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

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.

-R