We were prepared to be the first time church visitor in our new home town of Port St. Lucie Florida.
The church planting team we are a part of has taken a holiday break, so our family was free on a Sunday morning to be that first time visitor and experience once again the challenge of being a new mover Christian family looking for a church home.
It is another visit in our series on church shopping.
Since we have no church going friends in this city, we are dependent upon advertisements and the internet to find a church to pick from.
How we picked this church
We chose a local church based on some advertisements we saw in a local circular that was delivered to our house.
There was nothing really impressive about their full page ad.
It was full of stock photography of young families and young adults.
The ad contained their service times and location and made it easy for us to make our way there on Sunday morning.
Our First Time Visitor Experience
As we made our way into the massive sanctuary, we discovered that stock photos of young families does not reflect the reality of the service we visited.
We mostly saw retired baby boomer retirees and the preaching pastor regularly referenced retirement and grandchildren.
The young families may be at other weekend services, but the morning service we picked didn’t match the marketing.
We arrived 5 minutes late (having missed a turn during a wonderful conversation in the car). The parking lot was full, but we found a parking space on our own. I realized that I had expected a church this size to have parking teams to facilitate this. Another mismatched expectation.
If the church has morning greeters, we didn’t encounter one. Another mismatched expectation.
We got a bulletin from an church usher who wished us a Merry Christmas and left us alone to find our own way to our seat anywhere we wanted. Another mismatched expectation for a church this size.
The sermon struck me as mediocre. The teaching pastor went on for about 45 minutes going word by word from a text.
But I couldn’t tell you what the takeaway point was. Neither could my family. We all felt that there was no cohesive point in the verse by verse exposition. I realize that I am working at improving my own talks and thus have an extra critical grid as I listen to other sermons.
The invitation to the altar call was not related to the sermon in any way, so there was another disconnect for me. The invitation should always reflect a response point to the sermon, and not a tangential add-on.
When the service was over:
- We left as anonymously as we came,
- We talked with no one,
- We felt noticed by no one, and
- We were inspired by nothing.
However, the quality of the music, instruments, and vocals was excellent. We could tell each of the singers and musicians enjoyed what they do and the level of professionalism in their leadership was excellent and something all churches should strive for.
Their Visitor Connection Card
Their visitor connection card was a separate card inside their bulletin.
I saw it after the offering had passed, so I missed a chance to turn it in.
While filling it in, they asked for birth dates of my children, anniversary dates of my marriage. I think that’s too much personal information to give on a first visit.
The bulletin said I should turn it in at the welcome center for a free gift. The bulletin didn’t tell me where the welcome center was.
I looked for the welcome center in what I thought was the lobby, but couldn’t determine which of the 4 tables was the visitor center.
No one was at any of them and there was no sign.
I know we will not get any visitor follow up letters or any other contact, as the church has no record of our attendance.
Our final impressions
This is a good church for many people who attend and have become part of its family.
The church is clearly Jesus centered – from the songs to the sermon.
The church is actively involved in the community in various projects.
We could tell from the Sunday bulletin activity list that there is a lot of good activity and potential for discipleship growth and many places we could potentially get involved.
The visitor contact card clearly told us what our first class would be if we wanted to give involved.
I’d still recommend this church to my future friends as an option for visiting.
But our overall experience was so bland that nothing compels us to make a repeat visit.
What you can learn from our first time church visit
- Don’t use misleading stock photography in your marketing.
- Use church greeters even for late comers.
- Evaluate your Hospitality Systems regularly to fix what’s broken
- Download a free Hospitality Audit.
- Use this audio for a hospitality review.
- Make sure your visitors know what to do with their contact card.
- Does your welcome center have a sign? Take this free church sign audit.