Oops! We used the wrong door – A church visit story

We found our way to the church parking lot, in a round about way.

We drove past the one driveway and found the second driveway was roped off.   We drove around the city block to once again approach the one and only OPEN driveway.

As our family makes a trek to the third church in our church shopping campaign, I’m beginning to empathize in a new way with new movers like ourselves searching for a church to become a part of.

Since we have no churched friends in our new town, no one will invite us to their church that they are proud of.

A church Visit story church shopping

This week, we chose a bi-lingual church for their 11am service, and like the last church shopping visit, we chose it out of the local newspaper.

There was no website in the paper ad, but with a Google search of the church name and city, their website came right up.

On the church website, we quickly found the answers to the two questions we had.

1.  Service Times

2.  Directions.

Both were clearly indicated on the home page.

However, much of the rest of the church website from navigation to more details was broken and not working.  It was hard to learn more about this church from its website ahead of time.   They even chose to use stock photos, rather than photos of their own church community.

We found the front door – oops!

Church Door was lockedAfter successfully parking the car, after our round-the-block trip, we approached the front church doors that faced the parking lot.  The covered front area provided a space for dropping off passengers and framed the beautiful entrance to the church.

Two different groups of teenagers stood in front of each set of doors, wonderfully enjoying each others fellowship, but making this new family (us) walk around them to pull on the front doors handles.

The church doors were locked.

I caught the eye of a few teenagers.  Even though I’m over 40 years old, their stare at our awkwardness created feelings of incompetence in me.

We tentatively pulled on the second set of doors, under the watching eye of the second group of talking teenagers.

Locked again.

Embarrassed again.  

My teenage son even commented – “Dad, this is embarrassing.” – even though he didn’t know any of these teens.

Quick Fix:  Is your entrance clearly marked with signage?  (Take this free church sign audit).

Bingo! We found the side door.

A quick glance around the teenagers helped us to see some people walking around the corner of the building.

We followed them and found a side entrance where an usher or church greeter held the door opened.

Finally – this church visitor found the entrance.

The usher greeted us, made eye contact, and his friendly demeanor began to relieve our sense of embarrassment at trying to open a locked door.  He pointed us down the hallway towards the sanctuary, where additional ushers greeted us and led us to

FRONT ROW SEATS!

To make room for us on the front row, the usher  asked a few people already on that front row to go sit somewhere else.

While I’m not usually bothered by sitting up front, this could be a hospitality error at drawing unnecessary attention to your visitors.  We felt the eye contact of the service leader, and then held the direct gaze of the worship leader welcoming first time visitors.  We somewhat felt forced to raise our hands when asked.  We couldn’t anonomously hide.

Our kids were invited to their own ministry

A friendly children’s ministry leader found us during the worship set and personally invited my children to a class.  That was an awesome step of hospitality.  By now, my kids are used to testing new environments (new schools, 3rd new church, new groups of everything), so they willingly went.

At the end, their commentary was a little disappointing.

My 6th grade daughter didn’t have a class or Bible teaching time.  It was 100% play time.

My 9th grade son’s class had a small teaching lesson, but my son’s take on the class was a shoulder shrug “ok, I guess.”  It didn’t feel like the right place for him as he was the oldest in the class.

My kids felt that their time apart was merely babysitting vs. any kind of Sunday school.  They too are making comparisons to prior church visits.

The worship service itself

The worship service itself was a quality experience.  We enjoyed the congregational singing, the liturgical dancers, and the celebratory mood of the congregation.

The sermon was entertaining and full of general Bible truth, but the preacher would have received a failing grade from my homiletics teacher.  The points were somewhat generic, and not actually connected to the Bible reading for the day.

The preacher was a good communicator, and clearly spoke Biblical truth, but I found myself drifting in and out of attention during his hour long winding road sermon of tangential thoughts that had little to do with the Bible lesson for the day.

The sermon had a gospel presentation built in, and there was an evangelistic call to follow Jesus.  A few people came forward, received prayer, and there was an extended worship and ministry time.

As we left

We left out the side doors of the sanctuary.

The worship leader was there to give us a small visitors packet and quickly gave us more information about the church.

After that, it was all over.  Not another word was said to us, though plenty of fellowship was going on around us.

My review of the church visitor packet

I’ve written some articles on ideas for church visitor packets (here,  here, here, and here).  Since we were the anonymous church visitor, the welcome packet is a great place for us to learn more about the church we just attended.

Of the three churches we have visited so far in our church shopping experience, this is the first church to give us a welcome packet.

The church welcome packet contained:

  • Brochure on the pastors.
  • Brochure of the core beliefs (doctrinal statement)
  • Bookmark
  • Business card
  • Brochure about the church ministries and its leaders.

