I almost titled this post “Church Shopping,” but I changed it because that terminology only feeds the consumer mindset that many church attenders have these days.
I had a friend contact me recently to ask me a question about the denomination my church belongs to. She lives far away, so she wasn’t asking because she plans to attend our church, but because she and her family were getting ready to visit several churches and she wondered about Presbyterianism. As I answered her, I realized that working at a church for many years has taught me a few things about the best way to go about visiting a church. I’ve greeted and cared for many visitors in my current church. Here are my suggestions for church visitors:
- When you arrive at the church, hopefully you will find a friendly face. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself or ask questions like, “Do you have a church nursery?” “Where are the restrooms?” “Could you direct me to the sanctuary?” I know this is daunting for some people, but it is the best way to make sure that people know you are new and it puts you on the fast track for getting the information you are seeking.
- Hopefully the church you are attending does not do one of those embarrassing, “raise your hand if you’re new here” things. If they do, it’s okay to pretend you don’t understand what they mean by “new.”
- Realize that the long-time members are trying to decide if they should know who you are or not. They may greet you hesitantly–if they introduce themselves to you and you inform them that you’ve been coming for 8 years, it’s embarrassing. I myself have opted for the “Good to see you!” and a handshake if I’m really not sure.
- Don’t be worried about sitting in someone’s seat. Sit where you are comfortable. (If you’re still worried about sitting in someone’s seat, it’s a good bet that the front rows don’t belong to anyone!)
- If they have a fellowship pad or a bulletin tear off or something that asks you for your contact information, fill it out if you think you’d like more information. Usually churches use these so they can send cards or information to visitors. Some churches handle this information better than others. I took a mission trip group to Toronto in 2007 and we stayed overnight and worshiped at a church in Michigan, and they still have me on their mailing and email list.
- Try not to get hung up on a bad joke during the announcements or a point in the sermon you aren’t sure about. Obviously, if there are glaring doctrinal differences, that’s one thing, but realize that every church you would attend will have things you don’t agree with or appreciate. Do consider the things you liked about the church experience.
- Don’t rate a church on what you “get out of it.” Remember that church isn’t something you attend, it’s something you belong to. Look for ways you might be able to share your gifts or enjoy being a part of the ministry and work of the church.
- Don’t base your opinions or plans on numbers (as in how many people). Numbers are important in some respects, but they should not be the bottom line. Does the church seem too “big?” Ask about small groups. Does the church seem too “small?” Amazing things can happen through small groups of people. Remember–Jesus only had 12 disciples.
- After worship, ask for a tour of the building. It’s a great way to find out what’s going on and there will likely be people who are glad to show you around.
- Ask if they have a church newsletter or devotional material available for you to take. Many churches have extras of these on hand and it will help you understand a little more about the church.
- It’s a good plan to give a church more than one try. Visit a mid-week opportunity to see what else is happening. Visit a different worship service. It will help you get a better feel than just one worship service will.
- Watch this instructional video–it will likely answer any other questions you have: