Open Letter to Churches Seeking New Members

Dear Churches Seeking New Members, 

My husband and I moved to the city a few years ago and have been ‘between churches’ ever since. We’ve been to visit quite a few of you and have some observations you may find helpful in encouraging more new members:

  • No Public Humiliation – please don’t make us stand up in a room full of total strangers and introduce ourselves. We want to be anonymous because we’re not sure we want to see you again and, frankly, we’re still seeing other churches. It’s not you, it’s us, and we just don’t know you very well yet. (And, believe me, if we do decide to join you, you’ll be lucky to get us to shut up, so enjoy the quiet while you can get it.)
  • Acknowledge We Exist – Being anonymous is not the same as being invisible. We’re probably going to be a little confused about what to do and where to go so having someone to greet us and ask if we have questions, or let us know if you do something you own unique way, is most appreciated. Plus, if you act like we’re not there, we start to think we might as well not be there as it doesn’t seem to matter to you.
  • Put it in writing – spell out *everything* we need to know in the bulletin. When to sit, when to stand, where to find the words. Even if you have one of those groovy new digital displays, include in the bulletin what will and wont be on the display screen (’cause some of you like to mix it up and not everything goes up there.)
  • No stalking – please don’t run out of the church and down the street chasing after us to tell us you were glad to see us (and, yes, that really happened). When you act like it’s a miracle of God that you have visitors, it freaks us out. We may or may not fill out an information card, but that doesn’t mean we don’t like you, it may just mean we found everything we needed on your website.
  • Remember us – you get a gold star if we come back and you remember our names, but really just a friendly “nice to see you again” makes us feel like you noticed we were there (but remember the no stalking rule).
  • Have a website – if you don’t have a website, we wont be coming to your church. Nothing personal, but that alone tells us enough to know you aren’t ready for new people. You can get a basic website for free and your own URL for about $25 a year. There is simply no excuse not to have one. (Unless maybe you are Amish, in which case you aren’t even reading this post and we’re probably not coming to your church for a variety of other reasons anyway.)
  • When, Where, What – there are basically 3 things we want to know when we come to your website; when your worship services are held, where you are located, and what you believe. And we’d really like to see all 3 on the home page, but at least make them SUPER easy to find and no more than one click away. If you are having special services like Christmas Eve, Ash Wednesday, Easter (that visitors like us are likely to attend), please put those special worship times on the home page. We have encountered any number of church websites that seem to be more interested in looking pretty than actually being useful. You don’t have to be fancy-shmancy super-tech in order for us to get what we need to decide whether to come visit. (Here’s a great example of a simple, but effective, website from a church in Michigan that has all three covered on the home page.)
  • Tell us what you really believe – be proud of what you believe and s-p-e-l-l it out on your website. Progressive?  Great!  Theologically conservative?  Super!  But what do those things mean in the life of your community?  It’s really helpful before we show up waving our rainbow flags to know that you’ll be petitioning for an Intelligent Design curriculum in the local schools. And if that is your community’s belief, that’s wonderful, but we both know we’re not going to be a good fit there so we might as well save each other the frustration. We’re going to find out soon enough, so why don’t we get that awkward part out of the way online. Besides there is someone out there who would love to find a community like yours if only they knew it existed.

Finding a new church home is not always easy, especially if the one you came from was such an important part of both your faith journey and your personal life. We were very, very close to our previous faith community and it’s hard to think of anywhere else coming close. Or maybe we’ve never been to church and we want to explore that spiritual side of ourselves for the first time, but it’s all so new and confusing. Or perhaps we’re broken and we need a place where we can be broken and it’s still okay. Any number of the things that might bring us to your doorstep can make it hard to do much more than show up, sit quietly in the back, and sneak out afterwards. But that’s the beautiful thing about church communities – they bring new people into your life, they can open your heart and mind to new experiences, they can mend those deepest of wounds, and affirm your relationship with God.With all that on the line, don’t let the little things mentioned above get in the way of connecting people to the Good News.

In Peace, Lyda & Brian

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152 Comments on “Open Letter to Churches Seeking New Members”

  1. Thanks so much for this. I hope you find your hearts’ true home soon.

    • Ann Brannen says:

      Thanks for sharing! Our out Reach Committee is going to use your letter to see how much and well we are doing.

      Praywerfully, Ann Brannen, Chair Person of HRLC Outreach Committee

    • Rob schmidt says:

      I read your letter through a facebook post of a friend. Thank you for the honesty and candor. As a pastor I recognize where we can grow, and where we have done well. And your words and willingness have led to that gift. Blessings as you continue to search out a church home. But even more encouragement to keep your faith active in your daily life. Peace and blessings, Pr. Rob schmidt

    • Hersh says:

      Six months ago we had a visiting Priest while our own Priest was having her baby. In his last sermon before our Reverend came back, he said, “Just because a church is friendly, doesn’t mean that it’s welcoming.”

      I can totally relate to what he said. What makes me sad is that so many people will welcome you but won’t stand up to the bullies who don’t.

    • Sherri says:

      I appreciate you sharing these insights with us. I’m a member of our church’s evangelism committee, and I believe your comments are exactly the kinds of things we need to keep in mind when considering how we want to “reach out” to the community. Thank you so much! I also pray that you will find a church home that will feed you spiritually and give you wonderful connections to a community of faith.

  2. Valerie says:

    I love this letter so much. Will be stealing it for my own church and perhaps passing the whole thing out to the congregation or something.

  3. Cheryln says:

    Timely post for me as we review our web presence.

  4. ggbolt16 says:

    This is awesome and helpful for a pastor in a congregational setting. Thank you

  5. AJ says:

    I am with you all the way to the last point. The issue I have there is you assume that all churches are of one mind on subjects, or that the institutional church has any interest in these issues. Some churches are what they say they are: diverse communities of people working together for common goals. They may be focused on helping others in need, but that may span the political gambit as far as what that looks like. Churches should not be dens of ideological conformity, but rather communities of unity in diversity.

    This doesn’t change the fact that many churches are not that and really are political organizations with a God component. And for that reason I understand it’s inclusion here, but for me it just felt like a grand assumption that information on how you may feel can always be included right up front. Sometimes it takes time.

    • Lyda K. Hawes says:

      Thanks, AJ – I think diversity in a church community is definitely a positive trait and I would hardly want to go somewhere that was a victim of “group think.” But, I guess what I’m getting at is more of the overall theology of the community. Some churches are very much about literal translation of the bible, which would be a non-starter for me personally, but might be a real draw for someone else. I do think there is a way to share those over-arching beliefs online that helps people know if the community will be a fit for them.

      • AJ says:

        I do understand that. I just also know a number of churches where the “hot button” issues are just not issues that are currently present, or where views are varied. Even such things as how to interpret scripture varies greatly in some congregations. I just don’t put the same priority on that point as the others. Thanks for the response and the well thought out post in the first place.

    • Mary Martin says:

      I agree with you AJ, churches that are dens of ideological conformity are suffocatingly stench-filled graves of dead thinking! I am part of a diverse (age-wise, racially, economically, and class-wise) congregational in Boston (JP). This diversity of thought and life experiences provides a fertile ground for spiritual growth as we learn to accept and develop empathy for each others’ struggles and outlooks on life. Jesus didn’t associate with the Pharisees for this specific reason! Their strict adherence to the law suffocated the love and life He sought to bring to people in need of these gifts.

  6. This is wonderful, and very well written. I am lucky to have found a wonderful place, though even they could brush up a little in some areas.

  7. Donna Rowe says:

    Lyda, the problem is that some churches, like the Unitarian Universalists, don’t *have* an overarching belief or theology. My church runs the gamut from atheists to religious humanists to very liberal Christians, and includes Jews with no synagogue (this *is* north central Kansas) and Pagans, as well. I myself am an agnostic pantheist. Our “theology,” such as it is, is an adherence to our seven principles.

    We do tend to be political–on the liberal side of the equation–which would make an uncomfortable fit for libertarians and moderates (especially Republicans) who would otherwise be drawn to our DIY way of doing religion.