The quality of the brochures was reasonable.

Would I return?

Because I train other church in hospitality issues, I am extra aware of what is missing and what is done right.  In spite of the criticisms I have, our family would still be willing to return to this church.

This church fits some of our criteria, and we were not really bothered by some of the hospitality practices of locked doors and front row seating.  Our kids are willing to give it another try a little later, thinking that their Sunday school experience might have been a lazy Sunday in August type experience.

We’ll have this church on our list of possible ones to reconsider as we continue our church shopping visits.

Learn from my church visits

How to Welcome Church VisitorsI’ve written lot about the church hospitality lessons I’ve learned.

(Here are 5 hospitality lessons I picked up last year).

I’ve written a download only church hospitality e-book that compiles several lessons I’ve learned from visiting churches over the last 7 years.

This e-book is a practical ‘how-to’ manual on creating a better first impression to welcome visitors to church.   If you are beginning to learn about church hospitality practices, this will help you get started.

Click here to read more detail about my e-book, “How to Welcome Church Visitors.

6 Tips to Better Church Volunteer Training Presentations

How often have you sat (or slept) through slide presentations that were a forgettable confusion?

Or how about unreadable slides?

This past Sunday, we visited a church that crammed so many words on one slide that we couldn’t read any of it, and we were on the 3rd row.

Do you use slide decks for church volunteer training?

You likely do a lot of teaching and training in your your church.

Making church volunteers squint to read your slides should never happen.

Boring them is a sin.

There are plenty of places where you might use a slide deck to  train church volunteers

You’ll want to share an effective presentation that will help them remember the volunteer training you’ve prepared.

If you want to avoid frustrating your audience, creating cognitive dissonance, and leaving more confusion than you wanted, you might want to check out these six points that Michael Hyatt follows in creating a memorable slide presentation for live talks.

Better Church Volunteer Training Presentations

Michael Hyatt is the communication guru who wrote the excellent book Platform – Get Noticed in a Noisy World.

Here, he discusses issues in creating slide sets that actually communicate well.

(Feed readers, Click directly through to see the video of Michael Hyatt sharing these points)

While the six points in here are pretty clear and I am familiar with each of them, I know I’m still guilty of breaking them, particularly the one Hyatt shares of having 80 slides for a 60 minute talk.

I did appreciate a side comment about the number of slides in a webinar format.  Hyatt mentioned the desired goal of 2 slides each minute for a webinar format.  In a live presentation where you are standing in front of your audience, that is too much visual stimulation.

(HT: Episode 2 of This is Your life, and follow resources are given)

Coaching Corner

The entire 30 minute interview is worth the listen.

After you make notes of the 6 points in here, think about your upcoming presentation.

What can you improve on after listening to these 6 points?

Share your thoughts

Which one of these will help you the most?

If you could add number 7 to avoid “Death by powerpoint”, what would you add?

What you can learn from our church shopping experience

In the summer of 2014, our family moved to central Florida due to an expansion of our ministry’s vision and reach.

  • We are new movers into the community.
  • We have no friends yet.
  • We are a blank slate looking for a church.
  • We are the first time visitor.
  • We are the church shopper.

I wrote up our experience of the first church we visited.

A church greeter volunteer joyfully passed out the morning bulletin.  However, our question to her created a chain reaction of clumsy service.  Regular training of your volunteers would fix that awkward church hospitality experience

Last week, we visited a second church as a first time visitor.

Church Shopper Confession

We are church shopping

We are new movers to this area, so we are shopping for a church.

As a family, we have over 22 years invested in churches were we have lived, so we bring an informed experience to our church shopping experience.

Since we don’t know anybody in this town to get a person to invite us church, we have to rely on publicity that a church puts out.

That would include newspaper ads, and of course a really good church website.

Because we are a bi-lingual family, we wanted to visit a Spanish language church.

What you can learn: 

  • Your visitor may be church shopping and brings a mental list of what they want.
  • Your churched visitor will make comparisons to prior experiences.

How we found the church

We started our search with Google, trying to locate a church with Spanish services.   We tried search terms in English and in Spanish and didn’t find satisfactory results quickly.

Shopping at the local Hispanic market, we found a newspaper that had two full pages of advertisements for churches.

Some forgot to state where they were (address), or website, or service times.  If we couldn’t find out more information, that ad cost was entirely wasted.

If the newspaper ad had a website, we spent the morning looking at church websites.  I could talk about all the church website problems I found, but that would be a 6000 word article all by itself.

For the church we chose, the church website had service times easily located, as well as  the directions on how to get there (for me, these two facts are the most important feature of a church website).

Remember these church website facts:

  • 75% of first-time guests have already formed an impression of your church based on your website.
  • Your “greeters” are no longer your first contact with your guests.  According to one poll, 80% of people who visit your church visit your website first.

