From a visitor’s perspective
June 06, 2016
By Dr. Nita Crump, Southwest District Superintendent*
One of the responsibilities of the Superintendent’s job is visiting churches on Sunday mornings. Jackson and I have visited approximately three-quarters of the churches in the Southwest district and will continue working toward our goal of worshipping with every church in the district.
There are many things that I notice as we worship with the congregations throughout the district. I’m going to make several suggestions that perhaps will help some of you as you consider your morning worship service.
Please consider your bulletins from a visitor’s perspective. If I’ve never attended a United Methodist worship service, I won’t know the words to the doxology and maybe I won’t even know the words to the Lord’s Prayer or the Apostles’ Creed. Consider putting those words in the text of your order of worship so that visitors don’t feel left out during these aspects of worship. Also, remember that visitors don’t know where regular activities are held in the church and how to be included in those activities. Find a way to include locations within the church building and contact info for the folks responsible for the activities within the announcement itself so that visitors can have all the info they need handy.
Please consider where your greeters are located. If your greeters are located inside the doors, new people might not feel comfortable walking inside the door and may walk away instead. Have your greeters well outside the doors for every entrance. As they recognize new people, have them walk the new person(s) inside the door, help the new folks find a bulletin, and help them find a seat. Have your greeters introduce new people to folks around them so that they’re not strangers anymore.
Please consider the worship service. Do you give clear instructions as to what people are supposed to do during a worship activity? Or do you assume they know what to do? If you have a visitor or visitors, they won’t know what the usual routine is and may feel uncomfortable as they look around the room to see what to do. For example, if you sing with the words on a screen, at the opening song or hymn, tell folks that the words will be on the screen. Give detailed instructions. Your regular folks won’t listen anyway because they’ve heard it before and the visitors will appreciate the little extra assist.
Please consider your sermon. Many people no longer grow up going to church, so they don’t know scriptural references. If you refer to the story of Noah, they may only know that reference by the recent and disastrous movie with Russell Crowe. Spend an extra few seconds filling in the details that you want folks to remember about the story of Noah so that everyone is on the same page. The same goes for regular church events that you might include in a sermon. Don’t just refer to singing the doxology, spend a couple of sentences explaining why we do that.
And, finally, never, never, never assume that someone else has greeted a visitor. Everyone in the service should greet visitors. You would be amazed at how many times Jackson and I have visited churches and not had a single person speak to us until the pastor introduced me as the District Superintendent. I’ve even had people walk up to me after the service and say, “If I’d known you were the DS, I’d have spoken to you.” What do you think that tells me about the future of a congregation that has folks who behave like that? Trust me, if I were a first-time visitor and spent a worship service being ignored by all but the pastor, I’d never go back.
Our job is to reach out in the name of Jesus Christ. We need to pray for visitors, invite everyone we meet on a daily basis to church, and then be prepared when God answers our prayers and folks show up to visit!
This column was originally written for and published in the Southwest District’s May newsletter.