Last year I posted my Ten New Year’s Wishes for Area Churches. Although they were widely read, I was disappointed only a Mormon-centric blog felt compelled to respond with a self-congratulating post stating all my concerns would likely be met in one of their churches. After visiting many area churches since that 2009 post, I submit an updated New Year list of 10 with specific comments and suggestions.
#1 – Improve Hospitality Shown Visitors
On the whole, church visitors in Anchorage are not being warmly welcomed and treated hospitably. In general they are ignored or given only cursory attention. I’ve even experienced this un-Christian behavior on successive visits to the same churches. Even worse, many churches single visitors out to identify themselves during the services as a seeming afterthought. But often visitors are totally ignored, even without a single mention in their services.
SUGGESTION-Hospitable churches have multiple people covering all normal entrances to greet visitors and make them feel welcome. Several of these few hospitable churches will stand by and open the outside doors of their churches, greeting visitors with a handshake and a smile. An example of this kind Christian behavior may be seen at Trinity Presbyterian and Cornerstone Church weekly. Recruit and train responsible members of your church in hospitality procedures. Don’t single out visitors to identify themselves. Rather, members and the pastoral staff should find them and greet them hospitably and personally.
#2 – Really Care for Your Church Website
Often local church websites are deplorable, not reflecting the same care and upkeep they accord the tenets of their religion. Many times they are maintained by volunteers having a limited understanding of graphic design, and true website functionality. Worship times are often not shown. out of sight, or buried behind some non-standard nomenclature such as SCHEDULES. Outdated information is everywhere on church websites. Misspellings are rife. Ask this question of your website. Would a potential visitor spend 10-20 minutes hunting there for our church’s normal worship times?
SUGGESTION-Have your website professionally designed and maintained. If you offer sermon recordings, post them within days, not weeks or months. What’s seen on the initial screen may be the only thing potential visitors will ever see. Sure we have beautiful vistas here in Alaska. But are they worth half of that initial screen to show them, i.e. Are you in tourism or seeking and helping people who need God?
#3 – Make Your Church Sign Work for You
The purpose of signage is to identify your church and your meeting times. Many church signs are designed more for walkers, not drivers. Some show service times in such small letters that passersby may never know when you meet.
SUGGESTION-Don’t waste space on cutesy messages or upcoming sermon titles on your sign. Save those for your websites. Just give the basics assuming folks drive by at 40-60 mph. Please don’t use VISITORS WELCOME on your sign if you really are not prepared to deal with them.
#4 – More Extemporaneous Preaching
Too many pastors read their sermons, putting congregations to sleep or confusing them with written logic instead of clear conversational thoughts and ideas. There is little eye contact, with pastors sometimes losing their way, not gauging the receptivity of their remarks.
SUGGESTION-The tried and true method is to:
(1) Say what you’re going to say
(2) Say it
(3) Say what you’ve said
No one has a problem with pastors referring to a quote or scripture when they speak. But, to read sermons word for word is not fair for parishioner or visitor alike. Just talk to them. To me, the most belittling sermon of all is the 3-pointer where the pastor leads you to “fill in the blanks”. I’m not, however, against key thoughts being flashed on a screen, but don’t read them. I, and most of your audience, can read. Otherwise just send us the material and we’ll stay home.
#5 – Send Follow-up Notes/Letters to Visitors
Rarely do I receive any follow-up responses from churches I visit. Sometimes I only leave an email address, my PO Box or just a phone number. But nothing comes. Churches sometimes spend hundreds of dollars just to attract a visitor and then do nothing about it.
SUGGESTION-Please emphasize on your visitor registration that no one will visit or call without your request. But do use that information to thank them for attending, inviting them back at the same time.
#6 – Less Musical Entertainment – More Musical Worship
A number of churches start with a musical session where the audience is asked to stand, and then hammered with 30-45 minutes of excessively loud contemporary Christian music. In many cases the audience is merely treated to showboating singers, guitarists, drummers, brass players, or keyboardists under the guise of Christian praise. Sometimes the music never refers to the hallmarks of Christianity, i.e. salvation, God, Christ, etc. Instead lyrics of love, peace, joy and understanding take their place. I recognize that many local churches use music appropriately throughout the service to augment and embellish their worship and liturgy. For this I give thanks.
SUGGESTION-Don’t make audiences stand for long periods of time, marooning them after asking them to stand. Take a hard look at your music. Does it glorify God or man?
#7 – Preannounce Guest Speakers
Frequently I visit churches only to find a guest speaker is preaching. These individuals are rarely mentioned on church websites. Some may be good, but if I’m visiting a church I want to hear the regular pastor. Guest speakers are a fact of life but I want some predictability, as do other church visitors. During the past year guest speakers have subjected me to wandering sermons, poor presentations, and sermons about topics I was surprised to hear. Chances of a visitor returning are significantly lessened when they are surprised by a guest speaker.
SUGGESTION-At least preannounce these individuals on your website and the newspaper, along with their topics.
#8 – Offering & Communion Should Be Made Visitor Friendly
In many churches offerings are taken and communion served without a single word of explanation being directed to visitors. Please do visitors the courtesy of telling them they are under no obligation to give. Regarding offerings, I only observed this approach once this past year. Participation by the visitor in Communion/Eucharist should be explained before it is served. If, for example, you have open Communion for all who have accepted Jesus, say it.
SUGGESTION-Don’t forget visitors when you ask for offerings and serve Communion/Eucharist.
#9 – Pastors, Don’t Hide Behind Non-Specific Email Addresses
Nothing is more irritating than to receive an email purporting to be from a pastor of a church I’ve visited, only to discover when responding to ask or answer a question, someone else responds. This is so inappropriate, especially when I’ve asked a question intended only for the eyes of the pastor. Additionally, many pastor’s email addresses on their websites really have an underlying address such as firstname.lastname@example.org. This routes your email to a lower level functionary who will quite arrogantly decide whether or not to even share it with the pastor.
SUGGESTION-No pastor should hide from the public. The right thing is to receive requests or suggestions directly. Don’t use intermediaries to screen them from you. If more church boards were aware their pastors were playing this game, I daresay less of this would be happening.
#10 – Visit Other Churches Regularly
Churches should send teams out regularly to visit other churches to observe what works and what doesn’t work. Observations about welcoming and hospitality, order of service, music, noise, reverence, explanation of offerings and Communion/Echarist plus sermons delivered should be documented and brought back for meaningful discussion.