First time guest to church: 5 things we appreciated

In 2016, we had the experience of being first time guests at a lot of churches. If I had to guess, I’d say that we visited 20 churches. Big churches. Small churches. Middle class churches and churches where most congregation members are living in poverty. Congregations that meet in old buildings, new buildings, etc. Quite a sample platter.

A friend asked if I’d write about what some of these churches did well in regards to welcoming us as new guests. In no particular order, here are 5 things that stand out from our experience.

First up, we noticed and liked when congregation members went out of their way to greet us. Whether this was done before, during, or after the service, we remembered their efforts. The message this sent was: this is a church who doesn’t expect the pastor to do all the work of the ministry (we were only greeted by the pastor in several churches). Also, this said to us: “there’s room for more!”.

MMM. So one church gave us a bag of homemade cookies! That was a first and hasn’t been repeated since. Who wouldn’t enjoy cookies for their drive home from church? Taste buds aside, what was important was the message that it sent to us. The cookies said: this church thinks about, plans for, seeks out, and ministers to first time guests.

On another first visit, we were given a tour of the church building prior to the service. Everything from where the bathrooms are to the nursery in the basement were covered. Before the service even started, we felt comfortable and at home there.

As first time guests, one church demonstrated to us the difference between nursery volunteers who supervise vs. nursery volunteers who minister to children. (We’ve been to many a church where the nursery volunteers seem to be more interested in talking to each other than interacting with the children). At this particular church, the nursery workers got on the floor to play with our daughter to help her feel comfortable. It was evident that she was their top priority. And in addition to having a fun and safe nursery experience, she also learned about God.

For a few of the churches (read: 3 churches), we received contact from the pastor within a week or two of having visited for the first time. This took the form of one typed “standard welcome letter” and two that e-mailed us. (It was surprising to me that no church sent a personal, hand-written note. Despite his poor hand writing, this was something Derek did regularly in his ministry – which he received a lot of positive feedback for. Over the years, he was told on several occasions that the hand written note caused the guest to check out our church a second time). Whether it was a typed letter or an e-mail, we greatly appreciated hearing from the church that we had just visited. It helped us to feel noticed, appreciated, welcome. It also sent the message that the pastor/leaders don’t only focus on those who are already there but they also take the time to reach out to those not connected in, yet.

Have you recently been a first time guest in a church? Can you think of something that the church did well that helped you to feel welcome? Would love to hear about it!

 

 

Letter to the church as a millennial: set your women free!

Dear Church,

I love you. And I am disappointed. I’m disappointed that you’ve not only been responsible for historic oppression of women, but currently, so few of you have set your women free. As long as women are told to “play small” in church, we won’t see the Kingdom come on earth like it is in heaven. And we’ll continue to see less and less millennials in our pews or chairs. Millennials are good at picking up scents of oppression and running the other way. More than just attracting millennials to our churches, we want to be churches that are busy about loving God and others well. With love as the motive, here are three areas that you can work on as a congregation to help set your women free:

1)Let’s start with the “first lady” of your church, if you have one. The Pastor’s wife. Oh how Pastors’ wives need to be set free. They must not be seen as a 2-for-1 package.  Just like everyone else in the church, the pastor’s wife needs to be free to serve out of her unique gifting, passion and personality. When you do this, you will be a church that appeals to millennials. Why? By setting your pastor’s wife free to be who God created her to be, your church will be a refuge. You will be demonstrating that this is a safe place for all – even, and especially, the pastor’s wife. And you’ll be ridding your congregation from a yucky part of church history that involves sexism in how pastors’ wives have been pigeonholed and unfairly treated.

2) Women need to be free to serve in positions of leadership in the church and encouraged to do so. If we study the life of Jesus, keeping in mind historical context, we see that Jesus was a radical in his inclusion of women in his life and ministry. And women were in positions of leadership in early Christianity , building and growing the church alongside the apostle Paul. If you already are a church that supports women in leadership on paper, great! Just make sure that you demonstrate this support in practice, too. Millennials want to experience evidence to the effect, not just a statement on paper.

3) The third area of consideration is mostly for the pastors and teachers in the church. How you can help is to be intentional about using examples of women from the Bible and throughout history in Sunday School lessons, Bible Studies and in Sermons. Millennials don’t desire for biblical and historical lessons of men to be pushed aside, rather, they ask that leaders in the church remember to teach about female role models, too.