    About the only theological beliefs we seem to agree on are:
    1. Jesus is not God incarnate, but is, in the eyes of many, particularly UU Christians, the Wayshower to God. (classic Unitarianism)
    2. There is no hell, because God/Spirit/(insert concept of your choice), is all-loving and quite able to ultimately save us all. (classic Universalism)

    More information about Unitarian Universalism is at http://www.uua.org/index.shtml

    My church’s website is at http://www.uusalina.org/ I realize we’re likely nowhere near you, but it gives you an idea of what at least one UU church is like. Since we’re congregationalists, our churches vary from the more traditional Unitarians back east to us wild and wooly Universalists out here on the Great Plains.

    • Anna Haugen says:

      All the things you mention are, in your case, exactly the kinds of things that *need* to be on the website. There are people for whom your belief system–or lack thereof–gives them spiritual hives, and there are other people for whom that is exactly what they need, and neither sort of person is guaranteed to know that that’s what is described by “unitarian universalism.” If you have a doctrine, that’s important to know. If you *don’t* have one, that’s just as important

    • As a fellow UU church goer, there are the seven principles, plus the church’s one-line mission statement that can go on the website. The shared purpose of the church is for everyone on a spiritual journey to be respected and welcomed into one judgement free space.

  8. Ruth Foss says:

    Thank you so much. This is a most valuable piece of information for all churches. In a time where people are either turning away from the church feel called to come back it is good to know what things we do right and the things we don’t.

    I hope you find the place where God would have you be. I am sure that church would be blessed beyond measure.

  9. Scott says:

    You would be very comfortable in the Catholic Church.

    • Juanita says:

      As if. Did you not read the part about “waving rainbow flags?” Comfortable in a homophobic church that actively promotes hatred and discrimination against the GLBTQA community? I don’t think so.

      • OK .. I’m reading the comments, and they’re all very good and cover all areas of theological thought. Yet one conservative comment is made, and a very low key one at that .. then

        BINGO … we have a winner. I wondered how long it would take before someone pulled out the ‘bigot’ card.

        When did following the Bible become bigotry? When did believing that the God who IS, WAS and WILL BE … inspired the writers of the Bible to write what He says is sin, and that HIS thoughts are unchanging.

  10. plwalker says:

    As we have been in the process of finding a new church, I appreciate this post. In fact, I want to email a link to it to a number of churches we’ve visited.

    I would add one thing, either under Acknowledge We Exist or No Stalking. Please make sure the leaders, greeters and all the people understand the concept that we are not “fresh meat” to put through the churning, grinding process of serving in a ministry. I agree 100% that if you are part of a community that you should support that community. But we’ve been to several churches that the announcement period became consumed with a “we need more teachers” announcement. I don’t mind helping, but as my theology has grown and morphed a lot over the last few years, I am not at a place to be an adequate teacher of any age group I would be comfortable being around. I understand the church needs workers, but your visitors don’t want to be inundated by pleas every time they visit.

    Or worse, there was the other church we visited that both my wife and I, independently, came to the same conclusion. Everyone that shook our hand (and there were many) seemed to be evaluating us to see what open position we could fill. This was our first visit and I was exhausted when we left from all the work I envisioned people asking/expecting us to do.

    • Roberta Hargis says:

      Ditto. I think you and your wife should examine your egos!!!!

      • Jeff says:

        I find it amazing how many people must attend churches they are not happy with based on how many people have commented about this couple being egocentric. If you attend a church that doesn’t work for you- that’s your business- the rest of us will attend churches we actually like.

  11. Fumanchu says:

    Me, me, me, me , me, me, me, me , me , me , me ,me, ….I’m going to start a new church called the “perfect church for you”. The problem with a perfect church is that ceases to perfect the moment you walk in.

    • Corway says:

      Sounds like Fumanchu has some issues. Please work these issues out in another forum. Thanks.

      • Cathy Hawn says:

        I think Fumanchu’s response was on topic and relevant. A response doesn’t have to be one you agree with in order to be topical.

    • Kwayne Slater4 says:

      Thank you Fumanchu – I agree wholeheartedly!

    • WA says:

      Fumanchu,

      I appreciate the sentiment. In fact, I’ve used it in a sermon. However, that’s not at all what I hear in the above letter. She’s merely encouraging churches to be more welcoming and authentic.

  12. Bethany Joy Lange says:

    Thank you for this post! Not only do I identify with the experience of visiting “stalker” churches, but I also found my home church to be exactly the way you ask churches to be. Thanks, too, for the nod of affirmation. I am a member of (and the Facebook Moderator for) Plymouth United Church of Christ in Grand Rapids, the church to which you linked as an example to follow. We are in the process of updating our website, but it’s good to hear feedback about what is currently working. If you haven’t already, I’d encourage you to visit Plymouth and test the welcome you receive against this blog. Blessings on your search!

    • Lyda K. Hawes says:

      Thanks, Bethany – I’m out in Seattle, so an in-person visit is not too practical, but if I am ever out your way, please know I’ll stop by to say ‘hi’!

  13. IdaRev says:

    Actually Fumanchu DOES have a point. Church should never be about a consumer-driven shopping approach for what fits MY needs. Church is a place where all come to give worship to God. The bonus is in discovering a supportive, uplifting, and nurturing community to help one on the way to discovering what that is.

    • Jeff says:

      Church shopping is completely about meeting the needs of the one looking. I have kids- a church that doesn’t have any youth activities might not be the right choice for my family- we are not all in the same place- one church does not fit all

  14. This is a great column! Thanks for sharing this. Great points for pastors, lay leaders, and everyone involved in church.

    While there are exceptions, certainly the vast majority of churches have statements of faith that they can include.

    Agree with all of your points! Thanks again!

  15. This is exactly my thought process leading into finding a church. Thanks for spelling it out for others to see.

  16. Bruce Baker-Rooks says:

    Lyda, Thanks for this wonderful post! My husband Kevin and I are moving to Durham, NC in May and we are starting a new church – Mercy Church which is affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I am going to print this out to remind us how to be friendly without being that creepy person from Craigslist! 🙂 Question: Has a pastor ever greeted you before the service, you’re sitting in the back, and the pastor asks/tells you to “please, come forward and sit closer to the front with other people.” If so, how did this make you feel? Welcomed? Put on the spot? I have seen this done and it seems inhospitable to me, but other ministers have told me that they feel the opposite.
    I grew up in Seattle, and I’m sure you may have tried some of these, but in case you have not, here are some churches that you and your husband might give a try: First Baptist (Capitol Hill), Pilgrim UCC/DOC (Capital Hill), Plymouth Congregational, UCC (Downtown), St. Marks Cathedral, Episcopal, (Capital Hill), University Christian, (DOC), U-District, University Baptist, (U-District, meets at U. Christian), University Congregational, UCC (U-District), University Methodist, (U-District). These are all pretty progressive churches. U. Pres. (U-District) is more conservative. Stay away from City Church – they have several locations – U-District, Seattle Center area, Redmond, and Issaquah. Very cultish.

    • Lyda K. Hawes says:

      Well, we generally sit closer to the front so that’s not much of a problem for us, but to your point, it may just be a matter of how the message is conveyed. Sometimes, with the best of intentions, they may be pushing a little too hard. But I do think it’s nice to have a low-pressure opportunity to talk with the pastor, so handled well, that could be such an opening.

  17. Corinne says:

    Have you been to Church of the Apostles in Seattle? I hear great things from them

  18. Lyn says:

    Another thing you could try — and I acknowledge that it’s not right for everyone — is to take the same approach that Catholics are supposed to take, and join the parish that is in your neighborhood. No shopping around, just show up, enroll in the new member class and join. Then, you adapt to that church body rather expecting the church to fit you. That’s how I joined the church I’m in now. It’s not perfect; there’s too much gabbing-out-loud in the sanctuary before worship to suit me, the piano could stand a tuning and the pastor sometimes thinks he’s funny when he’s not. (And sometimes he’s hilarious!) But it’s home. The others in the congregation also have roots in the neighborhood, and I am in awe of the devotion and commitment that many of them have to Christ, and to our congregation. In that respect, and others, I am blessed to be part of this body of believers.

