How did this make an impact?

  1. I am new to San Diego and have visited many churches here since arriving here. Most of the time I visit a new church I am not talked to by anyone after the service except the pastor as I exit the building. I make it a point to go up to one or two people after the service to introduce myself. It is very uncomfortable but I force myself. Most of the time people are friendly enough to chat for one or two minutes if I introduce myself as a new visitor. I have actually gone up to a group of four people and had not one acknowledge me and then the group broke up and no one said a word to me. I was astonished. So I find it is better to go up to couples or individuals. I find this fascinating and sad. This is all new to me as I had a regular church for many years. I think asking if new people would like a welcome packet during the service is a good idea. This gives the person accurate information about the church, because it is not uncommon for the website to be inaccurate and not updated. Also several members could be assigned to the job of greeting these new visitors and making them feel welcome. When I find a church I definitely want to be part of the welcoming group now! I never want anyone to feel like I do when I visit a new church. Lonely and frightened. I may as well stay home and watch a sermon on the internet! The only reason I am still visiting churches is pure persistence and the knowledge that my spiritual life depends on being a part of a church, and the knowledge that I want to serve others in the church.

  2. I’ve left two churches that I attended for years because the congregation was cliquish. I wish I could say that the pastors were the problem, but I think it’s the congregations themselves. Even when a pastor of one church set up a newcomer lunch and visitor bags and so many other tools, the established people of this church never reached out to me or allowed me to get to know them other than the superficial “hello” at the service. In both of these churches, I made a huge attempt to become involved, did regular volunteer service at a food pantry and washing coffee pots every Sunday, but I was still alone in these long-term volunteer activities. You may say that a church is not a place to “make friends,” and I will reply that if you can’t make friends there, where can you? These “christians” had been to Bible studies and sermons where the message was to love the stranger again and again; yet, they still chose to lock out someone they didn’t know. I even tried to collect all the “outsiders” and create my own clique, but even that fell apart. After 12 churches in total in my region, I’ve stopped looking. I have better friends from work and through 12-step programs than I do all of these churches. So Jesus’ lessons about being kind to others is visible, but not at church.

  3. Hi Ben,
    Firstly thank you for your very interesting article.
    I am currently looking for a new church home and I must say it’s not easy.
    After being badly hurt over 10 yrs ago at my old church, I’ve recently plucked up the courage to try again.
    Basically today was the second time I’ve attended this particular church with my daughter.
    Literally no one gives a kindly nod or a smile, let alone come to have a chat.
    Today I thought I’d stay after the service and have a coffee to perhaps speak with someone but same thing happened.
    The pastors wife sat in front of my daughter and I in the service. I tried on a number of occasions to make eye contact with her but she was totally unresponsive.
    I don’t want to give up at the first hurdle but it feels like a chore to go again next week.
    I feel like they don’t really want any new members.
    Many thanks

  4. I think that it is important for churches to have a warm and inviting environment. At my church, the parish is pretty big, so big that we don’t all know each other. Our pastor on a couple of occasions has said that when we have a large parish, you sometimes don’t know if the people you are next to are parishioners or visitors-so we should take a moment to say hello and introduce ourselves. While it is important to welcome people in your church, I think that it is not the time to start pushing for membership or making any commitments. So, if a visitor does choose to come back, let him come as often as he wishes without any conditions. I think that having visitor envelopes is a good idea for the purpose of thanking them, and welcoming them to come back. It also may be a good idea to have an area where there is visitor information available instead of pouncing on visitors with information.
    After reading some responses below, people seem to be taking responses to a harsh level. If someone chooses to leave a church because no one was interested in connecting with them, or because in some way they feel smothered, thnen they have every right to never come back without being judged. Think of it as trying on a pair of shoes. If you try a couple of different sizes for a type of shoe, and they don’t fit right, then it is time to find a different pair of shoes. Churches are not a “one size fits all”. If there is a bad impression, it may be believed that it will be a constant thing. I do think that pastors as well as members who have been at church for a while need to realize that not everyone appreciates the same types of approaches, or being compared to other people.

  5. I like to visit churches when out of town and base my impression of their openness on: Is there a visitor card in the pew, Is there something in the bulletin or announcements where they say “welcome to our church,” and do I get a letter in the mail thanking me for visiting. Those are the things that are sure to bring someone back. It’s acknowledgment without overdoing it. Plus people like to get “things.” Brochures, fridge magnets, something with the worship schedule and so on.

