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.
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
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!
After 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.
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 church usher or church greeter held the door opened.
Finally – this church visitor found the entrance.
The church 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 church ushers greeted us and led us to
FRONT ROW SEATS!
To make room for us on the front row, the church 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 hide anonymously.
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. My kids are used to testing new environments (new schools, 3rd new church, new groups of everything), so they willingly went.
When we picked them up after the service was over, their commentary on their children’s ministry experience 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. 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)
- 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
I’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.“
Matt Schlueter, Be the Church Ministries
Great article. I love reading about first visit experiences to different churches, and this one hit upon one of my biggest pet-peeves… The locked door.
Churches: If you have exterior doors that look like people might walk up to them (ie. everything but emergency exits), UNLOCK THEM at least 30 minutes prior to worship… and have proper signage from every possible entrance to major places in the building.
Chris’ whole family experienced embarrassment from this blunder, especially since it looks like the main entrance. Something he was able to forgive, but might make a lot of people just turn back to their car and drive away. As he noted, if an exterior door must be locked for some reason, there needs to be signage on the door explaining where to go.
One similar thing I’ve come across is a main entrance with three or four doors right next to each other, but only one gets unlocked. Thus people walk up and try to open the door only to find it locked, move to the next, find it locked, move to the next, and ah, that one opens. Yikes… Regular attenders know which door to go to right away, but this is bad practice to impress guests.
Paul A Dion
Humorous as they may sound, your adventures underline the sad but real splintering of the religious world in which we live.