    • Kwayne Slater4 says:

      Lyn – I love this – “it’s not perfect”. No church is! But you intentionally set out to find a place to worship God and be a part of a community of believers, looking to fit in the church rather than have it fit you. Wonderful!

  19. William J Reynolds says:

    What an excellent post! I must say that I am always puzzled by the idea that church shouldn’t be about “me”; certainly any given congregation or denomination must meet my needs or the relationship is doomed to fail. Your approach sounds very sensible to me.

  20. Notanignoramus says:

    This is a helpful post for churches not already engaged in vibrant outreach.

    One thing I’d like to add is that the denomination of a church is not necessarily indicative of what goes on inside the church building. I was a member of a church that is in an enormous 1920s Gothic revival building (a Protestant “cathedral”); it is one of the most liberal United Methodist churches (UMC) in the city. Now I am a member of a UMC that is in what looks to be a newer building and it is a rather conservative congregation that nearly bursts at the seams when we have outreach events. Both are affiliated with the East Ohio conference (http://www.eocumc.com/).

    I have attended numerous denominations of churches, including Presbyterian USA (usually liberal, but not the one I attended in college), Presbyterian in America (usually conservative), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) (more liberal but very traditional in worship) and Assembly of God (conservative but non-traditional in worship). Each one had a mixture of good and bad traits.

    I was so frustrated looking for a new church that I called my friend and spiritual mentor, who reminded me… “You are looking for a perfect church, but you will not find one because they are all run by humans and we are all fallen.”

    Best wishes in your search… May the one true and Holy God be with you through his Son, Jesus Christ.

  21. jack folz says:

    Enjoyed your article very much. Forwarded it yo my pastor. I believe we are doing correctly what you addressed, but there is always room to reexamine and reevaluate. Thanks for letting us see your concerns through your “visitor” eyes. I am sure that we (our church) can learn and improve. Thanks again.

  22. Kathi Causey says:

    And one more thing. If we choose to become members, please see to it that the first 3 correspondences we receive from you are not requests for money.
    Yes, that actually happened to us. We are no longer affiliated with that church

  23. Steve F says:

    Having relocated 3 times in the last 5 years, I *so* appreciate this article. It captured our experience exactly. I’d like to especially emphasize the “what do we believe” portion – it’s helpful to know where we would be welcome and where our presence could be problematic.

    And while not wanting to derail this great article with comments about “consumer church-shopping,” it’s also true that people enjoy being with folks most like themselves. So it works both ways – for those seeking a church and for churches seeking visitors.

  24. I would add one more thing – very important to some: Please post clearly if the church is welcoming and affirming, RIC, or whatever terminology used in that denomination, for LGBT persons. Many of us are wanting a worship community, but we will continue outside the church if we don’t know right up front that we are completely welcome.

  25. Charlene Thornberry says:

    I found your argument extremely self centred – you should be looking to see what you can offer as well as seeing what your ‘winning’ church can offer you. Churches are made up of people – people do not always get things right and as you seem to know all the answers you could in theory join any church.
    But look at it in another way – we have been in the ordained ministry for over 20 years and sadly it is attitudes like yours that make ministers dispair of ever moving their churches forward.
    This could be turned into a ‘tit for tat’ situation but all I can advise is that you take a more humble approach to why exactly you are in a church and rethink your Christian committment. Charlene Thornberry – Devon, UK

    • F. E. says:

      Well said, Charlene. Perhaps part of the problem is the letter’s tone, which I regret to say comes off as rather obnoxious.

    • Judi Knight says:

      Charlene, I fully agree with you that people in a church are imperfect, and that all of who are part of the Church should be looking to see what we can offer. While ideally, we should be joyful in our church involvement, seeking out a fulfilling church experience should not be the same as trying to decide on a good health club to join,

      But there is a big difference, in my opinion, between the patience and commitment we should demonstrate as members of a church versus accepting anything and everything that goes on within a church that we are just exploring and have not committed to. A trusted pastor once told me that church membership is like a marriage. Ideally, you remain committed even when things are not going as well as you want them to; even when your church is imperfect or going through a bad time.

      I think the analogy is relevant here. Marriage is not the same as dating. Dating is a precursor to commitment, and it’s wise to be discerning in the dating context so that we don’t ultimately end up making a commitment that we regret. And most of would not tolerate things in a casual dating relationship that we lovingly accept in a committed marriage.

      I have no doubt that Lyda understands the that service is essential in a committed relationship with Church, and as such she doesn’t take that commitment lightly. And it makes perfect sense that Lyda – or anyone of faith – would take care to become involved in a congregation that will “fit” with her and vice versa. It’s not so much self-centered as it is honest and responsible.

      Lyda’s comments address the issue of welcome. As Christ welcomes all to His table, so should the Church be welcoming. And Lyda is sharing her thoughts on what she considers welcoming, and what she finds not so welcoming, however well intentioned. And granted, hers is one opinion, and for some lonely soul, being chased down the street after the service may be exactly the think that would touch that person. The point we should take a way from this perhaps, is not the specifics, but that we should be conscience and intentional in our welcome, considering the needs of those we seek to welcome, and not be self-centered about it.

    • Charlene,

      Your hostility toward Lyda is unnerving, especially since you “have been in the ordained ministry for over 20 years.” You refer to her “argument.” What part of her Open Letter was an argument? Her letter was simply her opinions and her thoughts about her journey in trying to find a new church home. I’m surprised that someone of your stature would think it appropriate or helpful to share your thoughts is such a way. I’m struggling in trying to determine what part of your response was Christlike. Just a suggestion, you may want to spend some time in prayer before your next post. I’m fairly confident that the God I serve would have guided you to not post the above comments.

      • Charlene Thornberry says:

        Dear Patricia – Tsk tsk – methinks you are being a wee bit pedantic – of course I could have used the word debate or discussion but in my humble opinion this is their ‘argument’ for not joining a church.
        My husband and I have done two pulpit swaps to the States and both leadership teams of these hosting churches expressed appreciation for the freshness and different ways of ‘doing church’ that we shared with them – so much so that they adopted some of the methods.

        This is becoming personal now – you say ‘someone of my stature’ – mmmmm I am an ordinary person who just happens to be married to a clergyman but I have my own ideas and opinions. Remember who Christ chose to spread his Good News. I am no better or worse than the average congregation member.

        But Patricia have you ever thought about the clergy trying to be everything to everybody – if these folk have problems with churches they have visited then they should join and get involved and perhaps suggest different ways of doing things however I cannot believe that 3 x 52 churches all committed the same offences – surely some were doing something right – for goodness sake we are only human – we make mistakes – get over it. There are so many other issues out there to be concerned about – ie global warming, war, poverty etc etc etc – getting so intense about these issues is a waste of time. And finally I feel they are trying to interact with churches via a website or bulletin – you can put whatever you want to on a website – I personally do not place too much value on websites – this couple need to get involved with the people who make up the congregation.

        And by the way the God I serve is probably the God you serve. My post probably came through as hostile but I am so tired of people criticising without being part of the solution. At the end of the day God will judge not you or I or anyone else.

  26. Maeve Robertson says:

    Try being Catholic and changing parishes! I was active in my former parish in a variety of ministries. In the new parish, no one wanted my participation in any of the ministries I wanted to participate in. “We have plenty of lectors.” Really? The same 4 people every month? Promises to call me back that never materialized. Someone did ask me to sign up to be a Eucharistic minister, but I just suddenly found my name on a monthly rota with no warning, months after I had signed up. Since every parish church has a different configuration, usually there’s some training on how to know where to go, but not this one. I just stopped going. I make the high holy days and that’s it. The music is great, though. Too bad I can’t sing.

  27. As a pastor, I really appreciated your post. I always cringe when one of our leaders calls attention to visitors during our announcement time. There’s a reason that most visitors seem to arrive about 5 minutes late on their first visit to a church and why many will slip out before the end of the closing hymn/song.

    While I have never stalked someone into the parking lot … much less down the block … I did make the mistake once of sending an overly detailed letter about our church to a couple that visited. The problem was that they didn’t fill out an information card … I looked up their address on my own. We never saw them again. My guess is that I creeped them out.