  6. My husband and I had a couple of bad experiences. We visited a church where all the members stood up and visitors stayed seated to be greeted. Still awkward and unnecessary. People don’t want to be recognized when visiting a church. They want to stay anonymous for a time, but also still be spoken to when coming in. One time we went to a church (Presbyterian) and really liked it. We immediately joined the choir and the pastor actually started a bible study because we expressed interest in doing one. After 3 months, not one person had befriended us and we had never seen nor met the pastors wife even though we were in a weekly study with the pastor. It was disheartening, so we left.

    • “After 3 months, not one person had befriended us and we had never seen nor met the pastors wife even though we were in a weekly study with the pastor. It was disheartening, so we left”

      HOW SAD! You want to be entertained by the Pastor and looking forward for people to entertain you! How really sad to have this attitude and because of this you left? Sounds immature. Do not wait to be entertained. Connect with people and be involved!

      • I believe that you represent the majority of churches and the people who hide within their confines. I was a senior pastor for 13 years. I left the ministry to rejoin the military, but not as a chaplain. In the last 8 years I have deployed to combat zones 11 seperate times. Our experiences have left us seeking love, nurture and spiritual support. Sadly, this is more often the exception rather than the norm. What is wrong with needing the fellowship of another believer? What is wrong with needing the body of Christ to act as the body? Perhaps, according to your standards we are just immature to expect that to be a reality. I am tired of seeing church signs that read, “Our Church Can Be Your Home.” My family and I want and crave to be a part of Christ’s Church. It hurts when it is labeled as someones church and it is labeled as an exclusive club. It hurts even more to know that there are some within this organization to which I gave so much of my life, who view my views as “immature.” May God help us see outside of our little cubicle and see the world and needs as Christ did.

    • I was at a church once were the pastors wife told new membes that because they where new they shouldn’t try to get involved because no one knew them… and they where suspect thats not jesus way.she also was the worship coardinator and let you know all the time that nothing got doneat church unless it went through her first.

  7. Just over a year ago my husband decided to join a new church in our neighborhood. The pastor is wonderful and I feel he provides the right message, but my having a history of a bad experience at my childhood church led me to not being comfortable in church, I don’t always go most Sundays. I also have chronic health problems that prevent me from going, even on days I want to go. It’s been over a year since we started there and I don’t go as much as the few months. I was only welcomed by a few people, and still felt it was mainly superficial politeness. The thing that really put me off though, was a condescending comment by the pastor’s wife when my husband tried to urge us into conversation so we could get to know each other. He made comment that I had made it to church that Sunday, and she replied with a snide, ‘You should try coming every Sunday’, and walked away.

    • ‘You should try coming every Sunday’” Is that condescending? Encouraging you to come..why not?

      • Tone of voice. People know the difference between encourgagement and condemnation. Very few Christians accept that there are genuine reasons for not being in church – including illness, being at another church while visiting family or just choosing to attend at a different service time for family needs. Have been judged on this point many many times even when could not physically sit through a service for health reasons. The judgement you get if you cannot stay to the end will keep you away.

  8. Honestly, the best church is st. Mary and st. Antonios coptic orthodox church in queens ny. I feel like im surrounded by family that ive known for 50 years. They are a very welcoming bunch and they are very spiritual too. If you ever have the chance you should visit.

  9. Our family left the parish we were at for 8 years, Zion Episcopal Church in Douglaston, NY, because the pastor was incredibly unfair to us and played favorites. We went around looking at other parishes in the Episcopal Diocese of LI close to where we lived and went to visit the Episcopal Cathedral in Garden City, LI, the seat of the Diocese of LI. Almost every one of the above things occurred. It was a very unfriendly place. On top of everything else, when my wife and I indicated an interest in becoming part of the parish, the pastor, Dean Bean, told us that we were “parish shopping” and was rude and extremely unfriendly towards my wife and I. We were appalled. We finally ended up at a small parish nearby which is welcoming and friendly. What an experience it was trying to find a new parish to worship!

  10. As a Messianic Jew and member of two churches approximately 160 miles apart (and a year apart in my life….another story), I find these ’10 Ways’ right on the money, so to speak. Both of my churches practice methods that defer against each of these principles and it is generally heartwarming to see how it is received.
    Yet I have been to facilities that do condone many of these ideologies and it is amazing the emotions that overwhelm an individual when you do not have the feeling of welcomeness or belonging that one tends to ‘expect’ at a church.

  11. Some good insight on these, but I found the exact opposite re: # 9.

  12. …because my personal comfort and a positive customer experience are the determining factors of how I should choose a church?

    Pastor Ben, if you reject a local church based on these shallow, consumeristic standards, then you have a sadly low view of the Body of Christ. We aren’t marketers or salesmen with a slick, frictionless, experience; we are God’s chosen, sinful, broken people, gathering together to meet our Lord in his Word and Sacraments.

