I saw jets of light shining from cities and villages, and from the high places and the low places of the earth. God's word was obeyed, and as a result there were memorials for Him in every city and village. His truth was proclaimed throughout the world. --Testimonies, vol. 9, pp. 28, 29. {ChS 112.2}

Thursday, March 17, 2011

First Visit Impressions

When I visit a church I've never been to before, this is what I look at:
*The church website — yes, I know there are some folks who think that the idea of a church website is just so much techy surfeit-- an unnecessary frill-- but I want you to know that I look for the church's website before I attend, and furthermore, it may be useful for you to know that our church website's home page has had over 22,000 hits-- I don't think those are all from church members.  What does the website tell me about the congregation. I certainly don't go looking for stuff in the phone book so much any more... and I imagine all those folks roving around with I-Pads and other mobile devices are more apt to find you online and phone you from there.
*I take a good look at the parking arrangements.   I understand that some churches have outgrown their parking lots (a good thing) but it is nice to be able to find a spot, as a visitor, and I particularly like those parking lots that have spots clearly marked just for visitors-- or whose regular members are trained to leave several spots close to the church entrance for visitors.
*I know it may sound petty or shallow, but I DO look at the landscaping and the shape of the "physical plant"... what does a sagging roof with moss-covered shingles tell me?  How about huge pot-holes in the parking lot that almost take out one's tranny?
 *I know many people  who are either frail with some ambulatory issues or in wheelchairs-- accessibility is something I take in during my first visit-- are there wide entry doors to the inside and into the bathrooms?  If there is a lunch or some other event on another level, is there an elevator or wheelchair ramp/lift?  Are there stairs only going up into the Church?  Are there specially-designated parking stalls and places to pull one's wheelchair into in the sanctuary (movable chairs vs. long pews)?  Is the parking lot gravelled or bumpy, making wheelchair navigation, walking in heels, etc., very challenging?
*If attending a Bible Study, prayer meeting, or other event in the evening, are the entrances and parking lot adequately lit?  Is the front door open, preferably with a greeter or some instruction about where to go in the big, quiet building?
*Are the Greeters enjoying their role?   — Do they look at me, smile, seem interested in meeting me, or do they look bored (or worse, irritated)?
*Directional Signs — am I able to find my way to the meeting room or the washroom without having to ask strangers who look like they might not know the way either?
*Does an usher or some guide show me the way to the Sanctuary and actually take me to a seat or am I left to stand gawking around for a place to squeeze into myself, not knowing whether there are other family members coming back to the family place I take up?
*Do the regular members actually interact with me-- even smile-- ask me my name, shake my hand,  seem interested in meeting me-- or do I feel like I've landed in the middle of the Ice Fields without a skidoo?
*Are visitors greeted from the pulpit?  How?  Are we made to stand up in a sea of strangers and introduce ourselves?  Is there a time in the beginning of the service where we are warmly greeted by church members who look like they want to know us?
*What does the Bulletin tell me about the congregation and the service?  Are there contact numbers and events that I might want to know?
*What are some of the 'sounds' I come across-- lots of feedback from a seemingly incompetent sound crew? microphones on too loud or not loud enough?  babies crying incessantly?  teens smacking each other around out in the hall during the service?  parents snarling at their small children?  A piano that badly needs to be tuned?  Too little music?  Too much music?
*Does the church smell of drains and last week's cabbage roll fellowship lunch?  
*Are the walls bare?  Are they cluttered with printed signs and tacky pictures?  
*Is the carpet ratty and dirty?  Is the floor dusty and scuffed up?  Could the church stand a good cleaning?  Is the floor so polished up that every step is a risk?
*The central feature I have come for- the sermon: is it strong and Spirit-led, or dry and full of allusion to platitudes and cute poems in forwarded emails?  Does the speaker move outside the pulpit to address us, seek interaction with the congregation, have passion in his/her voice, seamlessly pray and praise God?
*When the service is over, am I engaged in conversation? Invited to stay for lunch or asked to join someone in their home for lunch?  Or do people rush past me or just huddle up in little cliques of people they know and ignore me while I pretend to read the bulletin board?
*Like most first-time attendees, I don't take the initiative to greet anyone-- does anyone go out of their way to greet me?
*What do YOU look for when you visit a church for the first time?  Please take a couple of minutes to answer the poll in the right side bar-->  You'll be surprised how important first impressions are as to whether or not you or others return to the Church after that first visit....
*If you want to find out how your church can change some of its "first impressions" into more warm, hospitable, welcoming actions that will ensure that people come back a second, third, fourth time and opt to make your church their "church home",click here to learn more.

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