    I think our website covers most of your points … except maybe the “What We Believe” part. The problem is that as a very interdenominational church, I’m not sure that we’re really settled on what “WE” believe. We do recite the Apostles’ Creed regularly, so maybe I should just add a “What We Believe” page, note that we are interdenominational, and that we invite those who are comfortable doing so to recite the Apostles’ Creed with us. We have members that aren’t comfortable doing so (they tend to come from a more baptistic background). Or maybe we need to do the hard work of nailing down a “Statement of Faith.” But given that our membership ranges from folks who still consider themselves to be Baptist, Catholic, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc., this might be tough. What would you think if you clicked on a “What We Believe” tab and all that it said was “Jesus is Lord!”?

    C

    • I would think that was perfect.

    • Jay Blossom says:

      No, no, no. “Jesus is Lord” tells me NOTHING. Yes, it’s biblical and orthodox. But put yourself in someone else’s shoes. If you can’t articulate your church’s beliefs or mission or emphases or SOMETHING that distinguishes you from the 100 other churches that are within 10 minutes of you, then I’m not likely to try you at all.

      As for me, when I see “interdenominational,” I think, “this is a Baptist church that’s embarrassed to be called ‘Baptist.'”

      If I’m wrong, then you should probably find a better way to describe yourself than “interdenominational.”

    • KellyK says:

      I think that if you’re interdenominational, say that. “We’re an interdenominational church and our members have a wide variety of beliefs about [x, y, and z], but we’re united by [whatever things you think are central].”

  28. Janet says:

    I’m confused by equating standing up to introduce oneself with “public humiliation.” Really?

    • Bill says:

      I have been very “UNCOMFORTABLE” with this when having visited certain churches in the past (Baptist/Methodist primarily), so “public humiliation” is probably a bit strong. But I would NEVER attend this particular church that practices this brand of hospitality. The time for “getting to know you” is NOT within the context of a service in my opinion.

      • E F says:

        I go to a Baptist church in the South with over 7,000 members and growing. I’ve never seen, not would I expect to see visitors introduced or called out. It is at times difficult top even know who the visitors are. In my experience, you must first know your true convictions before you seek a church body out and expect them all to share your beliefs exactly.

    • Not R says:

      You’d be surprised at the grilling you get at some churches about your church and family history. Even when you don’t, though, it can be embarrassing to be held up as the outsider. Often it’s just fine, but the problem is you can’t know until it’s too late.

      I’ve been to some churches that had a practice of making sure somebody sitting near visitors spoke to them before the service and then introduced them, rather than making them identify themselves. That helps to make sure it’s a friendly rather than confrontational experience.

    • Cathy Hawn says:

      I’m with you, Janet. I hope there are not places where people are required to introduce themselves, but I always appreciate the opportunity to identify myself as a visitor or newcomer if I would like to. As a member, I have enjoyed seeing this option (and it has always been an option, not a requirement) extended to the congregation so that the rest of us know that this person is open to conversation after the service. I have never seen a pastor force someone to speak.

    • KellyK says:

      For outgoing people, it’s not, but for painfully shy people, it absolutely is. If you only want outgoing people in your church, then singling people out in front of everybody is a good way to make sure the shy ones never come back.

  29. Angela says:

    There are valid points to your post, however i would like to ask how you can “remain anonymous” yet want to be acknowledge and greeted.. unless the churches you are attending are super small, it would be hard to remember all new faces. if you do not want to be pointed out as a visitor but want people to welcome you,, you need to be a bit more flexible.
    I also find it hard to believe that after 3 years you are still church shopping. . . i think you might want to narrow your search to your local community & only those whose basic faiths & beliefs you align most closely with. Either you are not making it a full commitment to find a church or you are are finding fault before you even give the church a chance
    (even if you only attend sunday service, that is 52 churches a year).
    I wish the best of luck in finding a church home.

    • F. E. says:

      Agreed.

    • tychabrahe says:

      I am not a religious person, but for several years I lived with a woman who was disabled, and I drove her to church.

      The pastor always noticed when there were new people there, but unless they were invited guests, like people visiting from overseas congregations whose presence had been announced, they were referred to very generally. “I see we have some new people with us today. In front of you you’ll see some contact cards. If you’d like a member of the clergy or congregation to contact you to discuss our church, please fill in your name and phone number.” This served two purposes. The visitors knew they were noticed, but they weren’t called out, and the less observant members of the congregation were on alert. After during coffee, they would often take special care to introduce themselves to visitors.

  30. Rob Turk says:

    This is a great letter, and should get churches thinking about ways to improve their welcoming and outreach processes.

  31. Cha says:

    I’m with IdaRev (above).

  32. Charlene Thornberry says:

    Is this a cultural problem – in our church our guests are welcomed warmly and encouraged to fellowship by the minister and they all seem to enjoy it – in fact we have often being told we are a very friendly caring church.
    We believe in the Priesthood of all believers – all cogs in one wheel so we are all different but we all make up the body of Christ – methinks there is a wee bit of silliness going here. But hey I’m only a committed Christian – what would I know about the ‘right way of doing church’.
    Well said Fumanchu

  33. saffron12 says:

    I really get most points of this piece . . . I hate to be “called out” as a visitor during “visitor time” but before or after the service with a greeter, it is fine. I don’t necessarily agree that everything has to be in the bulletin . . . I usually watch very closely to the congregation to see what they will do next (sit, stand, etc). I used church websites back in 1999/2000 when I moved, to see which churches that could possibly like in the area that also had handbell groups. What I dislike is when churches just vaguely write something about supporting music with nothing more about their choirs and groups. That turns me away easily because apparently they don’t care about getting new people involved. Music is a big thing for me.

  34. -Jen says:

    Wow. So well written. Thanks!

  35. Thanks for your post, and the lighthearted way you help us consider the serious work of “finding church” in this era of odd and oddly-negotiated institutional affiliations. I’m sorry that there are a few defensive challenges to your honesty in the comment stream. I pray that you are met by a welcome and welcoming community who will come to know and value you.

  36. T. E. Hanna says:

    What a great article. It’s important for us to remember what it us like to be visiting a church. Thank you for this.

  37. Dennis Landon says:

    Someone said this about what we call evangelism, and I think it applies to dealing with church visitors as well: A huge percentage of the things we do–with the best intentions–are violations of the Golden Rule. Don’t do things you wouldn’t want someone doing to you is a good rule of thumb for…well…everything.

  38. gk graham says:

    This so expresses my feelings about finding a church! One addition I’d like to make is about the music….those new digital displays are nice, but it is not very helpful to see the words to an unfamiliar song and not have the notes to follow along. I’ve noticed that most churches with these devices sing only new hymns that I’ve never heard before with small orchestral accompaniment. It seems more like going to a concert than to church and I would like to participate. How about offering at least one traditional service a week with old fashioned hymns, hymnals, piano/organ accompaniment and a church bulletin with the agenda and hymn page numbers spelled out? Perhaps you are trying to attract new “young” members with your modern services, but I know that you are loosing at least this one “older” member by so drastically changing “worship.”

    • I miss the old hymns, too. How about simply including them in with the contemporary service? Who doesn’t like “How Great Thou Art” or “The Old Rugged Cross” or “Blessed Assurance” etc? Can’t the band learn to play those in addition to the newer praise songs? In general, I much prefer a contemporary service, but I sometimes think they’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater, musically speaking.

  39. Doris Horning says:

    I believe that anyone who shops for a church home based on what they perceive their exact needs and wants and beliefs are….missing the whole point. The first step is in dedicated prayer to ask that the Lord to direct me to any churches that He wants me to attend. I may have strong beliefs relating to folks who lead different lifestyles or I may have issues about standing up in public or being chased down the street…but the Lord may have a plan to enlarge my faith and to teach me about different lifestyles….and to not be so self-involved to the point that I would accuse some well meaning people of being stalkers. This tells me instantly that church shoppers rarely find what they are looking for….because they fail to first look within their own hearts and minds and surrender to God’s purposes for their worship ..rather than demand that churches make detailed and explicit every aspect of their ways and purposes before you deem to attend and therefore ensure that you will not be uncomfortable in any possible way….Why not ask the Lord to take you out of your comfort zone and show you His intentions for your life and church life. And then you can be the one at the door when the first timers and broken hearted enter into the church…..

