Monday, October 17, 2016

Four Things Driving Visitors Away Before the Worship Service Starts

In my role as a denominational leader I visit a lot of churches. In fact, I’ve visited 71 churches for
their primary worship service in the last 12 months. I do this year after year after year, so it adds up a lot of visits to a lot of churches. This gives me a broader perspective than most people because very few have visited so many different churches.

As a perpetual “visitor” to churches, I have observed four things that would make me question if I would come back to some churches a second time if I was not the denominational leader for our region. If these four things make me question a second visit, imagine how they speak to those who are not yet committed to Christ or who may be returning to church after a long absence. Church leaders should think these four things through carefully.

1.       Starting with a long list of announcements.

It is amazing to me how many churches start with a long list of announcements. The vast majority of these announcements have no relevance to a visitor. Think about this from a visitor’s perspective. If it is his or her first time to attend, they probably are not coming to the men’s group on Tuesday or the ladies’ fellowship on Thursday. Nor are they probably going to send their children to youth group on Wednesday. They don’t even know if they are going to come back next Sunday, so they are very unlikely to take part in all that other stuff. Making them listen to a long list of irrelevant announcements before the worship service starts gives the sense that this church’s activities are irrelevant. In my experience, most announcements in church are offered verbally, not printed in a bulletin. This is even worse. How can a visitor remember all those details if they are only given verbally? In most churches the announcements go on far longer than the leaders realize. Once I was in a church that started with 21 minutes of announcements. By the time we got to the end, I was mentally exhausted and had lost interest in what they were saying even though they had not yet sung one song or prayed one prayer. A better way to handle announcements is to give them at the end of the service. By the end of the service visitors have had the chance to experience worship and hear the sermon and may by considering a return visit. Therefore, announcements at the end of the service might actually interest them because at that point they are thinking this could be the church for them. Announcements should be kept short. A simple reminder to look at the bulletin and note the various activities is enough. No one can remember a long list of verbal details anyway, so don’t waste time reading them verbally.

2.       Having a formal “welcome” time.

Perhaps my least favorite time at church is when they ask everyone to greet those around them. Though most churches think this makes them feel warm and friendly, in my experience, it actually produces the exact opposite for visitors. In my experience, one of three things happens to visitors during a formal welcome time. One possibility is that no one takes the initiative to greet them at all. On more than one occasion I have just stood there while everyone else greeted each other and no one spoke to me. It did not make me feel warmed and loved. A second possibility is that everyone greets each other enthusiastically and talks warmly to each other about ball games and birthday parties and where they are going for lunch. Then they turn to me and offer me a very formal handshake, and then quickly move on to talk enthusiastically to someone else. It reinforces that I am not part of the group and merely a “guest” who is to be politely spoken to and then ignored so they can go back to their clique. Third, someone greets me but in a rude or awkward way. I have actually had people tell me I am in their seat, implying I should move. I have had complete strangers shake my hand and ask “What are you doing here?” as if visitors are a total surprise and perhaps not completely welcome. On two occasions someone greeted me and then promptly handed me an offering envelope so I could take part in “every part of the worship service.” Trust me, none of those three typical formal welcome time experiences made me feel welcome. A better way to handle this is to train several outgoing friendly people to be watching for a guest and engage them in a real conversation before or after church. Instead of it being some formal “duty” that must be fulfilled, let it potentially be a real friendship that might develop between a guest and a well trained but “non-formal” greeter.

3.       Secret Bathrooms

While I doubt there are any churches that actually have secret bathrooms, it sure feels that way sometimes. As a visitor, the last thing I want to ask a stranger is “Where is the toilet?” That is just way too awkward. The proper way to handle this issue is to have adequate signage that gives that info as soon as a person comes in the main door so no one ever has to ask.

4.       Disorganized Beginning

If the service starts at 10 AM, then it should start at 10 AM, not 10:10 or 10:15. If the church uses a sound system, it should already be on and have been tested for volume. The same is true if the church uses some type of video projection system. It should be on and ready to go before the service begins. Is the heat or AC on? Are the lights on, especially in a hallway that leads to a bathroom or children’s area? Is the main entrance of the church unlocked? Regular attendees may have gotten use to all of these things not being done but it communicates negatively to a visitor. Watching someone fiddle with the microphone and tap it repeatedly while shouting to the back of the room to get the right one turned on so a person can say the opening prayer might be humorous for the home folk, but to a visitor it communicates that this church is not really serious about worship. If a church is not serious about being ready for worship, then visitors will probably keep looking until they find one that is. The right way to handle these things is for someone to make the commitment to deal with those details in advance. Ideally, it should be someone other than the pastor so that the pastor can focus on meeting people.

In my visits to churches I have observed these four things. They often discourage visitors from returning before the worship service even starts. But all of these things can be addressed if we are willing to devote time and attention to them. Though the home folk might resist changing some of these things, church leaders must help their congregations realize how these four things can drive away visitors before the service even starts, and therefore, they are changes worth making.


Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has been a pastor, church planter, denominational leader and author in New England for more than 20 years. He is a happy husband, a proud father and adoring grandfather. He is a cancer survivor and believes that God works powerfully through times of suffering. He writes extensively and you can find all of his books at:

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Race is On - Guest Post by Chris Beltrami

Hebrews 12:1  “ …,  let us lay aside every weight, and sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”   

Paul uses a long distance ‘race’ to illustrate our life on Earth and pursuit to eternal life. With these thoughts in mind, I was reminded of a particular day in the summer when I was 11 years old.  The Barre Municipal Pool was packed with 200 kids when Yvan Coupal, the 16 year old lifeguard, called me and my friend, Billy, over to his station.   We were sure we were in trouble.   Yvan told us that 2 of his swimmers were out of town for an important swim meet that night against Montpelier.  He then asked if we might fill the 2 spots. 
With wide eyes and big grins, we both said “Yes!”

That night, I rode my bike to the swim meet.   I figured Yvan had noticed my natural talents. I was excited but nervous as I joined all the swimmers in lane at the takeoff spots.

I remember watching all the swimmers jump in the pool to get ‘watered down’.  So, I did the same thing.

I remember getting out of the water and watching all the swimmers hold their arms down, and begin to ‘loosen up’ by shaking their shoulders and their hands.   So I did the same thing.

I remember watching all the swimmers stand at the edge and move into a ‘ready-set-go’ statuesque pose.   So, I did the same thing. 
The whistle blew and all the swimmers dove into the water and started to swim.   So, I did the same thing.   I dove into the water.

Yvan had never coached me.    I never received any instructions or guidance.   And, any talent that I thought … I did not have.

It seemed like 10 minutes of wailing and flailing and kicking and shaking my head back and forth before I looked up.   Pitiful!   I had beat the crap out of the water and I was only ½ way across the pool.   And, all the other swimmers were finished.   All swimmer and spectator jaws were in a drop position as their wide eyes were fixed on lane 5!  I calmed myself, finished the race and left as quickly and as quietly as I could.

Lesson #1,274:  As we run that great race that is put before us, we should not be surprised if our wailing and flailing looks a bit bad at times.   We should not be embarrassed when all eyes seem to be watching as we kick and shake our way through.   We can see with new eyes the important race recipe that helps us to recognize our weakness and appreciate His strength in us.

God has given us all that we need to persevere and finish. 

John 14:26   “ … the Holy Spirit … shall teach you all things, and bring to remembrance, whatsoever I have said to you.”  He has given us a great and constant coach who lives with us and in us.  John 14:17  “ … the Spirit of truth … you know him; for he dwells in you, and shall be in you.”  And, He is cheerleading for us with a great and unconditional Love.  Zepaniah 3:17  “The Lord your God is with you … He takes great delight in you … He rejoices over you with singing.”

P.S.  I can't remember if Billy ever did show up for the thing!


Chris Beltrami is one of New England's most award winning photographers. For decades he has used his position as a Christian businessman to influence others to consider the claims of Christ on their lives. He has been writing a monthly devotional called "Think About It" for many years. This article first appeared in the October 2016 edition of "Think About it."

