DO YOU RECALL OUR VISIT TO YOUR CHURCH?
Do you remember us? I believe it was your church we visited one Sunday during this past summer but maybe we have confused your church with one of the numerous others we visit during two months we spend roaming around the country. Let me tell you a bit about our visit and see if you recall us: We received a rather lukewarm greeting and the person assigned this duty muttered his name and asked ours but seemed to quickly forget it as he introduced us to a friend as Wes and Mary even though our names are Les and Marilyn. However, maybe he was a bit hard-of –hearing so one should excuse his error. After we were introduced to several other members by our wrong names, we decided it really didn’t make that much difference either to them or us especially when our guest stickers echoed his error.
Noting that we were guests the usher led us right down front, as I guess that was where visitors to your church were supposed to be seated. It was a bit lonely up there, as everyone seemed to choose sitting towards the rear of the church. However, several of the members came up and greeted us before returning to their own pew. Your minister introduced himself as Pastor Bob and asked if we were Methodists and how long we were going to be around. After telling him we were just passing through, his interest in us seemed to wan, but he did introduce us as Wes and Mary to the congregation in his opening remarks and requested members to greet us after the service. A few did stop by and speak to us but explained they couldn’t chat long as some of the group who usually went out for lunch after the service had already left and they had to hurry to join them. In their rush I guess they forgot to invite us. Was this your church?
Of course the above-described visit is a composite of those we have encountered or witnessed in our travels and this has challenged us to try to make sure that visitors to our home church do not have similar experiences. Fortunately, not all our visits were negative but one point became clear, most churches seemed unsure how best to welcome visitors and yet both the Old and New Testaments remind us of this duty. Leviticus 19:34 states, “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as a native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for once you too were strangers . . .,” The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “Let brotherly love continue. Don’t neglect to show hospitality, for by doing this some have welcomed angels as guests without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:1-2)
Considering the Scriptural command and after our varied experiences we decided to look at how other churches deal with this important area. We discovered that only 15% of visitors return for a second time and if their initial visit was a rather unpleasant experience. The importance of this finding was accentuated by research indicating that the average church will experience ten percent attrition in membership each year. . Some members will move, others will pass away and some will just stop coming to church! The hard realities of these data are that a church with 100 members can expect lose ten members each year and in order to maintain a membership of 100, a church will need to replace these ten, which means that it will need approximately 70 visitors just to maintain their current membership! Further, the number of potential new members is directly contingent on a church’s having an active recruitment program. There are numerous suggestions in the literature on how to develop effective programs but the primary factor is for a church to develop a comprehensive plan to assimilate visitors into the membership. *
An important starting point for any group surveying this issue is to recognize that each of us at one time was a visitor to our home church. We may not fully recall the entire experience but some reflection should bring back a few recollections. Did entering the sanctuary and seeing a bunch of strangers seem a bit daunting? Do you recall if anyone greeted you and tried to strike up a conversation? Did anyone offer to have you join them in their pew? Were you invited to the coffee time after the service and introduced to others who might have similar interests to yours? More importantly, what led you to want to return and prompted you to seek church membership? Reflecting on these events should prompt thought as to the type of welcoming procedures that should be extended to visitors of your church and more importantly what your individual role should be in welcoming guests! This needs to become the responsibility of every member.
P.S. Did you notice any visitors in your church last Sunday?
* I recommend seeking materials from Pastor Chris at http://churchgreetertraining.com/?p+1. His free introductory video on “Six Most Embarrassing Words to Say to A Visitor” provides a short introduction to greeting visitors.