    • Anna Haugen says:

      You make some very good points, but if the congregation makes you uncomfortable, even if God is working in their midst, you’re almost certainly not going to be able to experience God there. If they are not willing to genuinely welcome newcomers (as some of the points touch on), you will probably not be able to experience God there because you will be stuck on the outside. Some churches are very good at worshiping with those already “inside” the group, but are actively offputting to people who aren’t already members, which then *hinders* newcomers from experiencing “God’s purposes for their worship.” And a lot of the points mentioned in this post are the first cues visitors get that the church is so focused on welcoming insiders that outsiders are only barely welcomed.

      I don’t believe in church shopping. But I do believe that not all churches have healthy, God-centered beliefs and practices about how to relate to newcomers. In fact, most don’t. And if you’re new, it’s better to know that sooner rather than later, so you can find a faith community where you are truly welcomed and invited in to experience God’s presence with them.

  40. Lyda K. Hawes says:

    Wow, the dialog on this topic is amazing! I appreciate everyone’s comments, even those who challenge my opinions and make me pause a moment to reflect further on this matter. I believe we are all entitled to our own opinions. After all, that is really all this post is – just my opinion based on my experiences. I would hope people would take care about making assumptions about where my heart and head are in my quest to find a new church home. All I’ll really say on that point is that I have entered that journey as thoughtfully and spiritually as I can.

  41. Mark says:

    Thanks for a great insight into how we Christians express our hospitality. We’ll incorporate some of your comments and examples into our training for greeters and the congregation as a whole.

    To those who don’t understand the reticence to being put on display before the whole congregation, remember that it is the personal connection that people seek, When a guest comes to a party at one’s home for the first time, the host welcomes them personally and then introduces them to a couple of others. They don’t stand on a chair and broadcast that Joe and Susie are here and they don’t know anyone!

    As to “church-shopping” I’m old enough to remember that we didn’t have any choice in what kind of telephone you got – basically the “phone company” came by and gave you your phone when they turned on your service. But now, we have multiple phone service companies to choose from, as well as a plethora of phones. Why would you expect people who grow up and live in a culture of choices to just “join the local church and like it?”

  42. aimeeconard says:

    I try to ask myself two questions when I walk into a church. (And I never look at anything more than worship times and locations on websites…its far too impersonal for me.)

    1. What can this church do to help my faith grow?
    2. How can I help others grow in their faith if I attend this church?

    I walked into a Chicago church recently that I was certain from the get-go I wouldn’t like, but a friend had invited me, so I went. Now that I’m back in my home church, I find myself longing for that church in Chicago. God leads us where we need to go, not necessarily where we want to go.

  43. Linda Larson says:

    Food for thought.

  44. Annette Pettenger says:

    I found this article very informative.

  45. Jeff says:

    Public Humiliation is the correct term- the rest of the congregation is not asked to stand and introduce themselves- only the visitors- not very welcoming. My wife and I have never gone a second time to a church that had us stand up.

  46. Cherie Bannon says:

    If your “what we believe tab” said “Jesus is Lord”, well hurray but just because you say it doesn’t mean its true. I have been to too many churches that want to promote their “God” and their”God’s” way. A lot of churches also have share dish dinners to get to know the new people, a visit is to see if we might want to come back..just that. It puts people on the spot and I for one will run and never come back. Its hard enough to meet new people let alone eat a strangers food. What is the purpose of share dishes anyway, at least give people time to see if they like the church etc before you all start shoving it down our throats. I guess what I’m trying to say is..when your not born again and someone continues to harp on it and judge you you tend to get turned off and avoid that person. One needs to come to Jesus on his own terms. Finding a good church is the same way, so don’t scare us off.

  47. I love the first few points. This is hilarious. A lot of people need to hear the lighter and sometimes more truthful side of what it’s like to be a visitor.

    I can’t believe someone chased after you once you’d left. Oh well, I’m sure he was ‘doing his best’. God bless those ones!

  48. I’m a bit appalled that some people think that looking for a church that fits for you is somehow selfish or not God-centered. Churches in general suffer from the insider mentality hoping people like you will just walk in their doors and be delighted to be part of whatever they are offering. That’s not very missional. I look for spiritual vitality, lack of codependency and general “life” when I look for a church and sadly not that many are concerned with any of that.

    It’s a sad situation out there. May you find what you need in a faith community.

  49. Tricia McNair says:

    Lyda, if you are in Seattle I highly recommend Mars Hill Church. Or is this on the list you have tried already?

  50. Libby says:

    Thanks for some great ideas on “welcoming” visitors. Sometimes we forget that “trying too hard” is not the kind of “friendly” one wants when visiting a new church!

  51. Reba Collins says:

    I’ve been right there with Lyda and others, so I decided someone needed to help make the church search experience less anxious and easier. So I’ve started visiting any and all kinds of churches, researching websites, and sharing insights to help searchers know if a church is open to newcomers and offers a compatible environment and culture before the first visit. I also help searchers recognize a healthy church where they don’t feel like fresh meat and can find support and encouragement in their faith journey.
    I notice all kinds of “welcoming visitors” resources for church leaders. I believe searchers also need non-biased resources to help them find the church that fuels their journey, not derail it.
    I pray all of you who are still searching will remain open to God’s voice calling you into a faith community .

  52. Alice says:

    I visited a church and thoroughly enjoyed the service and choir…filled out card as a guest and was expecting the normal follow-up phone call…but I received an unnotified visit,,door bell rang and it was a very inconvenient time in my household, so I did not go to the door. The church visitors continue to ring the door and actually called me on the phone while standing at my door to inform me they were at my door. I told them the timing was not convenient and I could not accept their visit at this time. The results were I never visited the church again and possibly would have joined. Please do not make unnotified visits…call first before visit.

    • KellyK says:

      Yeah, definitely. My mom went to a new church once, and had two guys in suits show up at her door later that week, Bibles in hand. She found it really intimidating and off-putting.

  53. Jamie says:

    I loved reading this! My husband and I have been looking for a church for years. Yes, years! We come from different backgrounds, my Lutheran, him a Community church with a Baptist influence. I like the traditional, him the contemporary.

    We are currently attending a neighborhood church that has an amazing kids program for our children; however, I don’t love the service. The messages are good, songs are contemporary (much like a music concert), and people are nice (no stalkers!).

    However, being used to a certain type of church, Lutheran, I find many things that I don’t feel are done the ‘right’ way. They ask for money all the time! I get very irritated when I am asked for money!

    As we continue to find the church that fits our family, I will keep this web post in mind. I am also in the Seattle area, and I wish you luck in finding your new church community!

  54. joe says:

    anyone read the book “I Sold My Soul On Ebay”?

    its about this same stuff

    love

  55. susanmarie8 says:

    And how about, be courteous to one another. I learn much about what the people are like by watching how they treat others. If you watch the door for a moment before you go in, you may notice that no one ever holds the door for anyone else, even pregnant women and children. That may be an indicator of how well they treat each other.

  56. Eric - Washington, DC says:

    I thought that the letter was well on point with the one issue of “introductions during the service”. I often visit other parishes (Episcopal) during my travels or have guests at my home parish and have experienced this in a variety of ways. My sense is that the trick is in how it is done. Inviting folks to introduce themselves or guests is different than pushing visitors to do so. Overall I like the opportunity to make myself known or introduce guests (I should note that my parish does not do introductions on Sunday mornings) as a way letting other attendees know that we have visitors present. If done the well the leader won’t make those who feel uncomfortable with introducing themselves do so, but give opportunity to those who do.

  57. yvonne lee says:

    Good point!
    Plus, prayer for God’s inspiration and guidance to be present among the church seekers…

  58. Bob T says:

    As a leader in a Lutheran church very interested in issues that draw both new as well as existing members to church and church life, I am struck by the various opinions and attitudes expressed here (all of which are amazing). Yet, there does appear to be views held passionately by some that favor styles of welcome that are down-right despised by others seemingly making the development of a unified welcome program difficult. Is there a balance to be struck here that reveals to visitors “something for everyone” or would this be seen/perceived as fake? I ask this because, as some have noted, congregations are diverse mixtures of people, each with their own set of gifts (some of which might not be welcoming) yet one can not really ask them not be attempt to be welcoming. Does one “bad” visit mean the entire congregation is unworthy of your participation or as others have noted, can “shopping” involve something deeper, more substantive in that one can get involved and BE the person who develops and fosters welcome; gifts YOU bring to this congregation so that ALL witness the glory of God?

    In need of advise. Thanks.

  59. […] Open Letter to Churches Seeking New Members […]

  60. revwaf says:

    Thank you!

  61. Rev. James K. Boodley says:

    This is an oddly challenging piece. Rather than being concerned about meeting someone else’s expectations as either visitor or congregation, perhaps we might just say to the other, “Here I am, just as I am. If I don’t meet your expectations, please forgive me. And if you don’t meet my expectations, I’ll do the same for you.” Once we all realize that none of us “measure up,” then the work of healing / forgiveness / growth can begin. Nevertheless, there is something to be said about doing that work in an environment which is safe and supportive — regardless of whether that’s in a house of worship or elsewhere.

    – Rev. J.K.

    • KellyK says:

      I think this is a good point…not trying to be something you’re not, but being authentic and up-front about who you are. I didn’t read the letter as wanting churches to change who they are to attract visitors, just to be up-front about who they are so that the visitors who want that kind of community can find it.

  62. Lisa says:

    I’m sure others have echoed it. There are some good comments in the letter, also there is some really important stuff missing. The letter highlights our need to belong, fit in and be part of, but it also misses our responsibility that worship is not about us, but about God. We are called and commanded to worship God, finding the venue or expression is the veneer – within the Christian experience. The whole point of needing God is because something is missing in us – ergo we will not find it from people. And yet, yes we do need people to befriend us and make us feel welcome. “Thou wilt keep them in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee.” When we are challenged by the frailties we humans bring to relationship, may we look deeper and see that we are all deficient. A church is only as good as those who make it up, and more importantly, only as good as we allow God to make it!

    • Jeff says:

      It’s easy to say that the most important thing is worshipping God- and that is true but to do so in a way authentic to your own beliefs is also important. I have been to churches where I was made to stand up- never returned; where the pastor made an unanounced visit, never returned; where I was ignored, never returned- why should I attend a church that goes against my beliefs? Picking the congregation is just as important as picking the denomination.

  63. Coco says:

    Love this as a past and sometimes present visitor and one who tries to welcome (but not stalk) visitors!

  64. John says:

    What a great post. I think that because it’s what I preached to my congregation until I retired. (grin)
    I can attest to the “remember my name” thing. There is a highly active family in my former congregation who came and stayed because, on a return visit two weeks later, I remembered their names and a few family facts they had shared.
    Thanks for such a useful insight. Would that the Holy One move the hearts of congregational “insiders” to work at lowering the “moat” for those who actually WANT to visit.

  65. Just wanted you to know this post is going viral! I’ve posted it to our church’s Facebook wall and Twitter feed. As a committed member and the website admin, I know we try hard to follow the principles you outlined, and mostly succeed. Nobody has to stand up and introduce themselves in our church, and new members will always be specially greeted during the “peace.” I was a bit hesitant the first time I went there, because I am disabled and partnered with a service dog. It had also been ages since I’d been to an Episcopal service. So I chose a seat at the very back, closest to the door in case I needed to get out without disrupting everything. Unfortunately, I got myself onto the wrong page of the bulletin at first, and was completely lost. Someone noticed, came over, and discreetly showed me where we were, then smiled as I thanked him and returned to his seat. Nobody chased me down the street, but about a week or two later, there was a lovely basket containing a tasty loaf of bread, the current newsletter, and some other items on my front porch. I had signed the guest book, so I also received a personalized welcome letter from the vicar in the mail. All in all, I can say it’s just right for me.

    The only thing we might be weak on is your last point. As I pondered this, I thought to myself, “Now that’s a toughie!” We certainly have a creed, and the Episcopal church does have its official creeds and statements of belief, but within the congregation, we run the gamut. We have extremely liberal members, and extremely conservative members. We have gay and disabled members. We have old and young, retired and employed, traditional and contemporary-thinking people. But we don’t let superficialities come between us. I can say that I am very left-leaning politically, and there are members on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. On Facebook we can have passionate debates, but when we come together at church, all those things are set aside. We hug each other warmly and laugh and share dog stories. So I don’t know if we would measure up for you, but I hope our website (especially the sermons section) would, taken as a whole, give you a good flavor for our particular church culture.

    Thanks for writing this — valuable insights for all churches!

  66. Thank you very much for this. We are always looking for feedback but rarely do we get something this concise and clear. We will be using it in an upcoming meeting to discuss this very topic.

  67. Father Thorpus says:

    I’m a pastor in a small town, and when we have visitors, they are easy to spot. I think the suggestions in this article are not too “me” oriented – just basic courtesy toward newcomers and seekers. It is easy for church-shopper and church-hoppers to develop a very selfish idea of what church is all about, but I don’t think this article goes that far.

    But since we’re talking church, we need to ask ourselves what the Bible says about welcoming newcomers. …. …. …. yeah, I’m coming up blank, too. There are verses about hospitality to strangers and sharing what you have, but do we really intend to invite a church visitor to stay a week in our home? That’s what those verses are getting at. The fact is that the church-[s]hopping atmosphere of today’s America is a very new thing in world history. Churches two hundred years ago never had to think about how to compete for visitors, because church membership wasn’t about that. It had much more to do with the responsibility OF THE VISITOR to give attention to his/her own spiritual life. Where is you soul safe? Which doctrine can accurately show you the way to heaven? Is salvation a matter of works, faith, or an experience? Answering these questions determined which church you attended, not the outward cosmetics.

    Thus church was less of a show and more spiritually nutritious. Those who came were those who were drawn together not by outward pleasantries but by the conviction that they were walking the narrow road toward Heaven together, sharing difficulties and sharing hope. THAT’s what should draw you to a church. THAT’s what drew the disciples to Jesus. THAT’s what drove the church that ‘turned the world upside down.’ But in today’s world, it’s easy come, easy go.

    • tychabrahe says:

      That’s a specious argument. 200 years ago you attended the closest church of your denomination BECAUSE THAT WAS THE ONLY CHURCH AVAILABLE. Like Catholics that attend in their parish and LDS that attend in their stake now, back then you went to church where you could because there was no other place to go within walking distance.

      We live in a much more mobile society. People are unlikely to live near people of similar beliefs and culture. Outside of cultural ghettos like Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Greektown, Germantown, etc., people live among strangers. If you are a Baptist and live next to a Lutheran, you aren’t going to be happy at the same church.

  68. Dale McNeill says:

    I have moved several times as an adult. Each time, I seek a parish. And I’m only checking in a very small circle of possible churches. I want to find an Episcopal church and I want it to be fairly close to where I live.

    This piece is thoughtful and helpful to congregations, I think. The only way we can find a community of faith is to look for one through our own eyes. We can’t look for every good thing that the parish might be doing, especially if those things aren’t mentioned on the website.

    It seems to me that much the ministry of welcoming and including (similar, but not exactly the same things) has to do with attitude and feeling. I’ve been asked to introduce myself in the middle of a service in such a way that I liked it. I would generally say that I don’t like that and don’t want it, but in one instance I can think of it felt more like introducing oneself at a family dinner, where the purpose was simply that people wanted to know you.

    For me, a lot of it has to do with the way people in the pews treat me and others. Do people helpfully notice that you don’t know something? Does someone open an unfamiliar hymnal to help out? Is everyone invited to things that some people are invited to?

    I loved the way that my current parish asked me if I wanted to do things. In ordinary conversation, I was asked about things I’d done in other cities. Then, one of the leaders of the parish said something like “when the time comes, if it does, that you want to bring things of the coffee hour,, or be a lector, or be a teacher, or something else, just let me know. We won’t bother you a lot asking, so that it’s up to you.” I thought that was veery nice. (And now I’m a lector, confirmation teacher, Eucharistic minister, and warden!)

