We had a literal busload of "first-time visitors" to The Moody Church yesterday morning. These wonderful people were on their way BACK to Savannah, Georgia and stopped by to worship the LORD with us here in Chicago. It was a THRILL to have them--all 35 of them!
Most of these folks were in their early-mid 60s, and some well beyond that. But each was a delight to my heart, as I had the time to stop and talk with them ever so briefly.
One of things I enjoy doing (most Sunday mornings) is standing in the main lobby (Clark Street entrance) of our local church facilities, and seeing people gather in for our time of corporate worship. Since The Moody Church enjoys the diversity of more than 68 nationalities as regular parishioners, it is always a joy to "meet and greet" people from literally all over the world, united for one purpose: worshipping Jesus!
But, I am also reminded of what it means to make "good impressions" the first time someone comes to "visit" our "family." I've been a visitor on more than one occasion in local churches other than "my own." There were times it was a "real treat" for me to see others in the "kingdom of God"--translated, I was welcomed and would return to worship with these people if the occasion ever presented itself.
There have been THOSE TIMES (thankfully and mercifully FEW in number) when I swore I would never return to that church if it were the LAST PLACE on earth to gather with God's people for worship. I'd start my own first. That reminds me of a story (but as I've stated elsewhere, MOST things remind me of a story. I'll spare you this time). The "meal" may be good, and good for you, but if the first "taste" is bad....good luck with the "rest of that stuff."
So what made a good "first-time visitor" experience for me?
First, I received a warm, and sincere "welcome" at the front door. Someone was standing there ready to answer my question(s), and assist me if I needed it. Everyone should know where the water fountains, restrooms, and nursery are located...as well as the sanctuary, and when the worship service will begin. This should be "sincere"--not plastic, or "rehearsed." Maybe I'm being a bit "over-sensitive" here, but I am KEENLY AWARE of when someone is truly glad to have me "among them" and when someone is just 'being nice because that is what I'm supposed to be". As a first-time visitor, "sincerity" at the front door means everything.
Second, I always appreciate a good handshake, a smile, and an "Order of Worship" if one is being used. (Not every congregation prints their "Order of Worship" and that's completely fine with me).
Third, I appreciate being "acknowledged" as a visitor in a worship gathering, but not embarrassed. Thank me, publicly, for coming. Tell me where the "Visitors Center" is (if your local church has one), and encourage me to come by after the meeting is dismissed. Don't ask me to stand and tell my name, or where I am from. I can tolerate the "will all our visitors please stand" routine, if this is your normal procedure. But don't just "single me out" unless it is absolutely necessary. And most of the time, it isn't.
Finally, (and this may be self-serving), always invite "me" (or whomever your visitors are) to lunch, or a refreshment of some kind. I remember visiting the Crystal Cathedral (Garden Grove, California) more than 20 years ago. After I had been identified as a visitor, I remember more than 20 people coming up to me, and inviting me to join them for lunch that day. While I wasn't able to join anyone for lunch (because of other commitments that HAD to take precedence), I will always remember their kindness to me.
I trust that our "First-Time Visitors" yesterday (and every Sunday) had a great experience with the people of God gathered as The Moody Church. If they didn't, I hope someone will let us know about it. We want to represent Christ and His people in the very best possible way.