Church Visits

Visiting Churches: Chris Thompson (stainedglass) is an amateur Alaskan biblical scholar and student of religion, especially as it relates to popular culture. He regularly attends national and regional American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature events to interact with and learn from worldwide religion scholars. Through unannounced mystery visits to churches in Anchorage and South-Central Alaska, he observes how guests (visitors) are treated during this initial church visit. Research indicates guests first visit perceptions affects further spiritual growth and religious attitudes as they search for a church home. Chris' church visits focus primarily on Christian churches. This blog contains accounts of those visits, and related posts about religion in culture. Chris looks for the following in his visits:

•Genuine welcome, true Christian hospitality

•Friendliness and warmth

•Effective, well-delivered, Bible-based, main teaching

•Music deepening the worship, not just entertainment

Google map of churches Chris Thompson has visited.

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Significant 2013 Church Visits Posts

Top Ten Issues Local Churches Must Address in 2013

Ten Things Churches Did That Blew Me Away In 2012

Guest Post: Why Theology Matters to Musicians

Church Visits: What's it like visiting a church with a guest-friendly service? - 7/5/2014 2:08 pm

Church Visits: 10 excuses people give for not attending church - 6/28/2014 11:21 am

Church Visits: Religious pluralism in Alaska here to stay - 6/21/2014 8:28 am

Church Visits: Welcoming churches can reverse attendance slump - 6/14/2014 9:21 am

Crosspoint Community Church Revisit – May 11, 2014 - 6/13/2014 1:44 pm

Church Visits: 5 easy ways to increase your biblical literacy - 6/7/2014 5:23 pm

Church Visits: Cardinal Dolan discusses the pastoral challenges facing Pope Francis - 5/31/2014 1:07 pm

Beast Feast: Great Food and Conversation - 5/30/2014 10:10 pm

Church Visit Zingers I Sometimes Receive

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Zingers Received
When people disagree with how I conduct my church visits, the basis of items I evaluate, or my authority for doing so, I've been hit with with one or more of the following zingers. I thought it might be of interest to Church Visits readers to see my reactions to some of them.

1. You slink in the front door, and sneak out the back one.
I'm rolling on the floor as I write this. At over 6', I'm hard to miss, but I can walk in the church front door, find a seat without anyone noticing me, shaking my hand, saying "good morning", or handing me a bulletin. I do notice church folks talking to each other animatedly, but trying hard to ignore an obvious guest. People are looked squarely in the eye and given a smile by me. Never have I entered a church through its back door. My goal is to get treated as any other church guest is treated. Many a pastor has been passed by me entering, yet without a note of acknowledgement.

Sadly though, a pastor friend told me he approached his greeter about being more open and welcoming to visitors. He was shocked to hear in return that "there was no need. Their church was already large enough and needed no members!" This man was intentionally thwarting visitors from ever returning.

2. It's your responsibility to identify yourself to people to be greeted and treated hospitably.
Detractors love to make it "my fault" and "my problem" church members are not responding to me proactively. As a strange person in a strange church, I've been told I'm supposed to go around making "myself" known, welcome, and hospitable.

Scripture contains dire warnings against those who fail to extend hospitality. There are approximately ten times more scripture references about providing hospitality as opposed to references about homosexuality. Yet, what topic is more often referred to? That's right! Would you let guests come to your house and expect them to make themselves "known, welcoming, and hospitable", especially in a strange environment, while you and your guests make no attempt to extend yourselves? Absurd isn't it, but that's what readers and critics have essentially suggested. Little wonder people are turning away from religion. Here's one good example why.

3.You had a responsibility to advise pastoral staff you were present before attending, and subsequently writing about our service.
This is about as ludicrous as it gets, and extremely audacious of the pastor to utter it. Of course, this church had been unfriendly, inhospitable to their guests, receiving a poorer-than-normal assessment from my post.

Angie's List and Yelp have business models which rely on reader-users to report service grades for businesses. One of my Anchorage doctors asked for my signature on a form where I was forced to agree to not report on him or his clinic in exchange for receiving their services. There is a fear in the land from disclosure, I swear it. However, people want to know, in advance, what type of experience they'll have. Churches are no different than anything else.

Restaurant reviewers depend on confidentiality. This ensures this is a normal experience with no one the wiser about the the true reason they are dining at the restaurant.

4. Further posts of silly questions, accusations, and zingers received will be coming.

Much of this could be avoided if pastors actively started preaching sermons on true hospitality and how to extend it. If they trained their members to meet the public in a warm and welcoming way, becoming less self-absorbed, the true essence of the gospel, most of this would disappear.

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