In 2012, our family was once again out of town for Christmas, visiting family.
For the last 5 years, we have not had a Christmas Eve service in our own church, but near where my parents reside.
We’ve had a few rough first time Christmas Eve church visits, but this year was different.
Through a friend’s recommendation (itself a recommendation from one of their friends), we tried another local church in the area, about 15 minutes from where my parents live.
cWe checked out the church website ahead of time to find the location and directions. Their website was current, up to date, and the locations were easy to find. From the look of their facebook page, they are engaged in active community service.
Our Sunday Experience
The church meets in a public high school building for two morning services. We choose the 9.30am service. It was their Christmas celebration since they don’t have a gathering spot for an off-schedule Christmas Eve service.
I guess that there were about 400-500 people in attendance that morning, and it was a racially diverse crowd.
The Children’s ministry was closed for the day as some of them had a role in the music portion of the service. Some of the children’s ministry workers were there to share that information and guide us to the auditorium.
The music was good and high quality, covering four different genres for the multi-racial audience, and included traditional Christmas carols jazzed up in contemporary arrangements.
The sermon was simple yet profound, and easily accessible by believers and seekers alike. The pastor did a great job in explaining biblical terms when needed.
Overall, the experience of Sunday with this church has inspired me to return for a second visit, and bring a friend from this area who is looking for a church.
Key elements in the church hospitality
This church has many awesome processes with regards to their welcome experience.
This church has chosen to use parking attendants to help facilitate the rapid entry and parking of cars. I found this helpful as a first time visitor.
Since they meet in a high school, the only exterior signage was signboards directing people towards children’s ministry and the church. This was easily navigable and easy to find.
Greeters wore lanyards with church badges on them. In a church of this size, this helps designate “official people” approachable for questions if needed. The door greeters smiled and passed the bulletins, and the ones we interacted with seem genuinely excited to have been part of their church.
The church had placed ushers at major intersections in the auditorium to help guide people to seating and address any questions as needed. Again, most wore a lanyard with a church badge making them easy to identify.
The church had grown to such size that we could stay anonymous as possible and feel comfortable. Greeters and ushers are there if had questions or wanted to make small talk. If we were in a smaller church of under 150 people, I think we would have felt uncomfortable if small talk with folks was not an option. In a large crowd, we didn’t miss it or want it.
The church uses a connection card system for visitor contact information, and the pastor was clear about how to fill it out and take it to the welcome center for a free book. I liked his phrase:
If this is your first time here, or first time in a long time. . . ..
It wasn’t obligatory for us to fill out. Later, when I turned it in, the teaching pastor was at that tent making small talk with people.
Read more on the ministry guide for church ushers
When it came time for Scripture reading, ushers were called upon to pass out Bibles to people who didn’t have one with them. While that was going on, the pastor mentioned that if you don’t have one at home, consider that Bible a gift from the church and you are free to take it home.
At the end of the service, the church made prayer teams available in the space up front. I appreciated how they were introduced:
All of us carry some huge burdens at time and we’d like someone to pray for us. Even if this is your first time here, our teams are here to pray with you if you wish. If you want some confidential prayer, simply come up here and seek out a team.
Then the service was dismissed. We didn’t have to wait for prayer ministry to complete. It was presented as an option. The keyword that caught my attention was “confidential.” That shows tremendous sensitivity for church visitors.
Since they are a portable church without a physical location, their welcome center and coffee stand were under separate tents in an outdoor courtyard. Since this is South Central FL, the air temperature was cooperative with this kind of arrangement. The pastor who taught that morning was there making small talk with guests.
What might I suggest?
I didn’t feel underwhelmed by anything, nor was I aware of looking for something I couldn’t find. For the most part, I think this church has a great welcome experience.
While it is true that no one engaged us in conversation, we didn’t expect it in a church of this size. The size of the crowd was large enough that we didn’t feel like stuck out at visitors.
Yet the church was clear about simple ways we could engage in small talk if we wanted to: visit the welcome center.
My only suggestion for this church would be a small banner hanging on the tent that was welcome center to clearly designate that tent as the welcome center.
Would I return to this church?
I spent time talking with my family on the drive home. All of them remember prior Christmas Eve services and this one is the best so far of the last five years. They each talked about the music and the general feeling excitement.
As such, since we will be in town again this coming Sunday, we’ll make a second visit, and bring a friend and her husband with us.