Nearly two-thirds of Americans planned on attending an Easter church service according to a poll conducted by Knights of Columbus-Marist. What does that mean for your church?
My church was like many of those churches, we were packed. Many of us "regulars" actually got there a little earlier than usual to get "our" seats. You know how it is, after you have been going to a church for a while, you tend to sit in the same area every Sunday and, many times, the very same seat. So I got there in plenty of time to save "my" seat and chit-chat before the service. We had many new visitors. I'm sure some of them were extended family of current members who were just visiting for the weekend. But many, I hope, were checking out a new church home.
How does your church handle new visitors? Do you keep your visitors or does a high percentage just pass through, never to be seen again? As somebody who used to want to hide on church visitation nights, let me make a couple of suggestions to put the percentages in your favor:
Don't put a new visitor on display. I remember years and years ago, when my wife and I visited a church and we were paraded around like a prize catch. There was an actual greeting line at the front of the church after the service. Let the visitor ease into the new surroundings. No shock treatments needed here.
Gather contact information covertly. Let the visitor fill out a card with as much or as little information as they want to provide. They can then drop it in the plate or designated location. The card will have their preferred method of contact. Honor their requests. If they don't want to be contacted, then don't.
Don't ambush the new guys after the service. In a close knit body, new people will be noticed. If the new guys are already involved in a conversation, don't huddle around. A simple "hello" will do, but don't gang up on them. One meaningful conversation with one person or couple is better than meeting 50 people and not remembering any pertinent details.
No surprise visits. I hope these days are gone. Again, this was years ago, but the church I attended (and that was the full extent of my involvement at the time, attendance only) would do "visitations" on Thursday nights. Thursday nights at 8:00 to be exact. In the mid-to-late 80's, one of the greatest shows of all time was televised on Thursday nights at 8:00: The Cosby Show. I could see the visitation team coming. They would drive up in the driveway and I would hide! I would have to turn off the T.V. so they wouldn't hear and, in doing so, I would miss part of my favorite show. Did that endear me to the church? No way! Finally, after about 3-4 attempts, they gave up on me. But I did stay at that church. That's when church was more for the religion than the "Relationship". Now if a personal visitation is indicated as the preferred contact method, you of course have the green light. But you obtained permission first. Just don't divvy up the new visitor cards and head out. And make sure visits aren't during "24", "Lost", "Survivor", "The Apprentice", "American Idol", "Dancing with the Stars", "Amazing Race",…you get the idea.
It's a big hurdle for someone to walk in the doors of a new church. Best case scenario, they were invited by a current member and are met at the front door by friends. If that's not the case, most likely lots of other things are going on in the individual's life. If they are visiting new churches or attending church for the first time, be sensitive, empathetic and all those other mushy-type feelings and things. Bottom line: something bigger than you is at work here, be a tool and not a roadblock.
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