The last two Sundays I had the opportunity of visiting two different churches with two entirely different outcomes. I am purposely not naming either church in order to be fair.
Church #1 – I visited this church on a Sunday evening in the DFW area. The evening service started at 6pm and I arrived just before 5:45. I parked in the visitor parking and then went inside. There were no greeters at the door I entered. I made my way into the lobby and there was no one at their Visitor Center. I walked into the auditorium and sat about five rows up from the back row on the left side. People were milling about and some were hurriedly trying to get a laptop hooked up to a projector. I was just observing and watching. I was definitely overdressed with khakis, dress shirt, and sportcoat. I figured that someone would say hello or ask if I was a visitor. I watched people walk up and down the aisles and talking with one another. The service started with singing and then announcements and eventually the youth pastor got up to speak (but at the time I did not know who was speaking). I have to say that I was a bit taken aback that I could sit in a church auditorium and no one recognized that I was a guest and no one spoke to me. During the closing prayer, I decided to slip out quietly and leave. I was very disappointed, but also very thankful for our church that we have people stationed at each entrance door that serve as greeters to engage everyone with a friendly greeting as people enter, members and guests alike. We also have ushers at each entrance of the auditorium to provide a bulletin and a handshake and friendly greeting. At minimum, a guest to our current church would be engaged with two people before they found a seat in the auditorium. Far from my experience at church #1!
Church #2 – We arrived about 15 mins before the morning service started and we were greeted by a gentleman who was in the foyer greeting people as they came in. We were then greeted by the Pastor and his wife (Disclaimer – I know the Pastor and his wife very well, but the church people did not know we were coming or who we were) We were then given a brief tour of the church facilities and were seated for the service to start. We were greeted warmly by several people who did not know us but recognized that we were guests.
Two churches – Two Sundays…. what do you think makes the differences between the two churches so marked and different? Do you think churches have to be taught to recognize guests and engage them? Are some churches just not “guest friendly”? This experience made me very thankful for our current church and I sent an email to our pastors letting them know my appreciation for the things we do to engage guests. We may not get it right, but at least we work at it and try to engage those who come to worship with us.
Incidentally, I drove by church #1 on my way to church #2 on Sunday and did not give a second thought about returning. Someone once said,”You only have one chance to make a good first impression!”