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!

 

 

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.