Don’t keep this secret!

With crinkled eyes and damp palms, have you ever driven past a destination without catching the sign? Or approached a door, buzzed and waited… only to trudge through damp sod in your good shoes to try another entrance? Refresh awareness of BEST ideas and WORST experiences from secret visitors at synod congregations – they make us a more welcoming place for newcomers approaching our worship communities!

By the Rev. Phil Hirsch

In 2011, 30 people secretly visited 15 of our congregations for Sunday morning worship.   They went to see what it was like to visit the congregation at worship for the first time and, in turn, someone else would do the same at their home church. Reports were written and shared with the pastors and some key leaders.   

Here are some of the best and worst of what people experienced.

BEST:   The pastor found (or was guided to) the first time visitor and said “hello.”
WORST:   More than one person went to church, worshipped and left without a single person saying hello to them.

BEST:  The Web site had a special section for first time visitors. Here’s an example.
WORST:  One Web site had information about Ash Wednesday… in July.  

BEST:   Clear signs directed people to parking, toward the right door to enter and toward the sanctuary.
WORST:  People drove past the building, came back, parked and went to a door that was locked before finally finding the right one to enter.

BEST:  A few people said hello, and one struck up a genuine conversation.
WORST:  They seemed like a group of people who were very warm and loving, but only to each other.

What can you do to better welcome the first time visitor?

  1. Develop a system and culture of welcoming the newcomer at worship.
  2. Invest money and time in your website.   People go there before they come to worship. 
  3. Have someone who has never been to your church evaluate the signage for you.
  4. Ask a few people to be on the lookout for newcomers, and make sure that someone says hello to them.
  5. Be personally open to making new friends.  Invite someone to have a cup of coffee.

Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!  (Hebrews 13.2)

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