    • Levi,
      This was a tongue-in-cheek piece. Sorry if that wasn’t clear. I’m a pastor myself, and we on our staff like to constantly put ourselves in the shoes of the first-time visitor who’s looking for any excuse possible to NOT come back to our church.

      The Gospel is offensive enough…and we’re ok if people choose to not return because they heard the Gospel at our church. However, we’re NOT ok if someone chooses to not return because they weren’t greeted in the parking lot, because they were spammed, or because we publicly call them out from stage.

      Petty though these things may be, we don’t want them to be stumbling blocks for people to hear and respond to the Gospel.

      Hope that makes sense.

    • Levi, they may not be the main determining factors in choosing a church, but they are very important to first-time visitors. If you want people to come, hear the Gospel, and be a part of a community of believers (Acts 2), then you want them to come and stay. All these things are deterrents for first-time guests. Someone who is deeply-rooted in Jesus and understand what the Gospel is all about and lives it out may be able to look past these things, but those aren’t the people we are necessarily reaching out for. And if your church isn’t doing these things, then anyone who truly wants to live for the Gospel should probably not stick around, either. It isn’t necessarily about marketing or being slick, it’s about honoring your guests. I went to a church that had no care in the world about their guests. Yes, they may have went to them and said “hello” at times (not always), but nothing beyond that. You were lucky to see those same people come back. I have watched as that church has been slowly dying out. My current church has always been about loving and being inviting, but last year decided that they needed to really step out and honor their visitors. It has been amazing to see what God has unleashed in the time since. If you are offended by this post, then I would think that you are probably doing some of the things that are talked about. I would graciously ask that you consider what is being said, here. You don’t have to have a church that is out to just make people comfortable or frictionless (trust me, our church doesn’t), but honoring and making your first-time guests feel welcome goes a long way in reaching people for Jesus.

      • “honoring and making your first-time guests feel welcome goes a long way in reaching people for Jesus”

        I respectfully disagree. You have made your guests feel comfortable, which is commendable (I’m not arguing against such things.). But a restaurant or a shopping mall can do the same thing. The power of God is not present in a frictionless church experience which everyone gives a 4-star-rating. The power of God is the Gospel, which manifests itself among sinful, broken people. Our message is offensive, we are the offensive dregs of society with a message that is repugnant to the world. No amount of smiling or scowling parking attendants can remove the offense of the cross or dilute its power.

        All of the above points make sense if you’re a salesmen trying to lure people in to pitch them a product. This isn’t who we are. We’re ambassadors proclaiming the kingdom of God and the fall of all other kings and authorities before his rule.

      • Jesus was very welcoming to first-timers…

    • I feel he is spot on. Most of the time people who are first time guest are broken people who are looking for a way out of there current situation and after exhausting every resource they have decided to give Jesus a try At least this was my experience. They come into the doors scared intimidated and some are even afraid the building just may catch fire. They come asking the question.what is this church me. They come as consumers and until they grow spiritually we have to accept these are the people we are serving. The church isn’t a hotel for saints but a hospital for sinners…
      Anhave to go above and beyond what we deem as ne

    • These are not shallow, these are telling of the personality of the church, whether it is a closed holy huddle or a welcoming place where a person can find community. Lets be honest #1. I try to get involved and am ignored,#3 am visiting for the first time and am ignored,#5 the people in the children’s area act like my child is an inconvenience, #6 guilt me into giving instead of leading people to be “cheerful givers” #7 give a political correct feel good “I’m ok, your ok” message devoid of scripture #8 spam my e-mail or show up at my house uninvited #9 or the pastor acts like he is better than all of us sitting in the pews, then your not going to come back. Being friendly, warm, welcoming and helpful is what a church should be. That is not consumerism, that is Christ Like.

      • “Being friendly, warm, welcoming and helpful is what a church should be. That is not consumerism, that is Christ Like.”

        I’m not sure if that’s really Christ like. But since you brought it up:

        Jesus, here’s 10 Ways to make sure you’ll keep me as a disciple:

        1. Less talk about your crucifixion. (Matthew 16: 21)

        Let’s face it, crucifixion is a total bummer. I’ve got enough problems without all these doom and gloom predictions about how the Son of Man must “suffer many things”. Is this really the best way to motivate your supporters? And speaking of which…

        2. Life is hard enough without ME “taking up a cross” (Mark 8: 34)

        I have my family to support, work is uber stressful, my football team missed the playoffs. Do you need to make it even harder? It’s bad enough that you can’t stop talking about your OWN cross but now you want ME to take up one of my own? Ugh.

        3. Improve your public relations (Matthew 23: 13)

        Blanket condemnation of respected religious leaders is not doing anything to help your cause. Sure you may have some disagreements with the Pharisees but my generation prefers conversations over black and white statements.

