For the whole month of October, I have been on a sabbatical. It's been a refreshing experience for me. I've been able to read some books, spend time in prayer, and rest my spirit.
But being on sabbatical has also helped me gain a new insight on what it means to be a visitor to church. Each week I've attended a different church. It's such an exhilarating experience, walking into a brand new place, meeting new people, hearing a sermon (instead of giving one).
However, what strikes me most is how out of place and strange it feels to be a guest in a church. Frankly, it's kind of scary. Then it hit me, this is how EVERY new person feels when they walk into my church on Sunday. Just knowing what it feels like to be new helps to give me a sense of how I need to treat new each person that attends my church. So, I'm issuing “The New Church Guest Challenge” to you! Here's how you do it
1 – Tell your pastor you'll be missing for a week
It's not that you need their permission–unless you're volunteering every Sunday. Still, it's nice to let him or her know what you're up to. Truthfully, some pastors will be against the idea. Just assure them that your goal is to learn more about how to get better at welcoming new people to the congregation. If you go to a really big church you can probably skip this step.
2 – Decide to visit a nearby local church
Pick a church that is similar to your own. For example, if you go to a large Baptist church, don't choose a small Pentecostal church to visit. Instead, do your best to match size and denomination. Also, pick a place where you don't know anyone–that way you will have a truly “new” experience.
3 – Get the full experience
Arrive early enough to be greeted and maybe grab some coffee. Don't come 30 seconds before they start and miss all of the uncomfortableness. Also, bring the whole family (if they're willing). You will get some great insight from your kids on what it's like to be new too. It could be uncomfortable, but at least you'll be together.
4 – Remember what it feels like to be new
The goal is not for you to evaluate how well the other church does worship or preaching, the goal is for you to “feel” what it's like to be new. You'll notice things that you would have never noticed before and it will help you think of others and the way they feel when they visit your church.You'll notice things that you would have never noticed before and it will help you think of others and the way they feel when they visit your church.Click To Tweet
5 – Talk about your experience with others
What was it that made you feel welcome? What made you feel like an outsider? Was it easy to find a parking space? Did you know where to go? These are things that you probably take for granted at your regular church but new people don't.
6 – Go back to your regular church and turn your findings into action!
So now that you remember the awkward feeling you'll be ready to react. For example, remember that long “meet & greet” at the church where you visited? If no one really came over to say ‘hi' now you know that you have to be that person at your own church. Find the newcomers and make them feel welcome. Does your church need better signage to direct guests to the restrooms or nursery? Point it out to someone that can make a difference.
So give it a try sometime and then let me know what you found out. I'm convinced that if we all put our heads together and learn from our experiences we will be helping people find the church and find Jesus. After all, isn't that the overall goal?