What you can learn:

  • A working church website is your best “front door.”
  • Do a SEO review of your church website to make sure it shows up in results.
  • Newspaper ads have a place for churched new movers like us.

Our Visit

We made it to the 11am service without much of a problem.  Other than finding the right door to get in, we didn’t have much awkwardness to getting to our seat.

It’s a small enough fellowship that our presence as first time church visitors was obvious.

We were quickly greeted by the founding pastor and his wife before we entered sanctuary.

After filling out a visitor card with our contact information, we found our seat.

Another usher checked with us to make sure we had filled out a visitor contact card.

Just before the passing of the peace, our names were read out from the visitor card and we were made to stand and we received a round of applause.  While this practice didn’t bother me personally, I know that being singled out as a visitor can make your visitor feel awkward and uncomfortable.  I don’t recommend it as a practice.

What you can learn:

  • Friendliness rules the day.
  • Friendliness is measured by the initiative taken by members.
  • Singling out your visits may cause embarrassment, rather than blessing.

Quality Matters

Every slide used had a bilingual setup.

A worship verse in Spanish, with an English equivalent underneath.

This lead to very word dense slides.  Sometimes the font size got so small that we had to squint to read it.

A few times, the English verse would be an entirely different verse from the hymn.  The Spanish would be stanza 3, the English was stanza 4.

When it came time for the Scripture reading, the passage displayed was entirely in English, but the reader read from a Spanish translation.

The slide confusion leads to cognitive dissonance – reading one thing in one language, and hearing it spoken aloud in another.

What you can learn:

  • Readability counts.

The relational factor overcomes everything.

What charmed us about this church was its friendliness.  That is the best tool to getting your church visitor to come back.

A few people took the initiative to talk with us.  We were personally greeted by the founding pastor.

We were greeted by a few other people as well.

The preaching pastor took some time as we walked out the door to visit with us and tell us a little more.

He even went the extra mile and called us on Monday to invite us to a follow up gathering of visitors.  That was a neat touch.

The relational warmth of genuine people easily overcame logistical issues like size of fonts and filing out a visitor card.

The personal phone call from this small church pastor has been the highlight of our church shopping experience so far.

I’ve learned from my church shopping experiences than friendliness overcomes any negative impacts on first impressions.  I visited a Spanish language church for a season of my life.  In spite of all their bad first impressions, I stayed and became part of that church.  Read how I became assimilated into their church.

What you can learn:

  • Friendliness can overcome any negative impacts on awkward first impressions.

Would we go back?

This is a one of the proof-tests of your hospitality experience.

Would we make a return visit?

Yes, this one would be worthy of a return visit simply because of their friendliness.

Ultimately, we know already this church wouldn’t fit all our criteria as a church shopper, so it won’t be our permanent home.

But it is a church that we could recommend to others who are looking for a bi-lingual experience in a particular denominational tradition.

Coaching Call

Do you want to discuss your where your hospitality system is stuck?

I offer a coaching call where I spend time on the phone with you or your committee, up to 90 minutes, where I help you trouble shoot and develop some action plans.  I’ve visited lots of churches as that first time visitor and you can learn from my experiences.

I can help you review your systems through a step by step flow chart that I’ve developed.  Read more about that hospitality coaching here.

photo credit: *PaysImaginaire* via cc

A year ago on EvangelismCoach

2013

Devotion: Who can I bring to Jesus?

I began to pray through my list of friends who don’t know the Lord.

I began to pray through my circle of friends who need physical healing.

I began to pray through our supporting churches – that they too would be places where the healing ministry of Jesus is experienced

4 Tips to Start a Door to Door Outreach

A staple of church community evangelism has been the door to door outreach campaign.

If you want to start  door to door outreach in your community, I want to provide you with some starting points for your team to consider.

How to Follow Up on the Anonymous Church Visitor

If your church visitor doesn’t fill out a connection card, how can you follow up with them?  You can’t send them literature, make a home visit, carry cookies to their house, or invite them to come to the next service.

How can you follow up with them if you have no record of their presence?

2012

Appropriate Silence in Personal Witnessing

I’ve got a few friends who have always been hostile to talking about faith.

Their level of spiritual thirst has been low.  In fact, it’s downright hostile.

We remain friends, but talking about Jesus provokes emotional hostility or an evasive awkward silence.

2011

Do the work of the evangelist

Ed Stetzer presented some material from Transformational Church: Creating a New Scorecard for Congregations as well as reflections from 2 Timothy 4 that pumped us up while attending a conference:

Do the work of an evangelist – 2 Timothy 4:5

Book Review: That’s a Great Question

Thats A Great Question Book CoverMy unsaved friend had a few questions for me about the New Testament.

