Walking through church doors as a Sabbath visitor isn’t always a comfortable occurrence. Feeling self-conscious, out-of-place, and perhaps even ignored can, at times, accurately describe the experience. Numerous articles filled with suggestions as to ways churches can help visitors feel welcomed have found their way to the printed page—and rightly so. The joy of welcoming visitors should be a high priority. As a visitor to several churches recently, however, I’ve been struck instead by “tips and tricks” that the visitor should keep in mind to ensure the “new” church experience will be one of warm fellowship and inspiration. Here’s what I’ve learned:
Don’t skip Sabbath school. Whether it’s because fewer people are generally at Sabbath school and so visitors are more noticeable, or the small-group study environment is less formal than the worship service, or other reasons—Sabbath school members seem to make more of an effort to greet visitors. If you show up for worship service only, you might be more “invisible” as a newcomer.
Sign the guestbook—even if not asked. If church greeters are distracted or greeting others, they may miss the chance to meet and welcome you. By signing the guestbook and including contact information, you provide an opportunity for someone to write or call you later and thank you for visiting their church.
“The responsibility for a positive experience, however, doesn’t rest exclusively on the members but also on the visitors.”
If they don’t talk to you, talk to them. Being friendly is a two-way street. We don’t know what other people are dealing with. Perhaps the person passing you in the foyer or sitting next to you in the pew is struggling with a personal situation and not as focused on others around them as they generally would be. Make a point of saying “hello” and introducing yourself. Taking the first step to be friendly might brighten another person’s day and open an opportunity for you to meet more people.
Give them a second chance. If you’re visiting area churches because you’re looking for a new church home, don’t judge the entire congregation based on one visit. Your experience can be dramatically different the second time around if the members seem somewhat indifferent the first time. Perhaps there was a church “organizational crisis” that morning, or sad news reported about a beloved fellow member. Circumstances can temporarily alter the atmosphere of a church, so don’t give up on them too quickly.
Do your homework. Sabbath school and worship times vary, so taking a few minutes online to confirm service times may prevent your arriving late and, thus, opportunities to “meet and greet” the members. Reading about the pastoral staff as well as church programs and outreach ministries can also give you a “feel” for the church and its mission priorities. This information is a helpful conversation starter, as well.
Expect differences. Each church you visit will differ in numerous ways from your home church. The pastor may have an unusual sermon style; the music may be more traditional or more contemporary than you’re used to; or the pews may not be as comfortably padded. Some things you will like; others, not so much. Be open and flexible in your thinking and embrace the new experience. Remember that you’re there not to be entertained but to worship our loving Creator and fellowship with other believers. There’s always a blessing to be gained.
All of us enjoy visiting a church where the members are overtly friendly and welcome us warmly, and I have truly found most churches to be of that kind. The responsibility for a positive experience, however, doesn’t rest exclusively on the members but also on the visitors. Our attitude and demeanor also play a role.
As Adventists we can walk into almost any Adventist church worldwide and feel instantly at home because we’re united in our love for Christ and the teachings in His Word. What a blessing it is to belong to such a family!