I realize that it’s a bit bold of me to write a letter to the Church on behalf of millennials. And yes, I know that I don’t speak for every millennial who is connected to a church. But I’m also not the first millennial to think of or express these thoughts. Not the first to ask for our churches to do a better job at setting women free. And I’m fairly certain that I won’t be the last.

With best regards,
a church-loving millennial

Bless your church: be an encourager

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Facebook reminded me that on this day in 2014, my status update said the following: “I believe this is universal: people are more likely to take the time to make a complaint than to go out of their way to express appreciation. Let’s change that.” The post received quite a few likes and comments in agreement. A couple of people stated that they were going to try to be better at expressing appreciation and complaining less.

The church is one place where criticism can be dished out as easily as mints and appreciation expressed sparingly. If you don’t believe me, have a heart-to-heart with any pastor or ministry leader. Whether the church is the biggest one in town or the smallest one, they all can relate in regards to criticism. Put a group of pastors together and you’ll find that they have heard it all.  And even though most of the criticisms are so very trivial (in light of eternity), they can wear church leadership down.

This is where you come in. There is hope! There is something that you can do to help offset the criticism that pastors and ministry leaders regularly face.  You can go out of your way to express appreciation. Don’t be a bystander (assuming someone else is doing the encouraging) but instead, take every opportunity to compliment, express appreciation, and to remind your pastor/leadership that you’re with them. I’m not saying that you’ll never disagree. Just make sure that your lips aren’t found to have more criticism on them than encouragement.

I don’t think that most congregation members in a church are critical and bitter. Rather, I believe (and some brief research has shown) that the opposite is true. It’s often 90% that are positive and 10% that are negative in a church. The problem is that it’s the 10% that are the most vocal. The 10% will talk (aka gossip) to anyone who will listen. And they are loud. It’s time for the 90% to rise up. To not assume that your pastor or leadership “just knows” how you feel. The 90% must balance out the 10% by taking every opportunity to express appreciation. To live out Hebrews 3:13 which calls Christians to “encourage one another daily.”

Lent is as good of time as any to start doing the things we know we ought to do. Why not take these 40 days to grow in the art of encouraging others. It may feel uncomfortable and unnatural at first, but it will get easier with time. Practice helps. What a difference we may see in our churches when the pastor(s) and leadership are encouraged regularly. What a difference the world may notice when the body of Christ is found to be generous with encouragement and careful with criticism. In this season of lent, let encouragement rise: in our own hearts, in our churches, and in our circles of influence. Each one – encourage one. Starting this day.

Women in Church Leadership

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Our daughter has a set of toy people who are each of a different occupation. We weren’t sure which occupation this lady is. Teacher? Hubby suggested, “Pastor”. Yes. Yes, of course. She’s a Pastor.

As a young girl, I remember asking my dad why he was so committed to attending a Free Methodist church. His reply was, “I have 4 daughters. I want each of you to fully understand that you can serve in leadership at church, too.”

In the little and big ways, we desire for our daughter to know that she can serve in leadership and even be a pastor one day, too (should she feel called). Today that lesson comes in the form of a toy woman with the occupation of pastor.

Looking for a church

Searching for a new church can be a challenging endeavor. As a pastoral family in transition, we are now experiencing this first hand. The fact that we’d like to find a church within a specific denomination (Free Methodist) helps to narrow down the list of churches in our area considerably. But we still have several churches to visit and chose from.

So far, we’ve been guests at 5 Free Methodist churches in our area on a Sunday morning. It is a great learning experience to be “new in the pew”. The following gives you a little insight into what the search process has been like so far for a “young family” looking for a church. Please keep in mind that our experience will be different from others (i.e. we are very familiar with church language, culture, etc).

Prior to Sunday morning, we are checking out the church website for the service time and also looking to see if it gives us any idea on what to expect for our first visit. Like many visiting a church for the first time, we wonder about attire. And as tired parents to a wee one, we wonder if we can bring our coffee to church.

