After 29 years of being on a paid church staff, I’ve become sort of a freelance speaker on Sundays and spent a lot of time either teaching at or visiting different churches over the last year. Last Sunday I went to visit a church where a buddy of mine was preaching. First, it’s just so refreshing to be at church to worship and not have to be “on” all the time. Second, I realize how comfortable I was at MY church where I knew people and people knew me. After church this weekend by buddy asked me what I’ve been learning going to different churches and what I thought of his church. I avoided the second question, but pulled together four observations that I’d been experiencing as a visitor.
Churches use insider language: There’s nothing that makes visitors feel like an outsider more than insider language. I’m fairly church-savvy and I often felt lost during announcements and sermon illustrations that referred to people and situations that I didn’t know.
Churches assume everyone knows where everything is: I’ve been to Disneyland too many times and been spoiled with their clear directions and their “you are here” signs. With some churches I visited, everything became a guessing game.
People aren’t as friendly to strangers as I thought they were: When you’re on a church staff there’s always someone to talk to. Because there’s people to talk to, you just assume church-goers are friendly. But, when you’re actually a visitor, no one knows you. Great conversations were happening all around me, but no one engaged with me unless I either engaged others or we were instructed to greet one another.
Greeters seem insincere: It’s church protocol to position warm people by the entryway door, but no greeter has yet to connect with me beyond a “hi” or “glad you’re here today.” Many greeters shook my hand while looking past me to the next person coming in the door. I’m not suggesting these fine people weren’t friendly, they just seemed to be doing their job more than enjoying people and recognizing strangers.
What bothers me more than my observations are my reflections on my own leadership. I’ve got to believe that people felt the same way when they heard me speak or entered into the settings where I have been the primary leader. Personally, I can handle the awkwardness I feel as a visitor, but I hate the thought that I contributed to others feeling the way I have felt as a visitor.
It’s so much easier to identify the problems than it is to come up with solutions. So, what are you doing to combat these issues within your setting?