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Overcoming Racism

Galatians 3:28 (ESV) - There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

A few months ago my son-in-law and I, who are both white, were shopping in a neighborhood where most residents were people of color. After making our purchases we headed to the door to leave and noticed they had a "checker" going through bags as each person left the store, presumably to make sure no one had stolen any items. That is not that uncommon so we got in line to have our bags checked. When the checker saw us, he waved us through without looking at our bags. While waving us through, he continued carefully going through the bags of the other people in line, all of whom were people of color. Though we cannot know for sure why he waved us through but made everyone else wait in line, the only conclusion we could think of was because we were white. The bag checker apparently thought white people could not possibly steal stuff from stores but people of color might. So their bags needed checked but ours did not. 

Since that experience I have become more aware of this kind of stuff happening. I cannot imagine the frustration, indeed the anger, that people of color must feel when they are degraded publicly like that in stores that they shop from regularly. I cannot imagine the fear moms of color of have when their sons walk to the grocery store. I cannot imagine the pent up angry that rests just under the surface of those who experience discrimination again and again and again so many years after the Civil Rights era was supposed to have solved all of this.

I don't know how to fix it, but I know that pointing it out so people become aware of it is one step. In retrospect, I should have gone back to that store and insisted that my bag be checked. I did later send an email to the store manager, though I never got a response back. Only by speaking up can we help people see how wrong this kind of thing is.

I also think we can address this issue by not falling prey to subtle racism in our own lives in the way we interact with people of color on a day to day basis. Though I'm not a perfect example to follow, one thing I try to do is when I see a person of color, especially a young man, is to look them in the eye and speak to them. Even if all I do is say hello as I pass them on the street, it is my way of saying "I see you and I think you are important enough to notice." I want him to know there is at least one white man out there in a position of influence who saw him as an equal. It may not change the world, but perhaps for that one young man, it makes him walk a little prouder that day. And if enough of us do it, maybe all those young men will realize they do not need to be pressed into a mold of someone else's making, they can become whatever the Lord leads them to be.

Lord, help us see past the color of our skin and demonstrate Your love for all people. Amen.


Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has been a pastor, church planter, denominational leader and author in New England for more than 20 years. He is a happy husband, a proud father and adoring grandfather. He is a cancer survivor and believes that God works powerfully through times of suffering. He writes extensively and you can find all of his books at:

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Fine Line Between Judging and Helping

1 Corinthians 11:31-32 - If we were properly evaluating ourselves, we would not be judged, but when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord, so that we may not be condemned with the world.

“Do not judge me!” We hear it all the time. Pop singers who do perverted things on stage say it. Movie stars who get DUIs say it. Politicians who have affairs say it. Co-workers who show up to work with a hangover say it. Friends who have made a real mess of their lives say it. Sometimes, we say it ourselves when someone points out our obvious faults.

Our culture has become obsessed with the idea that no one should say that any particular action is wrong. For the most part, people have accepted the idea that no one should think negatively of another person for his or her behavior. Such negative thinking is considered judging. Judging has become the ultimate bad behavior. If anyone does point out that someone's behavior was in poor taste, or just plain wrong, the speaker is the one who is criticized, not the person who actually did wrong.

This may be an acceptable line of reasoning for our culture, but it ultimately leads to disaster. If everyone does what is right in their own eyes, society devolves into chaos. That is why God gave us rules to follow. But who gets to interpret what God says the rules are?

I grew up in a very rigid religious environment in which we categorized everyone's behavior as either good or bad. This was often done without really knowing the person’s heart or any of the details of the actions. In our quest for purity we separated ourselves from those who engaged in actions we deemed bad. Many people were hurt by our judgmental behavior. I no longer want to be the behavior police with some mandate to classify every behavior that anyone around me does as being right or wrong. I also do not want to watch friends ruin their lives because I am too cold-hearted to speak to them about issues they are struggling with. Some behavior is just plain wrong, and one does not have to be a religious fundamentalist to recognize that truth. Somewhere between the two extremes of never saying anything and always pointing out everything is the thin line that we should walk that shows care and concern without being judgmental.

