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Help, I’m A Visitor!

October 26, 2009

86494286For the second week in a row I have gone to church as a visitor. Yes, it’s hard, but I am finding God is using this as an amazing teaching time for me. As a pastor and church leader, I know exactly how much time and preparation goes into putting together a Sunday experience that will touch the lives of people. We teach about God’s love, and I know we mean it. We talk about bringing in visitors, and we really want the people to do that. After all, we have spent all this time preparing them for a life-changing encounter with God through His vehicle, the local church. Let me give you my experience today.

Brenda did not go to church today because she is backslidden, JUST KIDDING! (Gracen was sick and she stayed home with him, while I took the girls to church with me.) SO as I walked up, I must have looked like a single dad with two little girls. There was a ton of people outside the front doors of the church in a courtyard like feel. It was obvious that these people loved being around each other. Laughter, camaraderie, and fellowship was everywhere. I was teeming with anticipation about getting there as we strode through the parking lot. Where are the parking lot attendants? (I guess they are off today.) As I entered the courtyard, I had no idea where to go. Probably a hundred people here, yet no one has spoken to us. The kids are begging me to take them to kids church but we can’t find it. Oh, there are some doors with kids going in, let’s go that way. We get in the side wing, and there is a good size group of people all full of smiles and talking, but not to us. We look around for kids workers but no one is wearing any form of ID to identify themselves as volunteers. Come on girls we will go into the main building and find some help. There is the info table! Now we will get some help. We stood there for 6 minutes (yes I counted) with no one coming to help us, and as a matter of fact people actually looked upset that we were standing in the way. We finally found a greeter handing out bulletins and when we walked up to him, we waited patiently for him to finish a conversation he was very engaged in. When he saw me, I got excited that we were going to get some help! He just reached out a bulletin, and didn’t say a word, not even a hello. We were done. The girls just asked if they could stay with me and I allowed it, even though I normally don’t. We sat down 15 minutes before church started thinking surely someone will talk to us. Nope. Not one. Not a soul. Church began, and after 4 songs they took a 10 minute break. Someone surely would come now, this is the time when they are trained to talk to visitors right? Nope. We sat there by ourselves. We sat through the rest of service, and when we left we were treated the same, no one spoke. My girls and I were at a church for 85 minutes today without being spoken to. Am I exaggerating? I wish. We did not talk to anyone except each other.

Maybe they had an off day. Maybe I will go try again. It will not affect my relationship with God, nor my thoughts about how great I believe the local church is. It has broken my heart though. What if I was a single dad, who was struggling to keep it together, and finally, decided with no hope left I would find a church. And this was his experience?

Pastors and church leaders, I beg you to listen and read this with an open heart. I am not bashing this church, just stating facts that the leadership might not even know exists. I am asking you to examine what happens at your church from the moment someone walks on the property. If you are a member at a church, I want to challenge you to be alert to new people, open to talk to someone you don’t know, and ready to be used by God to potentially change a life. In all honesty, it is more on you than the pastors, sorry but it’s true.

Next week I will go to another church and pray that God again teaches me, except maybe not in such a lonely way!!!

Grace.

Ben

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. October 26, 2009 1:12 am

    Though I am not a Pastor…being as involved at Genesis in the way I was, I have become very critical with the way church services go. Everyone who is even slightly involved at a church begins to form their likes and dislikes of a service. So, leaving Genesis was very hard for me. I knew everyone there…now I’m at a church where I am starting off as just a number again.

    I love the church that I’m going to but Andrea and I go practically unnoticed from week to week other than the obligatory greeter “hello”

    I think it will be different once we get “plugged in” somewhere. But I think both of our experiences are more common than not. People don’t really like small talk…they either are shy, don’t know how to talk to someone new, or they feel that the “small talk” is disingenuous.

    I have to say that I think most people like flying under the radar unnoticed the first couple times to a new church. I think people like to observe interactions and they way everyone treats each other. Then the person chooses to engage that community.

    And that is my two cents.

  2. Tiffany permalink
    October 26, 2009 1:29 am

    I have been in a similar situation and since I am a single mom, I get the whole seeking something somewhere thing. This happens far too often and more times than not at a large church. I have been blessed to attend churches where I didn’t feel unnoticed, while I’ve visited some that made me feel that way. Then again, I’m not someone who hides in the shadows. Good luck with the next one and this will be an awesome learning experience for you. Kiss Gracen for me and give everyone my love and hugs!!! Miss you guys!

  3. benliles permalink*
    October 26, 2009 1:36 am

    Kyle, dude you are so right! I completely agree that most visitors want to get a feel before they become engaged with the community. I really get that. What I experienced today was not that. Even the “obligatory greeter hello,” was absent. I am not exaggerating, even my six year old looked at me and asked if the people here didn’t like me. When I said of course they do, she asked “then why aren’t they talking to you?” I did not get a single word, not even a passing “good morning.” Nada. Nothing.
    I also hate the other extreme where church members talk someone’s ear off, and it drives them away with as much passion. There has to be a middle ground. Where people can genuinely say “hello” or “good morning” with warmth and then just let things happen organically.
    I think church leaders and members have to find the balance. I know I will searching for it.

  4. October 26, 2009 3:46 pm

    My perspective is one of being on staff and having everyone talk to me to going back and having only my closest friends talk to me. Which is the biggest reason that I’ve “unplugged” myself.

    Sorry about your experience! That’s just awful.

    And as a side note, I dislike parking lot attendants, they see that I don’t have any kids and park me off in never never land…I get there a bit early to park where it’s easier to back out when it’s time to leave.

  5. Barbara V permalink
    November 10, 2009 12:03 am

    Steve and I had a similar experience as you Pastor Ben when we were in church transition before attending GC. We visited a very well known church in town and were completely ignored.

    I hate to say it but you get a general feel of a church from how they treat their visitors. Just think how Jesus would feel if he were to walk up to the place and be completely ignored.

    A pastor once told Steve and me that you can tell a lot about a church by how they take care of their property and treat visitors. Is the grass mowed, trash picked up, the facility well cleaned and painted, are the people friendly? This will give you a clue about how much the people have an eye for the visitor. All these are things that different visitors will notice and determine if they want to become involved in that church.

    Pastor Kirk (The Rock of Asheville)said that every time he drives up he tries to see things from the viewpoint of a visitor that is visiting his church.

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