  69. Thanks for the letter, Lyda. I’ve reposted it on our church’s website (www.mtzionucc.org) to help our Welcome Team members see things from a guest’s point of view. (Of course, it helps that most of what you say we’ve already heard in our church conference’s Road to Vitality workshops. )

    I agree with some of the commenters that looking for a church should be about God, not about themselves. Yep, and everyone should tithe 10%, love their neighbors as themselves, etc., etc. Meanwhile, this being the 21st Century in the USA, churches can either sniff at the folks with the “wrong focus” or welcome the folks who show up. Our church is trying the latter course. (And we’ve gotten some great newcomers, so we must be doing a *few* things right.) I wish the best of luck to the churches that keep on doing what they’ve been doing the way they’ve always been doing it, but I just don’t see that strategy as maintaining a viable church in the long run. We don’t try to be all things to everyone, but we try to let people know what we’re about so they can get to know us instead of getting scared away.

    But I gotta tell ya, that remembering names thing? Very hard for those of us who have a hard time remembering names of members we’ve known for years, let alone people we met once two weeks ago! I proposed I should wear a button saying, “Hi! Glad to see you! Bet you don’t remember my name either!”, but my wife nixed it.

  70. Jay Blossom says:

    How about this: Please de-emphasize your congregation’s wonderful history. I’d like to see a “history” tab on your website, just in case I get curious, but in general, don’t keep talking about it all the time, and don’t say things like, “I’m Margaret, and I’ve been a member of First Church for 42 years.”

    It’s great that you have members who have been around a long time. But what I really want to know is, “Is this church alive and growing and focused on what God is doing in the world today?”

    • Amen to that! We had one visitor who attended for a while with us, then stopped. He is extremely orthodox and rigid in his beliefs, and is filled with objections to everything from the direction the celebrant faces at the altar to the fact that we leave our pews during the Peace to our Bible Trivia games following our Friday night Lenten soup suppers (“The Bible is not trivial!”). So he stopped attending, but continues to call me several times a week to tell me all about how the church used to do things 100 years ago. But I’m not focused on 100 years ago, or even last week. I want to focus on what we’re doing now, and what we can be doing in the future, and I really couldn’t care less that in the old churches, the celebrant faced the altar rather than the congregation (I actually took the trouble to look that up and discovered it’s because back then, altars were usually attached to the back wall! LOL).

  71. […] to see the viewpoint of an newcomer visiting a church for the first time? See Open Letter to Churches Seeking New Members for some tips on how churches (and their welcoming teams!) might want to behave. Published […]

  72. Thank you for writing this column. I completely agree. I have posted a link to this on my church’s Facebook page, and I will be talking it up to some leaders at church. Several respondents have also made excellent points.

  73. Great post – very insightful. Thanks!

  74. C. Voils says:

    I think you are both totally selfish. You will never find any group of people with whom you are pleased. I suggest that you start caring about others and out of this caring and concern you will find what you really need.

    • Jeff says:

      I shouldn’t be as surprised as I am, I guess, but I fail to see why so many people take this letter as a personal attack. I have preached in about 15 ELCA churches and worshipped in a dozen or so others and have found no two to be alike. Some of them I like, some of them I do not like- that doesn’t mean I’m not looking at the big picture- it just means that as humans, God has given us the ability to decide what style works for each one of us. I do not know the authors of this letter, but I see nothing wrong with pointing out some of the things that they didn’t like at the churches they visited. We can all learn from reading this. With one exception, where the Church Council President admitted that they are not a family friendly congregation- but they hadn’t had a family with kids even visit for a few years- all of the rest were trying to be friendly, but the truth is, you can’t be everything to everyone, nor should you try to be.

  75. Mary Cauliflower says:

    My experience in finding a church home was similar to that of one of the other commenters. I walked in, got involved, and stayed. That was nearly 20 years ago. But when newcomers check out our church now, I always wish them well in their search. I say that I hope they’ll come back, but more importantly I hope they find the right worshiping community. Finding a parish is like looking for someone to marry. It’s not selfish to look at a potential spouse and think, “Nice person, great personality, but could we stick together for life?” Although it’s not exactly a Biblical sentiment, I can’t imagine most Christians wouldn’t endorse getting to know someone before marriage and resolutely looking for that special someone who clicks with you.

    Parish life is as challenging as any other intimate relationship. People who church-shop are looking for a place where they will give a percentage of their income and many hours of their time and make friends who are are there through hospitalizations and crises — and even death. It’s perfectly appropriate to give those relationships time and consideration.

  76. […] My first post on Word Press. Here’s an interesting post by a woman who, with her husband, have been looking for a church in their area. Some good do’s and don’ts here. […]

  77. Rick Walden says:

    Interesting article and comments that followed. I have to wonder though what Jesus “laundry list” would consist of – what would He be looking for? I somehow doubt it would include the things listed above.

    • Jay Blossom says:

      But then, Jesus wasn’t a 21st century American looking for a church community, was he? We’re not all called to be first-century Jewish messiahs.

      • Seapeayay says:

        Wow, Jay! Really? While Rick’s comment is critical of the items listed in the article and in the comments, it can also be used as an honest question of “What would Jesus say was important?” and, by extension, if I’m seeking to be a disciple of Jesus, what should I view as being important? Since I assume we’re talking about Christian churches here, I assume we’re talking with Christians (or at least those curious about Christianity), who, by definition, seek to be followers of Christ. Therefore, I think Christ’s opinions on the subject are pretty relative to the conversation. Don’t you?

        When Rick says, “… Jesus’ laundry list WOULD consist of — what WOULD He be looking for?”, I read it as being implied that he’s saying, “If Jesus was a 21st century American looking for a church community.”

      • Jay Blossom says:

        What I meant to say was, We’re not Jesus; we’re followers of Jesus. Jesus lived in his particular time and place; we live in our particular time and place. Jesus established his church; we’re members of his church. Jesus spent his time living in, and teaching to members of, a very specific theological community, but ours is. One of our jobs as Christians is to interpret his teachings, his message, and his life for our own time and place.

        I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to wonder what Jesus’ laundry list for church-shopping would look like, except perhaps as some kind of intellectual exercise.

  78. […] “Open Letter to Churches Seeking New Members” (See Lyda Run) […]

  79. John says:

    I hope and will pray that my wife and I never have need to shop for a new church home.
    We love where we are. We are growing as Christians, and have opportunties to worship in any level or at any capacity we wish. That said, isn’t it wonderful to live in a land with so many churches and choices for worship.

  80. Lorena Williams says:

    We’ve been visiting churches for a while as well. The main question I have to ask and need to see from website to the people in the pews and halls is this: Will visitors know you are Christians by your love? There are as many different reasons why people visit a new church as there are people but remembering the one thing we have to offer over a country club or social club is the Love of Christ is very important. And for goodness sake, don’t tell us that we’re sitting in “YOUR” pew, especially with a clear but unsaid remark “And you need to move.”
    Yes, that truly did happen at one church we went to.

  81. Melinda says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you – from someone who works in a progressive, mainline church and is tired of hearing from members in their 70s that what we really need to do to attract you young folk is to have the pastor show up on your doorstep the afternoon of the Sunday that you first visit us – because “that’s how we used to do it in my day”.

  82. preacher1 says:

    This is a fabulous article. I’m sharing it. I had a parishioner (St. Philip’s in Laurel, MD) who moved to AZ for 6 months to spend time w/her brother who has cancer. While there, she attempted to visit a couple of churches, but was pretty much ignored–this woman is outgoing, one of our Greeters & had been on Vestry (our governing board). Yet she never felt welcome, despite her attempts to get involved. Finally she gave up & said “I hope St. P’s never makes anyone feel like that.” Her experience helped us to tweak how we greet & incorporate folks–but I think we are still a work in process. Your article was most helpful. Thank you

  83. deb says:

    Well said! My personal pet peeve is the use of acronyms or cutesy names and there’s no de-coder ring.
    – The “MYF” will meet on Sunday at 7 p.m. for pizza and Bible study.
    – If your child is in the “Lambs” class, we will be meeting next week in the “Songbirds” room.

    etc, etc

    Yeah. Really happened.

