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    How (or How Not) to Handle Church Visitors

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    Rohelf

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    How (or How Not) to Handle Church Visitors

    Post  Rohelf on February 17th 2011, 5:58 pm

    Well, Dunadwarf has arrived in town Very Happy (which is part of why I've been scarce lately, handling the logistics of the Big Move), and we've been trying to find a church that we can jointly plug into. The church I grew up in has... many problems, and is also a very different style of worship than Dunadwarf grew up with, so we're checking out a lot of different local places. (Plus it is much easier for me, the introvert, to make said search when I can use him as a human shield.) We've only tried a few places so far, but already it's clear that several churches have very similar ideas about receiving visitors, and I don't know that they're all good ones, and I thought it might be a good subject to discuss. Here are some issues I've run across already. None of these are gamebreaker issues, but I think they might merit reconsideration.

    Some sort of flyer/program detailing the general outline of the service and giving the wording for any prayers or responses is very helpful… as long as it is accurate. If something in the service plan changes after the handout is already printed and copied, having a cantor or prayer leader announce that we’ll be using a different version of this prayer or skipping verse 3 of that song would be a good idea.

    There are various reasons why people may prefer not to shake hands (different cultural customs, not wanting to spread the flu, etc.). If you try to initiate a handshake and the other person instead gives you a hands-free gesture of goodwill, please respect their preference. Do not press the issue by thrusting forth the hand again or jiggling it impatiently as if the person is blind or slow. Do not ask “Don’t you shake hands?!” in the same tone of voice you’d say “Don’t you breathe air?!”

    I am prepared to be greeted by one or two people when I visit an unfamiliar church. Five people greeting me is odd, and becoming uncomfortable. When five more people come up to exchange pleasantries after I’ve already found a seat, it’s going into creepy territory, especially if they all follow the same script. And when a dozen more people line up by the door to “meet” me after service, I now feel like a cornered animal, and I can’t imagine that even extroverts actually enjoy running such a social gauntlet. Please don’t zerg rush the newbs, folks. Wink Read the body language, and if we start looking glazed over/freaked out upon being approached by #7, don’t be #8.

    I said “meet” above for a reason. Just because you seized my hand and told me your name does not mean that you are not still a stranger. The fact that this event took place in a church also does not change things. I am not going to go to your house for Bible study tonight. I am not going to let you come over to my house for dinner, not even if you bring delicious pie. You probably are a decent, harmless person after all, but I don’t know that, and I haven’t made it this far through life by being careless. Besides, even if you aren’t a serial killer, we might bore each other to death.

    I will not fill out your visitor information card. I will be polite and non-confrontational about this, but I will not give you my personal contact information unless and until I choose to join your church. “Reminding” me multiple times, offering me bribes if I turn in a completed card, and various other hard-sell psychological tactics will not change this, and will only serve to annoy me. I will gladly take any literature or other information you have for me, but I will not give you the opportunity to spam me for the next decade.

    God’s mercy and forgiveness is a great theme to preach on. However, proclaiming that God still loves us even if we don’t regularly go to church or read the Bible is extremely underwhelming. Maybe you’ve lead such a clean, vanilla life that these things are all you’ve ever regretted, but to anyone who has truly hurt or been hurt, this sounds cheap, and could even be construed as insulting. It doesn’t have to be “God forgives you even if you do unspeakable things to homeless puppies every weekend,” but is “even if you haven’t prayed in years” really the best you can do?

    It is probably best if you do not talk about “assimilating” visitors in your welcome materials. For many people, this word has unfortunate social/political connotations, and for anyone who has watched more than a dozen episodes of Star Trek, this word will provoke shivers. pale Please consider using a more universally positive word, like “integrating” or “adopting”. If you insist that assimilation is in fact the most accurate word for what you do with new people, then this is almost certainly not the church for me.

    The world is not the same as it was 50, 20, or even 10 years ago. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Every era corrects some errors of the past and commits some new ones. Even if there are things in the world of which you do not approve, you should be aware that they are common nowadays and not be shocked when someone dresses in less-than-conservative manner, or mentions that they are gay or play D&D. Shocked Taking a few seconds to blink and recalibrate I can understand, especially with older folks. Trying to steer the topic elsewhere would also be okay, if perhaps not ideal. But totally shutting down and walking away is impolite, un-Christ-like, and counterproductive to growing your church.

    Thoughts, anyone?

    Paeter
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    Re: How (or How Not) to Handle Church Visitors

    Post  Paeter on February 18th 2011, 3:45 pm

    Wow. I'm amazed that you've actually encountered those kinds of things. You've been just walked away from after mentioning D&D? Wow.

    I can more easily picture people smothering visitors with welcomes. Especially in churches that stopped growing awhile back and don't know what to do with unfamiliar faces.

    The only thing I might add as a suggestion is for churches to have a good website. Although that may seem disconnected from Sunday morning, a good website that represents the beliefs and atmosphere of the church well will more likely result in visitors who will fit in.

    After stepping down from my worship pastor position, my wife and I took the opportunity to look at other churches, to make sure we wanted to stay where we were at. (Which in the end, we did.) I weeded out the vast majority just from looking through their websites.


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