Finding that thin line is a constant struggle. One thing that helps is to ask people questions about the things they do. By asking them questions about certain behaviors, instead of just telling them it is wrong, their own thinking is often stirred up. Sometimes they are able to rethink their own behavior and state their own need to change. This can lead to a redemptive conversation about Christ and forgiveness. Even if they do not recognize the behavior as bad, it still makes them think, and sometimes that is the best thing we can help people do.

Ultimately, God is the one who judges all of us, and He is the one who gets to decide what is good or bad behavior. Though many of our non-believing friends may not care what God thinks, it is our responsibility as Christians to help them get to that place. By asking questions that force them to rethink their behavior, we can move on to a place where we can share what God’s Word teaches. It may take several conversations, over a period of time, to get there, but we will eventually get there, without having to negatively judge others.

Lord, help us know how and when to say something to a friend about his or her behavior. Guard us from having a judgmental spirit but also remind us of the importance of holiness. Amen.


This post is an excerpt from the book, The Heavenly Mundane: Daily Devotions from Ordinary Experiences. Filled with stories of how God spoke in big ways through small events, the book will encourage people to look for God in the mundane things of life. Great for both personal use and to give as a gift to friend, either the print version or the e-book version may be purchased at this link:

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Hiding From Our Sin

Proverbs 28:1 - The wicked flee when no one is pursuing them, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.

My friend suddenly stopped coming to church. I reached out to him several times before he finally called back to say that he would no longer be attending church. He was honest in confessing that he was engaged in a particular sinful activity but felt that no one had the right to judge him for his actions. He went on to explain that when he came to church, he felt bad about himself, so his solution was to stop coming to church.

Many people in our society have adopted the same approach as my friend. The problem with this approach is that dropping out of church does not address the behavior that brought out the negative feelings to begin with. Regardless of what our culture may say, there are some behaviors that are right and some that are wrong. Simply avoiding people, or groups, who may point those wrong things out will not solve our problem. That is like a person with a heart condition refusing to go to the doctor out of fear of what the doctor may say. If the condition goes on long enough without treatment, the result is not going to be positive and the treatment for the condition will be much more invasive than it could have been if it had been addressed earlier. The same is true when we have poor behavior in our lives that we have not addressed. Eventually we will reap the consequences of that behavior. By the time all those consequences finally hit us, it may cost us far more than we ever intended to pay. In essence, our fear of minor judgment eventually causes us to experience much more significant judgment because we have not dealt with our sinfulness.

Perhaps it is time to start re-examining our opinion of church. Obviously there are some overly judgmental churches that may not help us be healthy. But there are many churches that understand that in our human weakness we made bad choices and now we are trying to fix those issues. Those churches will walk with us through the journey until we get where we need to be. They will not tell us that all of our behavior is acceptable, but we already know that. But they will remind us that God loves us in spite of our behavior and that He will help us become the person we always wanted to be. It is time for us to overcome our fear of judgment and start dealing with the baggage in our lives. We are going to need the help of other people to do that. That is what church is all about. It is a group of sinners encouraging one another to be transformed into the image of Christ. There may be some painful moments in the short term as our sinfulness is exposed, but the joy that comes from godly living will be worth it.

Lord, help us examine our own hearts so that we can be in right relationship with You. Do not let our fear of judgment cause us to flee the very thing that can change our lives. Amen.

This post is an excerpt from the book, The Heavenly Mundane: Daily Devotions from Ordinary Experiences. Filled with stories of how God spoke in big ways through small events, the book will encourage people to look for God in the mundane things of life. Great for both personal use and to give as a gift to friend, either the print version or the e-book version may be purchased at this link:

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Small Mistakes Can Have Big Consequences

Proverbs 3:5-6 - Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths.

I was on the way to visit an acquaintance who was interested in being involved in ministry. He gave me the address where I was to meet him, but when I arrived, I could not find the house number. There were houses with numbers higher and lower, but that house number was missing. After driving up and down the road a couple of times, I called him on his cell. We realized I had gone to Stevens Street, when I was actually looking for Stephens Street. The streets are pronounced the same way, but have a slightly different spelling. They are on opposite sides of town. I would have never found the address on the first street, because that address does not exist. We had a good laugh about it when I finally got to the right place. What a difference those letters made!

