How Do You Treat Those Who Visit Your Church?

As part of my job as Director of Church Health, I have the privilege of visiting and preaching at a number of churches.  And I really enjoy it.  I have made a few observations I want to share with you about my church visits.  Some of these may apply to your church because a lot of these are more the “rule” than the “exception.”

Disclaimer- when I show up at your church it is as a fellow FMCiCer and guest speaker which in not entirely the same as a visitor.  While not exactly a “normal” visitor it does have me wondering about how we engage with “regular” visitors.

1)  Hardly anyone talks to me after the service.  I was going to type nobody but that wouldn’t be true – close but not true.  More Sundays than not I could probably make it to the car without speaking with anyone.  It’s a little better if I stand by the door and force people to talk to me but not much better.  Mostly I stand there and watch you talk to each other.  Now, here is where I want to refer us back to the disclaimer.  This point is not about me expecting some sort of special treatment because I think I am a big deal as the guest speaker.  I don’t and I’m not.  But if you won’t talk to me (technically part of the family) then you probably aren’t talking to other visitors either.  So they leave without being welcomed or included or having their questions answered.  That’s the real shame.  I am not against you talking to your friends at church, but let’s make sure we include our guests as well.

2)  I stand around a lot before the service.  I like to be early, mostly because I fear being late.  And then I stand there.  Lots of times I could probably steal stuff because there isn’t anyone else around.  (I don’t actually steal , just in case something is missing from your church.  It wasn’t me.  Lots of people walk by and again hardly anyone checks to see if I need help or I know where I am going or I know what I am doing.  And in most places, nobody greets me in terms of official greeters.  Again, if I were a regular guest, this would be very off putting and I probably won’t be back, especially if I have to try and find the nursery or the bathrooms or even the sanctuary on my own.

3)  This is not just the pastor’s job.  I wanted to put this in for those who were/ are getting mad at the pastor for not doing his or her job when I showed up.  Again, think regular visitor not guest speaker.  Welcoming, including and serving others is part of what Christ calls all of His church to – not just the paid people.

4)  When people talk to me they either try and sell me on their church or they complain about there church.  Now this one might have something to do with my position.  I get that.  But I have done enough reading and listening to know that it’s not only because of my position.  It’s wonderful that you think your church is great and you think I should attend regularly.  But don’t lead with that – lead with seeing how you can help me and answer my questions.  Then I will be back to find out how great your church is.

All that being said, I really don’t think we deliberately try to ignore people or chase them away.  But if we don’t pay attention to how we are doing or if we get defensive when we get called out on some of this stuff, then we will fall into these bad habits.  So please don’t take this as a scolding of some sort.  Take it as a reminder from a friend.  Pay attention to the new people in your midst.  Make them feel welcome.  Answer their questions.  Do what you can to serve them while they are with you.  Make it your job – not anyone else’s.  I think that’s what healthy churches do.

Marc McAlister

Director of Church Health, the Free Methodist Church in Canada

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