        4. Work on your anger issues (John 2: 13-17)

        When you started attacking businessmen I was so embarrassed I wanted to crawl in a hole and die. Honestly you scared me that day. Normal people do not go off like that.

        5. Improve your communication (Luke 10: 21)

        Your communication style is confusing. There’s just no other way to say it. The worst part is you’re doing this on purpose?

        6. Less hard teachings (John 6: 60)

        “Eat my flesh and drink my blood”. Gross. How am I supposed to apply THAT to my life?

        7. Take advantage of good opportunities (John 6:15)

        They were going to make you king and what do you do? Slip away quietly?! Opportunities like this don’t come along every day. Seize it, man!

        8. Less about you being God incarnate (John 8: 58)

        Maybe it’s true maybe it’s not but is it really relevant to the rest of us? And, again, you seem determined to freak people out. Just look at the reaction you got when you talked this way. They tried to stone you, bro! If you want to keep talking like this, that’s your business, but just do it when I’m far, far away. I’m personally not interested in my head being crushed by a very large rock, thank you.

        9. DON’T SAY THAT TO PILATE! (John 19: 10-11)

        Ok, this crap is getting real. Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. We are all gonna freaking die. I’m not with you. I don’t know this guy. I do not know him. Oh good, Pilate might get you off. Maybe he can pull some strings. Just beg him. Just say anything. There’s still a chance. WHAT? NO DON’T SAY THAT! … I do not know this man. I’m-not-with-him.

        10. Don’t come back. (Revelation 14: 14-16)

        So yeah, Jesus. As far as I can tell you are walking bummer. And it looks like when you come back you’re going to judge the earth? Did I mention that my generation hates being judged. If you don’t mind, could you just stay at the right hand of your Father? That would be great.

        So, Jesus, those are my conditions. Most guys would do anything to have me as a disciple but I’m a bit concerned that these went right over your head. But maybe one day you’ll read this list and realize that you missed out on the glory of having me following you and realize that I was right all along. About everything. Because I’M the one who really matters. Not you. Not your cross. Not your suffering. Not your glory. ME. MYSELF. MINE!

        If that day comes let’s grab coffee.


        Anyone else found Jesus totally demanding?

  13. I truly don’t understand how these responses are going to be helpful or edifying

    • They’re not, Courtney. But these are the “words” of first-time visitors to your church. My hope and prayer is that people would only find an offense with the Gospel in our churches…and that our actions would always point them to Jesus, never away from Him.

    • The responses are helpful insofar as some people in some churches are blind to how they are perceived by newcomers. And while some people may feel that these standards are “consumeristic”, the reality is that churches are dying out and closing up because people expect religion to be welcoming, comforting, in a tangible sense, and provide something in addition to just the word. When churches do not do this, people leave. If you are not a good docent, watch your numbers dwindle as people die out or move away. One church on Long Island’s “Gold Coast” has a web site in which they boast of how affluent their congregation is, and how high the average level of education is. They forgot that Jesus was the son of a carpenter. Their message is sickeningly elist, and it certainly scared me away after I read it- afraid that my wife and I, simple government workers, could not measure up. These people obviously have no clue as to how they are perceived, otherwise, why would they put up such an elitist web site?

  14. I visited an evening service where an acquaintance was leading music, but I got the times confused and arrived an hour early. I had a brief conversation with a man sitting in the narthex. He turned out to be the guest preacher for the evening and proceeded to point me out by name in the middle of the sermon. It made me exceedingly uncomfortable.

  15. As a pastor’s wife, I have been asked to remove myself from someone’s seat (in a church with hundreds of empty seats), I have been asked how I planned to give financially each month on my very first Sunday, I have been told that they didn’t like my family living in their house because they wanted to make money and sell it (again on a “first Sunday”), I have been asked to drop my health benefits while walking back to my seat from communion, I have been told that I cut pies wrong, I have been told that it was “my problem” to try to get out of our garage when church members were parked in front of it…these are ways to make a ministry family feel really unwelcome too!

    • Ouch. That hurts, Anita. Incredibly unwelcoming!

    • You do wonder whether Matthew 7 and Matthew 23 are missing in some bibles . . . no Christian who read those words could miss their relevance to how we should treat other people and God’s opinion of us when we fail. More it shows us this is not conditional on where people stand with God but rather simply because they are human beings made in the image of God – not because they are christians. Fortunately no matter how damaged and battered we are we are still signed with the seal of the king, still in his image just like the most battered old coin ever minted when its found in some great archaelogical dig. It may be buried but still gold. So there is forgiveness for all and a welcome for any with God in spite of the older brothers who would say we should keep the prodigal at the door . . .