He had been reading articles on the Internet about objections to the credibility of the New Testament

  • Conspiracy theories of the church suppressing information
  • Edits to the text that introduce conformity to the established doctrine.
  • The search for the historical Jesus.
  • Secret gospels that the church suppressed.

How would I answer such questions?  How could I help my unsaved friend evaluate such evidence?

How would you approach your friend who tossed similar questions at you.

That’s a Great Question

One evangelism fear that people have is being caught without an answer to questions like this.  My friend has given me  a specific example of an “I don’t know what to say” moment.

This is where a book like That’s a Great Question: What to Say When Your Faith Is Questioned, by Glenn Pearson, can be a helpful tool for you.

The book is focused on helping you analyze objections that are commonly found to the New Testament, specifically claims against the reliability of the New Testament.

Pearson focuses on worldview filters that skeptics and believers bring to the reading of the New Testament.  I’m grateful he recognizes that he himself brings a filter that starts with the NT being reliable.

I found myself laughing at his humor, his funny stories, and his first hand adventures in talking about his faith in Christ.

It is a book on apologetics I found hard to put down.  No boring list of data facts here.

One reviewer on Amazon said:

In a manner unknown to many authors today, Glenn skillfully blends humor and intellect to produce a great work of apologetics. This book will be a valuable resource

Pearson himself writes:

The purpose of this book, then, is to demonstrate that a commitment to academic excellence and intellectual integrity is consistent with belief in the Bible. I hope to equip you with valuable perspectives and insights that will help you identify and confidently respond to filters often used by those outside the historic Christian faith. Furthermore, I will arm you with practical principles that can clarify some tough challenges to Christian beliefs.

Part 1 is an introduction to filters that skeptics bring.  Filters strain out evidence that is unwanted, or creates blindness to likely alternatives.

For example, chapter 3 is a discussion of two types of filters that add to the stories of Jesus, based on secret or suppressed documents, conspiracy theories.  This chapter made me laugh out loud a few times.

Chapter 5 tells the story of a college class and the Jesus seminar and shows about how anti-supernaturalism leads to forgone conclusions, stacking the deck with similar thinking minds that filter out other explanations or possibilities.

Skeptics have a basic problem when it comes to explaining Jesus’ message. They claim that the Jesus of the Gospels was a remarkable but mortal man whom his followers elevated to divinity. But they never seem able to explain adequately just who did the extreme image makeover or who wrote his amazing speeches.

Part 2 is applying filters that a Christian believer brings to the same objections.

Part 2 of this book presents eighteen principles that provide a solid interpretive approach to the Bible. I call these “Pearson’s Principles for Approaching Puzzling, Perplexing, and Problematic Passages.” If the principles are valid and if the Bible is reliable, this approach should address critiques colored by various filters and which question the validity of the biblical text.

Some apologetic books focus on difficult questions about particular texts (God Behaving Badly).  Other focus on learning and challenging religious worldviews (Evangelism Slightly Less Difficult, or Tactics).

Others focus on Reasoning from the evidence to the existence of God (God is not Dead).  Pearson’s approach is to expose the presuppositions that a skeptic brings to a Bible passage and how a Christian can reasonably deal with objections and still have intellectual credibility in belief.

GlennPearsonDo I have biases about the Bible?

Of course. I have concluded that it is reliable and accurate and is, in fact, God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible, and historically reliable revelation to humanity. This is not simpleminded acceptance, but an opinion backed by considerable research and study.

Are there problems with my position? Of course. I am fully aware of the intellectual challenges inherent in this theological view, but there is strong supportive evidence for my stance.

Do skeptical critics have biases? Of course. They, too, would say their positions are based on careful research, and they are correct.

Are there intellectual problems with their positions? Of course. There are enough complicated factors that neither side can claim victory based solely on the academic arguments.

The point, however, is that it is possible to be a thoughtful, well-educated, well-adjusted person and to believe that the Bible is God’s inspired, inerrant, and infallible revelation to all people in all ages.

Who is That’s a Great Question for?

I found That’s a Great Question: What to Say When Your Faith Is Questioned to be a great book for Christian believers who need to know how to analyze plausible objections to the credibility of the NT.

Young adults headed to college or already in the university will find this book helpful.  If you regularly engage non-believers in meaningful conversations about your faith, you’ll run into objections and questions that are addressed in this book.

If you are a skeptic, than this book may bother you.  Pearson politely shows you the presuppositions you bring to your own analysis.  He admits he brings his own as well.

If you are spiritually thirsty and honestly searching for how a bible believer can believe the Scriptures, you’ll find a honest assessment of the evidence and plausible explanations of alleged contradictions in the text.

Related Apologetic Book Reviews on EvangelismCoach

 

 

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