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."