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.

Follow my Church Visits posts on Twitter

Chris Thompson’s email: churchvisits@gmail.com

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

Don’t Do These 5 Things in Church – Really?

In a recent Yahoo Voices article, a Pastor Franklin wrote an article titled “Pastor Encouragement: 5 Things Not to Do in Church---5 Things Church Attenders Do that Tend to Discourage a Pastor. Click HERE to read entire article.

As I read this article aimed at church attenders, I got a little hot under the collar because I began to see a one-sided rant that did not ring true from my hundreds of church visits.

First of all, I think pastors do need member encouragement, but by the way many run their churches, they need to fix their own issues before pointing fingers at members.

This particular pastor’s list of “5 no-no’s” contained the following.

1. Come late
2. “Rest” your eyes
3. Refuse to sing during worship
4. Leave as quickly as you can after the service
5. Speak only to people you already know

I’ll address his issues one by one from my observational experience.

Come Late
Many churches, especially Pentecostal, have a habit of expecting that people will show up late. This is partly due to an initial 45 minutes of music, often ear-blasting rock-type music, preceding the service. People know church will start sooner or later so are in no hurry to arrive on time, often to music they don’t particularly favor. In other churches, the first 30-45 minutes is dedicated to preliminaries such as music, announcements, offerings, prayer, children’s stories, appeals for funds, etc. Most guests, and many members, come to hear the pastor so they see this as unnecessary fluff. It’s not disrupting to the members or pastor to enter respectfully late during this time. If I were a pastor, I’d rather see people come to church, late or not. Prune out the fluff, and see a change in attitude.

“Rest” your eyes
Many pastors and church leaders get miffed if a member or guest dozes off during the service. I do the same during any occasion where the speaker and the program are not planned and crafted to hold my attention, whether it’s Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, or whatever. Few church pastors are born or trained speakers. Public speaking is an art. Too many pastors read their entire sermon, or use 3-point Powerpoint slides to take attendees through planned presentations where they read those slides to you. That, plus dimly lighted and non-ergonomic seating can put many people to sleep in a flash. Many pastors take 45 minutes to an hour to say what a well-trained pastor can say in 15 – 20 minutes, in an interesting, and informative manner. This is an easy fix.

Refuse to sing during worship
Many people don’t sing during worship because the band blasts so loud they can’t hear the singing, so it doesn’t make any difference to them. Many times the songs are boringly repetitious with unchallenging lyrics, forgettable tunes, possibly highly syncopated and difficult music, or songs filled with smushy lyrics suggestive of a boy/girl relationship. People are told to stand and then kept standing for half to three-quarters of an hour singing this stuff and watching the band strut their stuff. Folks are tired of this Pablum. Go to Great Land Christian Church instead and hear the members sing their hearts out to incredibly good a capella music. You'll actually hear them sing, and experience the joy of this wonderful Christian music having meaningful and uplifting lyrics.

Leave as quickly as you can after the service
People leave quickly for several reasons. Guests leave quickly because most churches ignore them so badly they can’t wait to get away. They’re certainly not going to stay around on the off chance someone will take pity on them and ply them with the standard twenty questions such as “What is your name?”, “How did you hear about us?”, “Where did you church before?”. Guests made their minds up about returning 5-8 minutes after arriving. Members want to get home to their weekend pursuits, ignoring the fact that it’s the Sabbath in which man was enjoined to not work on it, or cause any other others in their employ to do so either. It is a day of rest, from everything. Psychiatrists and psychologists will attest to how badly-needed a weekly day of rest really is. Pastors have a huge role in training members to be hospitable, but I’ve only heard 1 or 2 pastoral sermons on this issue in the last 10 years. It's too strong a topic for most pastors to brave.

Speak only to people you already know
This is part of what I call church DNA behavior. Guests obviously get hit with this first. I’m always amazed when the dreaded “Meet ‘n Greet” or “Passing of the Peace” portion of the service comes, how guests are ignored and friends talk with friends. Really a sad commentary. Sadly, this behavior also extends to the membership with member friends only interacting with member friends. Pastors are literally afraid to say a word about this for fear of member retribution, but clearly know the problem exists.

This particular post is not intended to step on the feet of any particular local pastor. Rather, it's intended to take another hard look at why Alaska is at the bottom of church membership, attendance, and prayer habits of the entire U.S. It's not a definitive answer to these problems, but "church as usual" is not working well here. I hope readers will focus some commenting attention on these observations.

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