October 3, 2013

What It's Like to be a Visitor at Church

When was the last time you visited a church other than your own?

We, of course, got to visit several this summer while we were away, and we even snuck in a Sunday at one in our own city when we returned. I absolutely loved experiencing different styles of worship, preaching, and ways of practicing community and communion. It was good for my soul because I saw that, truly, Jesus is the head of his Church. 

But I also learned a thing or two about what it's like to be a visitor at a church. We did the typical Saturday night internet search before each Sunday and discovered, like everyone else who ever searches for churches, that there are some bad and uninformative websites out there. Just so you know, we made our choices based upon the websites, and everyone in your city who doesn't know anyone at all is also deciding whether or not to try your church based on your website.

On Sunday mornings, we got up and did the whole running late thing because we could. And every single Sunday, I was nervous when we got to the church we had chosen to attend. I considered that this is exactly how people feel when they visit our church for the first time: they are worried about where to go, where their children are supposed to go, and, no matter how friendly or eager they are, they feel uncomfortable.
We tried all kinds of churches: historic churches filled with pews, church plants where we sat on couches, and 25-year-old churches with sprawling campuses. We worshipped using liturgy, 90's worship music, laser lights, and acoustic guitar. And we heard the gospel clearly spoken and in spoken word.

Of course, these things ministered to me, and I experienced God and His Body among strangers. But you know what mattered most to me, the visitor? That someone spoke to me. I just wanted someone to speak to me. I was completely uncomfortable and uncertain until someone came over to us and greeted us with warm conversation and a sincere welcome. But as soon as I was spoken to, I felt at home.

This recognition made me think of our own church and the new faces that walk through our doors every Sunday. They've done the internet search, they've tried to get there on time, and they're just a little unsure. They will know they're welcome in our expression of the Body of Christ only when they're warmly greeted and shown interest in. How simple!

Thinking about that got me really excited about my role as the pastor's wife. I absolutely love that I can be a small part of creating an environment of community and warmth just by having an eye for new faces and talking with them. And just think: someone's salvation and sanctification may just start with a smile and a conversation before or after church. Warm hospitality is that important.

I hope you have a chance to be a visitor one day, but, if not, take my word for it: practice hospitality! It's a vital ministry in your church.

(And the website....)