “pastor” and other paid staff are the only people who reach out to me. I do not consider that a healthy sign.
- Ask me about my faith. Yes, I want you to ask me. I care that you care. Find out if I am a Believer. Don’t leave this job to your pastor; you do it. I’m not saying you should necessarily start with real personal questions about my faith, although that would be okay too. But do talk to me about things that matter, take time to get to know me and ask me real questions to show that you do care about my walk with Christ.
- This sort of brings me to my next point. I’m looking for believers who really care about the Word of God and are seekers of the truth by studying God’s Word. I’m not talking about an arrogance that claims “we have the only right doctrine,” but I am talking about finding truth seekers who study and believe God’s Word. So, if I get the impression that God’s Word is not a priority in your church or if I get the impression that your church thinks it has cornered the market on truth through their doctrinal understanding, then I’m probably not coming back.
- Please don’t ask me “Where I attend church” or if I am “looking for a church home.” Those kind of “church identity” questions tell me you are more interested in whether or not I am a prospect for “your church” than you are about my walk with Christ. (Those two things are not the same.) And besides, the answers to questions about one’s personal church history/status are usually much more complex than might appear on the surface. I’d rather not answer them before you really have a chance to get to know me.
- Getting a prize or free gift for attending your church doesn’t mean that much to me. I will accept it as your gesture of kindness but it really has no bearing on how welcome I feel or whether or not I decide to come back. I’m looking at how people treat me, not a gift or gimmick. And if you give me a gift without making me feel truly welcome, it will actually get the opposite effect you were hoping to get.
- I don’t want to be treated as a prospective new member in order to grow “your church.” I’m already a member of the family of Christ. I simply want fellowship and acceptance among my brethren whether or not I decide to attend regularly at “your church.” I don’t like it when people try to “win me over” to “join their church” as if it is some kind of competition between them and every other church in town! I personally hate the divisions that exist in the Body of Christ. So when you act like your church is “better than,” “more doctrinally sound,”, “has the best worship,” etc., I am not that impressed.
- I like it when you make me feel welcome to come back but be careful not to make me feel pushed to give an immediate answer. I know, it’s not easy to find the balance in how to do this, but please try. I would like to know about events or meetings that you might think would interest me, but please give me the information without requiring me to make a decision or commitment right there on the spot. That’s awkward.
- I care more about getting to know individuals than I do attending more functions or programs. What I mean by this is, I’d much rather be asked to coffee or to join your family for lunch than I would be asked to come back to attend some program or organized group meeting. And if you do ask me to go for coffee or lunch, please don’t make me feel like I just took the bait so you could give me a sales pitch about your church. All I’m asking is that you consider spending time with me in order to get to know me better. You might actually find out you like me.