Yesterday with members of my church’s outreach committee I attended two churches for worship to experience how these churches welcome visitors and newcomers. One church was a campus of a large, multi-site evangelical church, and the other church was a large congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (my denomination). At the Lutheran church, we attended a contemporary service.
What follows are some observations, particularly about the nuts and bolts of the worship experience.
- Both places were warm and welcoming, though one church in particular was amazing in this regard. I was greeted no less than 10 times. Not high-pressure tactics, but simply a warm greeting. Looking me in the eye. Saying hello. Opening a door. Asking if I’m new. Answering my questions. I was acknowledged, greeted, welcomed, and thanked for attending. It felt nice to be welcomed in such a way.
- This church didn’t have a “Welcome Center” or a “Visitor’s Booth,” but instead the whole place was welcoming. Hosts at the curb, at each of the double doors, inside the gathering area, at the doors to the sanctuary, and just inside the sanctuary. There was always a helping hand, ready to open a door for me (I didn’t touch a door once at this place) and help me find where I was going (but, I didn’t need help to find anything anyway. The flow and signage was very clear.)
- Trained church members stood in the gathering area, and greeted people entering the space. Upon learning that it was my first time there, one of these people gave me a new visitor packet. He didn’t have to go fetch the packet. He had it in his hands, expecting to see newcomers.
- I didn’t have to open a book at either service. Nor did I have to look in a bulletin. It was nice. No juggling an unfamiliar book or unfamiliar bulletin and inserts and whatnot. The projection, and the words and gestures of the worship leaders, kept me moving along the way. Nothing in either service was assumed. Everything was very, very clear.
- Thanks to the projection and the generally-engaging worship leadership, I was looking up the entire time. Not down at books and papers, but up at the worship leaders, the text and graphics on the screen, and at any ritual action taking place. I was never confused as to what was going to come next, or what I was supposed to do next. It was easy to follow along and participate in these services.
- Signage is important. One church had small a-frame signs on the street, directing cars to the church, and then to the parking lot or to the drop-off area. Inside both churches, signs clearly marked literature racks, information stations, and so forth. One church had, among other things, well-placed restroom signs in the gathering area. (The signs were about 7 or 8 feet off the floor, a foot or so from the ceiling, sticking out from the wall, so as to catch your eye. A foot or two lower, and a tall person could have whacked their head on the sign, and/or blocked it from view.)
- At both churches worship was prompt and tight. Worship was well-led. Worship began on time, segues between different worship actions (prayer and song, for example) were smooth, and technology always worked. The music – guitar bands in both places – was very good. Clearly the music, the worship leaders’ actions, and the message were rehearsed.
- The worship leaders were personable. They led prayer and made announcements without reading notes verbatim, and shared a small (yet not annoying) level of banter with the other worship leaders. The worship leaders were accessible and relatable.
- The worship leaders dressed casually (the pastor at the Lutheran church did wear clerics, but no robe). The overwhelming majority of worshippers dressed casually.
I will have more to share, particularly after meeting with members of the outreach committee tomorrow – two of whom visited two other churches – to gather all their insights. But this was a great experience, not just for what we observed but for having the experience of being a visitor, a newcomer to an unfamiliar worship space.