    Peace onya.

  84. […] Posted: February 27, 2012 | Author: Lyda K. Hawes | Filed under: Faith | Tags: faith, finding a church, Lent |120 Comments » […]

  85. Father Thorpus says:

    to the “laundry list’ folks and those who are asking “WWJLF” (What would Jesus look for?) keep in mind that the original point here is not to list the qualifications of a real church, or a living church, or even a good church: it was just a suggestion on how not to close the door to visitors without meaning to. If the original list seems superficial, it is, and it should be: the author isn’t suggesting a congregations’ merits should be judged on how welcoming they seem, clearly the truth of its health runs much deeper. But these are just opening moves in a ‘get-to-know-ya’ game that hopefully can go a long time.

  86. […] first place a visitor will engage with your congregation. I was recently sent a blog post entitled “Open Letter to Churches Seeking New Members” by Lyda and Brian Hawes. In their blog post, Lyda and Brian provide some helpful tips to […]

  87. pancho says:

    there’s something egocentric and disturbing about that open letter. it’s like she’s shopping for a new nanny. how about she just ask the various church leaders for a resume and explain why they would be a good church for her.

  88. PJ says:

    This is an interesting article. At the church where I’ve been a member since 2004 we have a greeter ministry – they assist visitors in finding their way around our large campus [we have over 7K members], including taking them to a Sunday School class that might be a fit for them. We recently relocated all of the Singles classes over into one area so that single visitors only have to go to one place to try out classes; we’re in the process of relocating other groups classes so that all of those in each group are in one area as well.

    In my particular class, of which I’m the director, we have Care Groups, meaning there’s a leadership system in place and members are placed into the groups for the group leader [I’m also one] to contact and follow up with – check on and see if they need anything, how they’re doing, etc. When we do have visitors, someone acknowledges them – speaks with them and introduces them to our teacher, then as class is starting, he or the person who greeted them will introduce them. I try to speak with visitors either before or after class if possible; the class secretary gives me a copy of their information form and I do follow up by sending them a card in the mail thanking them for visiting and inviting them to come back.

    We’re currently searching for a new pastor and being led by a transitional pastor – as God led our former pastor into full-time missions field work – no, we didn’t run him off, we would’ve loved to have him stay, but God said for him to go so who were we to argue?! After the morning worship services [we have 2] there’s a “guest reception time” with the transitional pastor and/or staff members. No one is forced to go to it, but they are invited to attend at the end of each service. There’s no “call out” of visitors during the services, though an announcement is made that “if you’re visiting with us today, we would like to welcome you to” so that’s not too intimidating in my opinion.

    Our church website has all manner of information – everything that I think Lyda might find useful and of interest as well. Unfortunately, Lyda and I are in 2 totally different areas of the USA so I don’t think she and her husband will be visiting with us anytime soon.

  89. 14theroad says:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences, it helps seeing ourselves through a fresh perspective!

  90. judy howen says:

    I help with the welcoming ministry at our church and we struggle to keep a balance from being welcoming and friendly but not infringing on their decision of whether to come back or not. This was very very helpful.

  91. Being an Anglican Bishop and I am in search of good fellowship and co operation.

  92. Judy says:

    I enjoyed reading your essay. Having been a member of a few churches and having worked for three, I agree you have spoken some truth. In turn, though, I’d like to see a little reciprocation. Sometimes folks come into a new situation and kind of have the attitude, okay, here we are, show us what you have. It behooves the seekers to appear friendly or at least approachable and not be afraid to strike up a conversation at coffee hour.

    What struck me however, were your observations about websites. How true. When we moved from NY to northeast Florida, we were worried that the cultural differences would prevent us from finding what we needed, that is, a diverse, inclusive, music-loving Episcopal church. I made a list of about 20 churches and as I looked at the websites, and read between the lines, I could cross them off, one at a time. Of course, having worked for and been a member for such a long time, I knew all the buzz words. We eventually settled on one church and it turned out to be an excellent choice. However, I can see some churches would be afraid to scare off newcomers by saying too much (progressive, conservative) on their website.

    Good subject. Thanks.

    • Lyda K. Hawes says:

      Thanks, Judy. And I absolutely agree that it is a two-way street. I could probably just as easily write another post called, ‘open letter to members seeking a new church.’ Glad to hear you found a new church home in Florida that was such a good fit!

  93. Byron says:

    This is a helpful post, but not in the way that some others have received it. It’s helpful in reminding me what a self-absorbed culture we live in. I doubt that any church community would be suitable for her. No wonder she’s still searching. She’s looking for something she’ll never find – a god who has rearranged the cosmos for her to be happy and comfortable.

    • Charlene T says:

      HALLELUJAH – SOME SANITY AT LAST

      • Jeff says:

        I have been trying to figure out why people feel they have to attack the author of this letter- I am an active church goer- my wife and I have both attended seminary- so we certainly know why we go to church- to worship God and to be with others who worship God. Wanting to do it in a setting which we find to be comfortable is normal and expected in the ELCA tradition, at least. I live closer to 3 ELCA churches than the we attend- why? Because the traditions and practices at the other 3 do not match my preference.. Nothing wrong with the others, but they weren’t for my family- so we travel a little further and found a church that is closer to what we were looking for. Granted I didn’t write a letter explaining it, but I have visited about 20-25 churches through the years (through either moves or while at seminary) of multiple denominations and they were all different. Some had me stand up to intorduce myself, some had you “walk the gauntlet” to get into the sanctaury- some told me where the nursury was (usually down the hall or in the basement and unattended- “in case” my child got loud. One smaller church- everyone came over to share the peace- another- no one did. The fact is that no matter how Godly we want church to be- what we do in the building has much more to do with closed traditions than worshipping God. Let’s face it- does God care which order the candles are lit or if we stand, kneel or sit while praying? I say it is okay and expected that a congregation will have a distinct personality- it is also okay and expected that it won’t be the right fit for everyone. God made us different for a reason.

      • Lyda K. Hawes says:

        Thank you, Jeff. If people disagree with my points, or don’t think my approach is the way to find a church – that is their opinion and that’s fine, just as my comments are only my opinion. But why do my points call into question the nature of my faith, or my character as a person??

      • Jeff says:

        I have wondered the same thing. Out of curiosity, have you been able to find a church home?

      • Lyda K. Hawes says:

        We have been attending a church for the past two months and we seem to be a good fit for each other, so I am optimistic this will become our new church home.

        And to answer the other question this will inevitably raise – no, they are not perfect. Despite what some seem to believe, I don’t actually expect perfection. (But they have seen the post and thanked me for offering a visitor’s perspective.)

  94. Charlene Thornberry says:

    And once again here’s to sanity.

    Two thoughts you might like to think and reflect on. The internet is global so you will be read by many different nationalities which means many different cultures. Thank the Good Lord we do not all think the same.

    But a message to all the readers who have responded – are we being conned – is this some cheap way of doing research – getting views and responses without doing the legwork – we are the mugs who have been taken in and volunteered information, thoughts and feelings.

    But my last thought today is to pick up on Lyda’s reply on 4 May ”no THEY are not perfect’ – …. I don’t actually expect perfection’ ….. my goodness this does sound a wee bit patronising. I wonder how you would respond if the shoe was on the other foot and they told you that you did not fit their profile.

    Come on Lyda relax a bit – let’s give thanks that churches are still surviving – let’s give thanks that churches are for and run by people who are not perfect only forgiven.

    And in a lay persons terms – duckie if you cannot stand the heat get out of the kitchen and don’t lay yourself open to comments from the rest of the world.

    Charlene – UK

  95. I absolutely love your blog and find nearly all of your
    post’s to be exactly what I’m looking for.

    Would you offer guest writers to write content for you?

    I wouldn’t mind composing a post or elaborating on many of the subjects you write with regards to here.

    Again, awesome blog!

    • Lyda K. Hawes says:

      Thanks for your kind note. I do not particularly use guest writers (and certainly would not for advertising/promotional purposes), but I’m always open to discussing the idea. Do you have a blog or site where I can see some of your current work?


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