Tales of an Unchurched Mystery Guest

They invited me to visit the pastor’s home where a gathering was taking place later in the evening. I thought this was very special and made me feel very welcomed. (Click to Tweet)

Many churches see dozens of first-time guests each month. But how many of those guests return to your church for another visit? Do you know how your church is perceived by the visitors that walk through the front door? Our Mystery Guest Program helps you understand just that.

Each month we feature a unique first-time guest experience we’ve read about from one of the many mystery guests we send into churches. This month’s mystery guest experience comes from a 64-year-old unchurched female who visited a church in Baton Rouge… 

Is the Church Well-Known in the Area?
I stopped at a food mart approximately four miles from the church. I inquired about how to find the church and both individuals stated they did not know. Both said they had never heard of the church; however, they could tell me where the street was located so I could find my way. I told them I thought it was near another church and both individuals shrugged and said they did not know the location of that church either.

Could You Find Your Way?
If I had not made a phone call to the church to inquire about the location, I would have been confused in my attempts to find it. Upon arrival, I viewed signage listing numerous buildings that were visible from my car, however, I had to stop on the street to read it because it was a lot of information to go through. Parking was self-explanatory as the lots were across the street and side streets and are highly visible. A large sign on the building with the name along with the time of the service would be a welcome sign to avoid confusion. There were no signs outside regarding the service times.

The First Impression
I was not greeted by anyone prior to service beginning. Upon entering the room, I did see a designated greeter wandering around with programs in his hand. He nodded at me but did not speak. After I was seated, an individual that was walking around passed me by and said hello and I said good morning. That was the extent of my welcome prior to the service. Individuals began filing in and finding seats, but no one spoke to me during that time. I could not gauge whether they thought I was a regular attendee or a guest. The room and setting were quite lovely, comfortable, and inviting. On the screens at the front of the room were multimedia slides with several messages including welcome, how to find them on social media, upcoming events you might consider participating in, and details on children attending the service versus attending the children’s class.

Finding a Seat
Prior to individuals filing in for the service, I had my choice of seats in any location. Even after, there was still sporadic seating in many areas. The comfort of the chairs and the aisle space was very nice.

The Music/Worship
The music was nice, and the vocalists were very good. I was touched by the sincerity of the musicians, especially the guitar player who I later identified in the program as the reverend. His smile and passion were engaging. The lady vocalist was also very good and she sang along with the worship pastor. I felt a true sincerity emanating from this young lady. I was moved by the worship and wanted to engage in this portion of the service. This was easy to do because the two multimedia screens on the platform had the words to each song so we could easily participate. It was thoroughly enjoyable.

Greeting During the Service
The pastor welcomed the congregation at the beginning of his talk. He also welcomed new visitors by stating that you had the option to fill out a card located on your chair. Furthermore, he stated there was a table at the rear of the room where you could choose a welcome gift. His welcome was sincere and courteous. At the end of the service, he welcomed visitors again by announcing that we were welcome to stay after the service and enjoy a cup of coffee and meet the host family of today’s coffee.

The Message
The message embodied the images of what heaven and hell would be like both physically and emotionally. He painted a picture by using examples of our life experiences, thoughts, and feelings to fully comprehend both places. In other words, the best of life’s experiences is like a glimpse of heaven and the worst of life’s experiences are a glimpse of hell. Now that you have a glimpse, you can also realize that you have a choice as to what location you want to move toward. The message was quite enjoyable and easy to relate to. I thought the pastor’s message was very good.

The Speaker
The main speaker was the pastor. He was engaging and came across as being informed, sharing a message that was easily understood. Most of all, he was sincere. He utilized an actor who provided a dramatic skit or play of sorts to explain the pastor’s message. He was very talented and captured the attention of everyone, including me, with his wit, voice inflections, volume, and ability to speak as if he were various individuals. An excellent aid to drive home the message. This portion of the service was quite good. High caliber and artsy, yet informative and easily understood.

