Confessions of a Church Shopper #7: An Easter 2015 Church Visit

Easter Church Visit 2015

It was Easter Sunday.

We attended a traditional church in a mainline tradition.

It was the traditional service, one of 3 main services on a Sunday morning.  Full robes were worn by the hand bell team and the full choir.  The pastor wore a suit and tie.  We sang the awesome hymns of Easter accompanied by the choir and full organ.

We were an invited guest.

A first time visitor invited us to join them on their second visit to the same church.

A Good First Time Church Visit.

This church gave our family a good first time experience.

  • Greeters were friendly.
  • Smiling ushers gave us a bulletin, though we sat ourselves without much problem.
  • During passing of the peace  we were greeted with smiles and handshakes.
  • It was clear the musicians and singers loved to sing the awesome hymnody of Easter.

The church had helpful aids for the congregational signing.  They had large screen that showed all the hymn words.  The call and response liturgical readings were on display as well as the communion liturgy.

A leader shared the logistics for how to proceed to the front to receive communion, which made it easy for us to participate.  Since the juice was served in little cups at the communion stations, a basket was there for convenient disposal.

The people in the choir, the lead liturgist, and the pastor all seemed genuinely thrilled to be there.  As they sang, it’s clear that worship is personal for them, not just songs to sing that are supposed to be sung on Easter Sunday.

The sermon was a clear telling from the Bible and methodically walked through the passage.  The pastor’s preaching ability is clearly a strength of this church.

What could have helped the first time church visitor.

1.  Don’t launch the service with an apology.

The opening liturgist called us to worship with an apology for not being someone else.

As a visitor, I don’t know who that someone else is, and I didn’t find his name in the bulletin.   While every long term attendee might know that you were the unexpected morning leader, just lead, don’t start with an apology.  It creates an “insider” feeling that leaves your first time visitor confused.

You are in the role of liturgist for the morning.  Step into it and enjoy it.

2. Fix lack of signage from rear parking lot to the sanctuary entrance.

This church has 3 different sanctuaries.

Given that it was Easter Sunday with very high attendance, we had to park in the farthest lot.

To find the sanctuary, we followed other people walking where they knew.

There were not enough signs to let us know where the entrance was.

We have been to other churches that had clear signage at every turn.

From our spot in the parking lot, we had to make 3 or four turns to find the front door.  Signs at each one of those turns would potentially ease a first time visitor’s concern about finding their way.

Take your own sign audit and see if you need to add a sign or two.

3.  Explain Christianeese

During the service, my friend asked,

“What is the doxology?  What does it mean?”

On high attendance days, consider your first time visitors who may not know what some of your liturgical words are.  You may have an explanatory paragraph for terms that are not common now.

4.  Invite your first time visitors back.

We left as anonymous as we came.

The was no process to register my attendance, no card to fill out, or no attempt to tell me what next week’s sermon was about.

I will not receive a follow up letter in the mail to invite me to return.

I will not receive a follow up invitation to a special gathering for new comers.

I will have no way of knowing what sermon topic is coming the following week to give me a reason to consider coming back.

I think the church missed an opportunity – an opportunity to invite us to come back next week.

Consider this short webinar on visitor assimilation and learn some ways to start putting a system in place to follow up with church visitors.

Let me ask you this?

What did you do to give a welcome to your guests on Easter Sunday?

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Your Turn: How to Identify Church Visitors in a Large Church

Recently, a reader submitted a question via Ask Evangelismcoach.

What are some ideas for identifying visitors?

We are a 2500 member church and many of us don’t know the difference between a visitor and someone who is a member who we just have never met?

I have heard of using name tags, colored coffee cups(ugh!), asking visitors to stand during worship…

I spend time talking with people I do not know/recognize but they end up being members, not visitors. Any suggestions?

How To Spot a Church visitor

My thoughts

I have visited a few churches of this size as the first time visitor.

In a crowd this size, anonymity feels safe, in contrast to a group of 100 people where we would feel obvious as a visitor.

In the last place I visited, the greeters and ushers made sure it was easy for us to get to our seat.  Making small talk while 2500 people are entering/exiting is not really ideal.

The only way for us to be easily identified as visitors would be to volunteer that information.

The church gave us plenty of opportunities to do so:

  • Fill out a visitor card and put it in the offering.
  • Visit the welcome center after the service for a free book.
  • Take our child to children’s church and fill out the registration form.

We chose to fill it out and turn it in at the welcome center.  The center was well staffed, including the preaching pastor, and everyone was engaged in a conversation with a visitor.  We didn’t linger to wait for a conversation.

On our second visit, we allowed our child to visit children’s church.  We arrived late so we were the only ones at the registration table.   They have a security system in place with wrist bands to match up the right child with the right adult after church.

There we met the children’s director, who make small talk with us while we were filling out their form.

Other responses from Linked In and Facebook discussions:

Look around for those you don’t recognize, Ask them if it’s their first time there and try to remember from then on. – By Mark Willis

Our congregation is way smaller than these two large attended churches. We have appointed members at the doors who will recognize visitors and greet them with a small folder of information, a visitors card to fill out so we can send them a card, a business card with phone numbers and a printed BIC Clic Pen with also a phone number for a Daily Bible Message.

Since I am an Specialty Advertising Dealer, I order the pens. Also, as members, we recognize visitors and many make an effort to greet them even after they are seated. They have the information and pen to take with them and will remember to visit us when back in our area. This might help you to get some ideas as larger congregations will need several greeters. Tom Hay

Be sure to greet people as they are arriving and leaving! Most of us do not do a good job greeting folks on the way out. We often get more questions from visitors at that time. – Clayton

Let me ask others:

If you are in a church over 1000 attenders each weekend,

What are some ways you identify visitors to your church?

Answer in the comment field below.

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What is the next step?

Our family has experienced a temporary life transition that had us move to another state in the US for a period of four months, away from our church, away from our social networks, and away from our friends.

Four months not enough time

  • to visit many churches
  • to look for a church home.
  • to build long lasting relationships.
  • to really even get to be known by church members.

Our move is only temporary, so we made a decision to pick a church where some friends attend and just stay there.

Our overall experience.

This puts us in a real life experience of

  • being the first time visitor in a church and
  • experience the challenges of getting connected.

Church members are friendly.  Sermons are relevant and connect Scripture to life.

They have ushers and greeters and several good hospitality practices.

For example, on our second visit, one church member personally invited my young daughter to children’s church.

When she agreed to go (and be with a bunch of strangers), he personally led me and my daughter through the maze of their building to the children’s church class.

He was not “on duty” that Sunday as an usher or greeter, but, chose to extend this grace of welcome.  I was invited to stay around and provide a comforting presence to my daughter until she seemed to be ok with the new group.

My daughter is social and outgoing, but I can imagine that she was somewhat intimidated at walking into

  • a new space,
  • with 25 new kids,
  • a new teacher,
  • no friends yet.

The teacher did a great job in helping my daughter start to join in with the activities of the class, and I was able to return to the service.

How do we get in?

This is a relatively large church.  I’m not sure how many people are actually involved, but there are

  • 3 services on a Sunday,
  • lots of different options for Sunday school,
  • snacks at good coffee hour after the one service we attend
  • lots of programming announcements in the multi-page bulletin.

It’s a busy Sunday  morning when we navigate the building to find our kids, get some coffee, and so on.

There really isn’t much time to make friends in the small window between services and Sunday school starting.

So that leaves us with the question, how do we develop friends in a new church?

Accidentally Stranded?

Here is some of our experience as we tried to find something to get involved in during our temporary time.

I don’t want any of this perceived as complaint, but as observations of what happened as we tried to connect and assimilate ourselves into this congregation.

We filled out the connection form for two weeks, but it did not seem to trigger any kind of response that I expected:

  • a letter,
  • a phone call,
  • a visit,
  • bag of cookies
  • informational packet
  • something.

I had assumed of a church this size that we’d receive some informational pieces about the church that could tell us more about the places we could connect.

As we looked over the bulletin each week, the programs that got more detailed descriptions didn’t appeal to us or our life situation: Grief care groups, divorce care groups, recovery groups.

Most of the other bulletin announcements seemed to be logistical details of schedule changes, room changes,volunteer signups, and other stuff that members needed to know.

