I have visited the services of a great many congregations. We have long made it a point to visit when we travel. Over the years, I have been in literally hundreds of assemblies of other congregations, in Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Canada, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Connecticut, Georgia, California, Arizona, Vermont, Ohio, Washington, D.C., North and South Carolina, Arkansas, and others. I have visited in big ones and small ones, urban and rural. I have noticed some things when I visit, and I don’t think I’m alone. I think other visitors notice these things too. Here they are:
1. I notice when church buildings are easy to find and accessible. There are directional signs which are attractive and visible, websites which are clear and user-friendly, parking lots with visitor spaces and convenient access, and clear directions once you get inside.
2. I notice when there are friendly people in the parking lot, and greeters at the door. They have large-print name tags, and they are super friendly. They know where the various classes are meeting, and they helpfully guide me and my family to the appropriate ones. They may even sit with me in class, or at least introduce me to someone in the class who will be with me there. I get the feeling that these people know what it’s like to be a newcomer.
3. I notice when the local members help me find a seat, or give up “their” seat (notice that’s in quotes because they understand these are not really “their” seats—or parking places). They do not make me crawl over them to get to a seat, or stare at me as I have to walk down to the front to find a place to sit. It’s like they want to make me feel comfortable, welcome, not embarrassed.
4. I notice when the local members stop socializing among themselves (or whatever they were doing), and start noticing me. They smile and speak to me, and are glad I am there. They understand that their personal conversations among themselves can wait until another time. I notice that they are genuinely glad to see me visiting.
5. I notice when I am given a professional-looking bulletin, which helps welcome me, and prepares me for what to expect during my visit. The songs are clearly announced, and so are the prayers. I can tell when each act begins and ends. I can tell what’s coming, and I’m not surprised or confused. In short, the service is orderly. It’s obvious they have given a lot of thought to the most expedient way of saying and doing things.
6. I notice when the building is clean, the rest rooms are well stocked, the tract racks are supplied with excellent material, and the building is easy to navigate. The members are paying attention, they see that I am new, and they help me. Again, I feel like they truly want me to be here, and I notice that I am developing a warm feeling toward them.
7. I notice friendliness. The people are smiling. They are glad I have come, and they want me to come back. They may give me some literature, a welcome packet or token gift. They want to help me—it’s like they think of that as their purpose for being here. They have a “servant” attitude, and it shows. Sometimes they invite me out to eat after services. I feel like I have made new friends.
8. I notice when the songs are appropriate, and connected to the theme of the sermon. They are sung at the proper tempo and pitch. The best verses are selected and sung, not necessarily every possible verse. The song leader leads the songs, and I notice that he sincerely enjoys doing it. He has obviously put considerable time into preparation.
9. I notice that there are a lot of young people, and they are paying close attention. The babies are managed quickly and lovingly, and everyone seems to be focused on worship. It’s like they understand the importance and reverence of what we are doing. Distractions are minimized, and it is easy to focus on God.
10. I notice that the sermon is biblical and relevant. It is delivered in love, is uplifting and well-prepared. It is heavy on scripture. It makes me appreciate God and his word even more, and I leave feeling that “it has been good for me to be here.”
These are some of the things I notice when I visit different churches. I don’t always see them, but when I do they make a good impression on me. They make me feel like I have found like-minded brethren—a family of “like precious faith.” I tend to remember them, so I can go back when I’m in the area again. I hate to leave them, and I look forward to seeing them again!
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.