What About Kids?
There are children’s programs on Sunday nights with games, recreation, worship leadership training, etc. There are also programs for those adults interested in being trained for working with children. Youth services are on Sunday evenings with worship, fellowship, and dinner. All of these programs were detailed in their program. Children of all ages stayed in the service, and I assume that adults brought various ages of children to their respective sections prior to entering the main service. There should be an announcement to parents/guests that they should refer to their program to determine where their children can join others their own age for their respective programs/services. This was not done in the service; therefore, one crying baby remained in the service which was distracting.

What Happened After the Service?
About 80% of the attendees appeared to quickly depart. Numerous individuals spoke to me at this point (prior to my joining the welcome coffee event with the host family). The atmosphere was peaceful, positive, and calm. Because I am an outgoing person, I can make myself feel welcome; however, I do feel that if I were not middle class or above that I would not fit into this congregation. Regular attendees should interact with visitors by speaking to them. As the service came to a close, the pastor invited anyone visiting to stay for a brief time to enjoy coffee and refreshments with the hosting couple. We spent about 30 minutes visiting. While we were visiting, several members of the church passed by and they introduced me to several members who were very gracious and courteous toward me. Additionally, they invited me to visit the pastor’s home where a gathering was taking place later in the evening. I thought this was very special and made me feel very welcomed.

Friendliness of the Church
When I spoke to someone, they easily spoke back. Other than that, I did not find the congregation to be overly inviting. At the same time, I did not find anyone to be rude or uninviting towards me. I was especially impressed with one reverend who is an enthusiastic representative of the church. Another consideration might be to ask members to walk around pre-service as well as post-service and shake hands, speak, and come across welcoming to their fellow members and new visitors.

Information About the Church
I visited the website and found the service option and clicked on it to read for more information. It was informative. The Facebook page is informative and provides sufficient, up-to-date information. I visited their Instagram page, which I was unaware of previously. It is very nice! One recommendation I have regarding the website is that they add the address. When you go to their website, the only address is for the main church. When you click for directions, it takes you to the main church. It was not until I made a phone call to the church that I was able to obtain the physical address for this service. There was a welcome message in the program, on the multi-media screens on stage, and a verbal welcome from the pastor during his talk. There were cards to complete for contact or more information on each chair as well as at both entries to the meeting room. There were also welcome gifts on a table at the rear of the room with additional brochures on their initiatives along with programs and contact cards. The program contained many announcements for opportunities to join, how to get involved, or find more information.

Outreach Opportunities
I was impressed that they have such a comprehensive list of offerings and ministries for the community. It would be nice to have some sort of inner-city program offering a service for at-risk adults and youth. A one-hour contemporary service offered by a mainstream church is probably more enticing than you may realize. Unfortunately, I do not feel that enough of the community is aware of this option. Something to consider is more public service announcements, handing out flyers, and even running ads on social media to reach a larger audience. This might result in having to offer an additional service time if attendance overflows.

Church Follow-Up
I completed a card for visitors and received an email from the worship pastor. I was thanked for coming, invited back the following week, and asked to stop by the welcome table before the service. I also received a second follow-up from the church. They mailed a personally handwritten note from one of the pastors as well as a $5.00 gift card from Starbucks. A very nice touch.

Likelihood of Returning to the Church: Likely
The worship service and the pastor’s message were key for me to be interested in returning. Engaging with the host family at the post-service coffee was a nice touch that made me feel more engaged and like they truly cared about me finding a church home. At the same time, I did not feel pressured, which is great for making visitors want to return to the church.

Likelihood of Recommending the Church: Likely
I would recommend this church to others that are interested in a free-flowing, short service that still provides all the content necessary to uplift you, worship, and share the word of God. It was a pleasant experience.

The Last Impression
I was pretty impressed with the content of the service and the post-service coffee welcome. Finding a way to make visitors feel fully welcomed by the congregation in a non-intimidating way would be advantageous. More advertisement about the service would be great. I am fairly sure it is a hidden jewel in the city that others would greatly benefit from by attending. I am pleased to have visited this church and learned about their offerings and focus. Better signage outside and more information pouring into the community would be advisable.

 

Even when a first-time guest has a good experience, a church can usually still identify some opportunities for growth in their guest welcoming process. What do first-time guests say about your church?  Let Faith Perceptions find out for you. Our desire is to help churches become a welcoming and comfortable place for guests and the unchurched.

 

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