There was a logo for a program called “Connections” but no description of what that was.

We determined at least to let our kids go to Sunday school that happens after the service we attend.  For our kids – it was an easy option.  One Sunday school class for middle schoolers and one Sunday school class for the grade in elementary school.

But for us, we didn’t see a descriptive list of Sunday school classes, or know how to get one.  We only saw a class title and room number.  There were several classes for adults to choose from with nothing more than a title and room number.

The end result for us was

  • too many options
  • with too little information
  • and no clear simple next step.

So we made a default choice of simply hanging out at the coffee hour while our kids went to Sunday school.

So what happened?

An observant church member noted our lingering during the coffee time (after many people went to the next service or Sunday School).

They personally invited us to their choice of Sunday school class and took the time to tell us about the other classes that were happening, and we happily went along with them.

After a good Sunday school experience, our kids wanted to go to Wednesday night youth group.  When I showed up to deliver the kids to youth group,some friendly church members

  • personally led us the youth room,
  • made friendly small talk
  • invited me to visit with one of the many classes.
  • took me to each class to meet with the leader to briefly here a description.

I found a Wednesday night class that I could attend.

The Sunday school class and the Wednesday night class have become places where we are starting to make friends.

 

Effective communications for church visitors

I recognize this church has a challenge with it’s size about finding ways to communicate “all you need to know” in a weekly bulletin and a church this size has lots of great programming that competes for bulletin space each week.

I eventually found a descriptive list of Sunday School classes and Wednesday night programming, but that happened after I had been going to their programming.

I eventually learned learned that “Connections” was their Wednesday night supper program before their evening classes and that it would be a great place to meet new people and make friends.

This raises the question:

  • How does a church guide a visitor to an easy and low commitment next step?

In a future article, I’ll address what might have been helpful and the larger application that churches need to consider in their assimilation process.

Your turn:

  • Share in the comments below what your church does to guide a bewildered return visitor to a simple next step?

Your Turn: What to say to latecomers to church

Recently, I was asked the following question via Ask The EvangelismCoach.

I’ve posted this to the community Facebook Page, but wanted to give you all a chance to help pitch in.  I hope to do this on a more regular basis.

Ask EvangelismCoach Question from Ed:

“How do we greet late comers?

Do we need to mention that worship service has started?”

My thoughts

The basic principle that guides all your hospitality ministry is respect for the person coming late.

I have been in some churches where ushers close the sanctuary doors when the service starts, and then reopen them at certain points for latecomers.

Typically, they politely mention that the service has started.  It’s an explanation for the shut doors and the pause before entering.  They mention that in a few minutes, they will let people in at an upcoming point in the service.  It is part of their custom and practice.

I have been in some churches where people come in and go out at all points of the service.  Ushers seat them at any time.  The causal nature of these churches don’t really require an explanation about how the service has already started.

Above all, the key point is respect for the latecomer and finding ways to communicate respect and honor.

We certainly don’t want to communicate: “Your are LATE!”

Your Turn

Add your comments below to help answer Ed’s question.

What would you say to Ed?

I Can’t Get In

Over at http://www.ChurchHospitalityTraining.com, I’ve released video Number Churches that are closed and don't let people in3.

In today’s video, I address one of the biggest barriers that churches put up to visitors who do come back for several weeks in a row.

I once  attended a local fellowship for nearly 6 months and still had no friends.   It was a fellowship with about 100 people at the service we attended.

In fact, not one person made an effort to talk with us.  This church had all the right hospitality systems:

  • Visitor Table
  • Contact Cards
  • Ushers
  • Greeters

They were doing all the right things, but there was not a single person who said hello to us.  Even the pastor remained a stranger to us during this time.

That’s unacceptable.

Today I’m releasing video #3 at

http://www.ChurchHospitalityTraining.com

It’s called “Can’t Get in!”

I give some lessons I’ve learned as a result of this, and two ways that I’ve seen churches try to address it.

The fourth video will be out in a few days.

You should be able to straight to the video by clicking the link.  If you can’t get it, simply provide your email address, click on the confirmation link and you’ll get the most current video.

These videos will be up only for a short time, so be sure to get them.  They run about 10 minutes each.