A few months ago I heard about a woman who was going through a rough time in her personal and professional life, and in her search for connections, hope, and direction, she began to visit a few churches. After her first two worship experiences for which she came alone, sat alone, and left alone without anyone speaking to her or greeting her, her prayer for her next visit to another church service was simply, ìI only pray that someone speaks to me today.î
Wow! What an indictment. Could that really happen to visitors in our congregations? The truth is, Iíve had that experience, even as Bishop! When I arrive at a church, and get out of my car, walk through the parking lot, enter the hallways and start looking for the office, sometimes I pass by forty or fifty people with no one even nodding my way or offering to help me find my way, despite my obvious lostness and my active searching for signs and directions. At a few churches, Iíve had ushers or greeters offer perfunctory handshakes without even looking me in the eye, handing me a bulletin and pushing me along without any personal engagement or warmth. We can do better.
My friend, Bishop Sally Dyck, once reminded me that for the visitor or the person who is searching for spiritual help, ìThis Sunday is the only Sunday that counts.î
In the same way stores sometimes employ agencies to provide ìsecret shoppersî to test the responsiveness of their salespersons and employees, perhaps churches should consider working with a few conscientious members of another congregation, asking them to show up for worship and provide a ìsecret visitorî analysis. How are we doing at genuinely and authentically welcoming people? How do we do at helping people find their way? How are we doing at providing worship leadership, bulletins, or other cues to help people who are unfamiliar with us to feel at home?
Grace and peace,