In 2008, I was asked recently by Chris Thompson of the Alaska Daily News,
“When you visit a church, what do you look for?”
Chris makes unannounced visits to several area churches in Alaska and writing up is experience as a first time visitor at his Church Visits blog.
He launched his Church Visits blog to create a meaningful dialog and useful conversation for those seeking meaning in religious worship.
The key criterion for his reviews is:
- Is the church friendly and warm? Did I truly feel welcomed?
- Was the main teaching relevant to my personal walk and was it delivered effectively?
- Did the music merely entertain or did it deepen the worship experience?
My First Time Church Visitor Checklist
When I visit a church for the first time as a consultant, here are some things I look for:
- A church website — can I find the church? What does it tell me about the congregation? I don’t use a phone book anymore. If I can’t find the website, I try to call the church office to find out that information.
- “Guest Parking” stalls near the front entrance.
- Landscaping and physical appearance of the building.
- I observe and pay attention to wheelchair accessibility issues.
- If it is an evening service, is there adequate lighting in the parking lot and entrances?
- Greeters at the door — eye contact and near entrance, or are they just holding the door open in a boring job?
- Directional Signs — can I find what I want without feeling stupid asking for directions?
- Greeting at the sanctuary entrance, friendliness of ushers.
- Do ushers guide me to my seat or make me fend for myself?
- Interactions with members — do they engage me in conversation at any point?
- Pulpit Greeting – someone greeting visitors from the front.
- Quality issues from bulletin, sound, smells, lighting, and cleanliness.
- Quality and strength of sermon (as it’s still the central feature).
- I visit the coffee reception after the service to see who engages me in conversation.
I do not take any initiative to greet, but wait to be greeted.
This is a matter of personal choice.
But I also suspect that many first time church visitors are not so easily outgoing that they will initiate conversations themselves.
Let me ask you this?
What do you look for when you visit a church for the first time?
Interesting question, Chris. I recently had the opportunity of visiting a church for the first time right after Mom passed away. I was a few minutes late but was welcomed warmly, pointed in the direction of coffee and hot chocolate which was enjoyed during the service. Most impressive was that I was asked to remain for prayer and people there sought to meet my immediate need. Note very unusual timing of visit but one I’ll not soon forget.
When visiting churchs I wish to blend in so I look for signs and directions to entrance, parking, restrooms, etc., bulletins are very important about announcements, events, order of service. I also look for friendliness not just the handshake but someone asking about me. It is also very important the follow up. Did I get a note, a card or a phone call indicating they want to get to know me or even care that I came to visit. Too many churches act like they do not care if you return or become a member. No one likes to be a number but wants to be identified as a person and a possible member of the church….
I think it is rather interesting that NOTHING is said in this list regarding spirituality. Looks as if you are more interested in the coffee than what kind of spiritual impact the worship and message made in the person’s life. I think this list is a joke! The church is not a coffee house, it is a place of worship. No wonder there are not very deep seeded Christians in the world today!
Thanks for dropping by and making your comment.
Your comment exposes one weakness of a blog posting that starts in a conversation with a long backstory and moves to written form.
So let me explain that the entire backstory of this post involves a discussion about hospitality practices of churches. The spirituality of the church and worship experience was an operating assumption in our conversation.
A lot could be said about the worship experience, connecting people with God through the preaching of the Word, experience of music or drama or the sacraments, praying for healing .. — but that was all an operating assumption in our conversation.
Our discussion was about hospitality practices or malpractices that hinder the worship experience. These are things church can fix to remove hindrances to helping people worship and experience the presence of the Lord. Not only that, but churches can improve their welcome process and relational warmth to give people space to discover the good news.
Helpful list. We have a good website, and do a very good job with interacting with people before and after the worship service. We need to improve our directional signs.
I do have a question about ushers taking people to their seats. Some people appreciate that, and I can see the benefit if it’s a very crowded service. But generally we have plenty of seats available. I am much more self-directed. I want to make that decision myself. How do you minister to both ends of the spectrum, people who want more help and people who don’t want any help?
You raise a good question that really has a answer that is determined at the local level.
As part of usher training, this is a great question to raise — how to discover what is the appropriate level of attention that a visitor or guest wants.
The goal is to let your visitor have the space they want but be friendly enough to help.
What kind of example or exercise would you raise in an usher training to help them think through this?
I invite a response from all contributors if you get this by email response.
In terms of being directed where to sit I find most people think that when they come to church they can just do what they want.Whereas in other establishment or organisation they will readily follow instructions without questioning.
There is order in the house of God.If I come to your house would you appreciate me going straight to the kitchen without you directing me.Respect the order that is in that church.There are people with genuine excuses but most people they think church is a playground where you just do anything because we have the love of Christ.
Follow instruction do not be rebellious.
After some recent studies we have been doing, our leadership is convinced that prayer is meant to be the central point of a community of worship, not the sermon. The sermon as the central feature of a church community is a change that came into place over the past century or two. Scriptural evidence points to prayer as being the center.
A visitor that expects a sermon as a central point of a service is either someone who previously attended another church, or has attended one in the past. My question is, how do you encourage this change of perspective to visitors who come expecting the sermon as the central point.
i look for the prescence of God in that place, and i look for how united the church is together, are they 1 body in Christ? Or a body of nubs?
Is this a joke? When you are admitted to a hospital what is the first thing you look for? Good food or an experienced doctor? I thought this list would be a break down of something like this
Traditional or Contemporary music?
Pretrib or Posttrib rapture?
Creation or Evolution?
Modest apparel or casual dress?
Does the congregation demonstrate the fruits of the spirit demonstrated in Galatians 5?
Is this a corporate worship church or an independant church?
Is the preacher qualified to even be a preacher, according to Scripture ( a man of one wife, etc)?
But certainly not…. do they have a greeter, do they have good coffee!!!
Just shows youre not in church for the right reason if appearance is so important to you. When you find a Godly church, all your other issues will be taken care of. IF you find a well appearing church on the outside though, who knows what you’ll find inside. This is ridiculous.
Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to leave a comment. You make great points.
If one is looking to evaluate a church on theology, you’ve got a great checklist to start with.
But that’s not the direction of this list. This list is looking at friendliness factors in the welcome experience.
Appearance is important. It helps prepare the way for a visitor to hear the word of God, encounter God in worship, and begin to find ways to become part of that church.
The rest will NOT take care of itself if the theology is right. I’ve been teaching in churches for 20 years and have seen that this claim is not true.
They might have all the right theology, but no love or care for the guest in their midst.
Rather, we must be intentional about meeting the potential needs of visitors who come so that we can impact them for the kingdom of God, not drive them away because we behave like frozen chosen with no interest in them.
You made a good point that proper greetings are good signs that a church is quite family-friendly. My parents would be moving to a new home that a lot nearer to where I live than before. Perhaps once it’s safer to go outside we should make it a habit to attend Mass together from time to time at the same church.