What a Visitor Sees

His face was green. He was swaying slightly. He was two seconds from face-planting on my church floor. We were in the middle of a public examination on the Sunday service for youth confirmation. All the young people were dressed in white robes and were taking turns walking to the microphone to answer a question.

The young man with the green face had just answered a question and was standing in line when I saw that he was about to faint. I rushed over to him, walked him to the first pew, sat him down and talked with him for a minute. Since the examination was almost finished, I told him to remain seated until he felt better. Pleased at having saved him from a nasty fall, I went back to the chancel and finished the service. I was pleased until Wednesday…

We had first time visitors in church that morning, and I followed up on them on Wednesday night. As we chatted, I mentioned the confirmation service, and how different it is than our normal worship. Then the lady said, “I was so surprised when you came down and made that young man leave the service. What did he say that was so wrong?”

Wow…what a first impression! I had saved a kid from losing his front teeth, and she thought that I was expelling him for an incorrect answer.

That incident illustrates why we need to spend time thinking about the impressions that we’re giving first time visitors. It’s so easy for us to assume that visitors will understand what we do and why we do it. (I mean, after all, it makes sense!) But remember that your first time visitors have none of the context about you, your church, your ministry, that all of your members do.

It also shows how important follow-up visits are. In the pastoral follow-up visit, you have the opportunity to get the visitor’s feedback about their worship experience and the opportunity to correct any misunderstandings. I had a chance to set the lady’s mind at ease; I got to correct her false impression; I got a chance to invite her back.

Rev. Jonathan E. Schroeder

Jonathan Schroeder is the pastor of Faith Lutheran in Sharpsburg, GA. He serves as the Moderator of the Institute of Worship and Outreach, pastor-at-large on the Synodical Council, and is actively involved in WELS School of Outreach and WELS School of Worship.

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