Since we’ve never been to any of these churches before (on a Sunday morning), we are pure newbies when we arrive. We have experienced firsthand the importance of good signage (i.e. where’s the main entrance? where are the bathrooms?). We appreciate being told about the nursery (we have a 1 year old) and also being made to feel comfortable if we decide to keep our daughter in the service. This helps as I don’t plan to put our daughter in the nursery on our very first visit to a church. With this in mind, we appreciate when there’s space at the back of a sanctuary where we can sit or walk around with our one year old.

You may be wondering: what exactly are you looking for in a church? I think I’ll take a stab at this question at another time in a different post. We certainly don’t expect perfection.

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Photo credit: looking-for-a-church

I’ll leave you with this: a church must be prepared for first time guests to arrive on ANY Sunday during the year. Even in the summer months. You never know when a person, couple or family will decide to give your church a try. Always be ready. And lastly, welcoming new folks isn’t just for the pastor to do, rather, it’s more-so for the congregation members. Besides the pastor being kinda busy that morning (a guest may slip in when the service has started and leave before the pastor can get to them),  it seems to mean more to first time guests when a congregation is outgoing vs. just the pastor is friendly.

That’s all folks. For now. We are midway through our journey to find where God would have us serve & be served. While in this process, we seek to learn, grow, and encourage each and every church that we visit.

 

Hurt in a church? A must read:

The following is such a good article. Highly recommend reading all of it.  It’s full of wisdom that’s helpful to understand whether you’ve been hurt in a church, know someone who has, or not. This is for every churchgoer.

How to Keep From Getting Hurt in a church by Dale A. Robbins:
Avoiding Hurts and Offenses in the Church

There’s 13 different and oh-so-good points. Here’s a sample of one of them (#12):

One of the great characteristics of the body of Christ is to care about the burdens and sufferings of one another. However, as we seek to console and encourage friends that have been offended, we may be tempted to take up their offense against another. In sympathy, we may tend to take their part against the pastor, the church or whoever they blame for the offense. This is very unwise and an unscriptural thing to do, considering that your friend may be the cause of his own offense. His hurt feelings may be due to a misunderstanding, a difference of opinion, his own rebellious attitude, emotional instability — or he may be childish and immature. There are always two sides to a story, and only an idiot develops an opinion based on one side or without all the facts.

Sometimes offended persons will seek sympathy from naive, listening ears. They go about pleading their case, pouring out their bleeding-heart of injustice to those sincere, tenderhearted persons who will listen. Their goal is to seek out persons who will coddle them, support their opinion and take up their offense against the offending party. You should love and encourage a friend with hurt feelings, but reserve your opinion and avoid taking sides, lest you find yourself a partaker in other men’s sins, or you also become offended and hurt with the church.

the missing ingredient when greeting church visitors

First impressions are significant to people looking for a church. A church often has one shot to help a guest feel welcomed and wanted. While most churches have designated greeters who have big hearts and good intentions, there’s one thing that they often miss doing. Congregants can miss this simple yet significant step, as well.

While visiting a dozen different churches while Derek was on sabbatical, there was a common theme between them all: each one greeted us in some way, shape, or form. It’s the degree to which we felt welcomed that varied.

Here are our reflections:

First, we were impressed when random congregation members talked to us instead of only the greeters.

Second, while we noticed that most greeters said “hi” and asked us our names, very few told us their names. So while I’d say that we were greeted, there was a piece missing. The element that was lacking was the feeling of a mutual connection.

From our experience, the advice would be: next time you see someone new at your church, do say hi. Ask them their name(s) and a little about them. But don’t let it end there. Tell the guest your name and something about you. This can be how long you’ve been attending your church, where you work, etc. Remember, connection is a two-way street. Telling a guest a little about you can go a long way in their leaving feeling connected.

To all those serving in the role of church greeter – you’re awesome. You are needed and very important. You hold one, if not the most, important volunteer position in your church. Keep up the good work! But remember, next time you talk to someone new at your church, don’t forget to tell the guest your name and something about you. By doing this you’ll not only be friendly but you’ll also be personable. You’re also more likely to stand out in their memory.

Being intentional about not only greeting but also connecting with guests at your church is mega-important. It’s the missing ingredient in many churches, but when it’s present it’s oh so sweet. Aiming for connection instead of friendliness helps first-time guests want to come back for a second visit and more.