That experience made me think about how important it is to make sure we get our facts right before striking off on some task, journey, or course of action. If we have a faulty premise, it will lead us in the wrong direction, and we may never find what we are looking for. Even if the underlying mistake is minor, our faulty premise will take us the wrong direction, causing great frustration as we come so close to what we were trying to do, and yet cannot quite accomplish it.

For example, when considering marriage, if we start out thinking that if it does not work out, we can just get a divorce, that will impact how we handle conflict in our relationship. Such thinking leads us to a much different conclusion than we would come to if we went into it thinking we were going to stick with the marriage no matter what, and trust God to make the relationship what it should be.

In thinking about what college to go to, if we start out thinking which school has the best recreational activities, we will end up in a much different place than if we ask ourselves which school will best help us gain the training we need to achieve our career goals.

Examples are numerous, but the point is clear. We need to start off with right information and correct reasoning so we can head in the right direction in life. How do we find the right information? Do some research. Discuss the issue with people who have already been there. Ask lots of questions. Most importantly, read the Bible and pray for guidance. The Bible is still relevant for today and God’s advice is always right. As we learn to trust in the Lord’s advice, we will head in the right direction in life.

Lord, help us listen to Your advice and follow Your directions. Amen.

This post is an excerpt from the book, The Heavenly Mundane: Daily Devotions from Ordinary
Experiences. Filled with stories of how God spoke in big ways through small events, the book will encourage people to look for God in the mundane things of life. Great for both personal use and to give as a gift to friend, either the print version or the e-book version may be purchased at this link:

Monday, September 12, 2016

Ministry Priorities

Matthew 6:33 - But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.

As a denominational leader I get to spend time with many fine young couples who have a passion for changing their corner of the world. One of the ways I assist those couples is in finding partners who will stand with them in prayer, giving, and volunteering. Those partners come from other area churches as well as from churches outside our area. It is a lot of work to find partners willing to sacrifice their time, their treasure, and their talents to help a church they are not even part of. But the Lord touches hearts and partners join the cause.

One week a church planter sent a Facebook message to me. He had been working the social media angle pretty hard trying to find partners. Though some people had responded, many had not. In a pointed moment of realization, it occurred to him that many of the people he was contacting about partnering with him in church planting were ignoring his messages about partnering, but sending him countless messages inviting him to play games on Facebook. He found it ironic that they would talk to him a lot about video games, but not about sharing Jesus with others. He wondered what it would be like if he could get people as excited about partnering with him in ministry as they were about playing games on Facebook.

People who tell me they do not have time to volunteer seem to have the time to play on both softball and basketball leagues. People who tell me they do not have money to donate somehow have the money to drive the latest model car with all the upgrades. Pastors who tell me their church is too stretched to help plant another church find money for another round of renovations in a sanctuary that already looks pristine. Church youth groups and senior adult groups take amazing sightseeing trips on fully-equipped buses, but seem unable to take those same people on a mission trip. Once I got a letter from a mega-church asking me for money. They wanted to build a $120,000 playground for the children in their already well-funded private school. I sent back a letter suggesting they tithe off their playground fund to a church plant in New England. I never got a response.

The point I am trying to make is that we have somehow gotten our priorities all messed up. Now Christians play games and have fun instead of being about the business of winning others to Jesus. I am not suggesting that we should never have fun or play games, but somewhere along the line, we must stop playing games with our faith and start doing whatever it takes to win our nation to Jesus.

Lord, help us be serious about the business of sharing Christ with those around us. Amen.

This post is an excerpt from the book, The Heavenly Mundane: Daily Devotions from Ordinary Experiences. Filled with stories of how God spoke in big ways through small events, the book will encourage people to look for God in the mundane things of life. Great for both personal use and to give as a gift to friend, either the print version or the e-book version may be purchased at this link: