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.

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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:

44 comments:

  1. Pastor Don SargentOctober 17, 2016 at 8:34 AM

    Great post Terry, I am a pastor and currently in between churches and over the past year have been doing the same thing, 'seeing' what's out there in christendom, observing and participating in different services and getting a broader view of what the church is doing. I could not agree with you more, I wrote an article about it and would love to share it with you if you could give me an email address to send it to. Thanks for your insights, from a fellow native New Englander!

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    1. would love to read it, might even post it here on the blog. Send it to tdorsett@bcne.net

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  2. We have people at the doors who not only meet and greet but carry you around so you know where anything is located (unless with family or friends).
    They are handed the church bulletin and told all announcements are in there and questions are welcome.
    Worship starts promptly on time, always!
    No one ever asks anyone to scoot over or move. You are welcome to sit anywhere.
    After worship, new people are welcomed by the pastor, explained where written prayers can be placed, and locals attending regularly know where to place the tithes and offerings.
    Our agenda is that Christ's love and welcome are presented first, all up front questions are answered so no embarrassing moments happen and worship is an uninterrupted occasion that is hopefully a blessed experience.
    We aren't perfect by a long way, but we sincerely seek for are visitors, someone visiting family or seeking a place to worship, to experience Christ first and be able to make a decision on His merits and not our wants and needs.

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    1. praise the Lord, may your tribe increase!!!!

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  3. As to #1, if #4 is held to, a pre-open with announcements five minutes prior might work. The pro is it can possibly serve as evidence to visitors that this is a busy and active family. I've never been fond of the "greet your neighbor". Too forced, breaks up the flow of service.

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    1. If done properly, announcements could be done at the start, but it is so rarely done properly, that I think it is best done at the end.

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  4. William R. Allison, Jr.October 17, 2016 at 2:59 PM

    Very well put especially 2, 3, and even more especially 4

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  5. Space for Parking, can be a big issue. I heard a Pastor say one time "they needed to do something about Parking" He had back surgery and couldn't preach that day. so got to church just in time,for it to start. to the point that they had a hard time finding parking, (he was somewhat aware of issue) Made him relies Why some folks would say they pulled in the yard and then left, They had people that got their early, to help with service park farther way, They expanded the parking lot, was all good, God sure works in Many ways ...

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    1. I am fond of the idea of assembling a core group of able-bodied saints willing to park as far from the building as possible. If the pastor and his elders and deacons are able, this can be seen as a wonderful act of service.

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    2. Moe, you make a great point. And Bill O'Neill has hit the nail on the head with the solution.

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  6. Another issue is selling doughnuts and coffee before service starts. If your visitors have no money you are saying "Watch me eat but I'll offer a neighborly hand shake during the service."

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    1. that is a GOOD one Ann Davis!!!!!! That should be added to the list for sure!

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  7. I dislike the handshake dieing service. Especially in the winter with germs everywhere. I think announcements do get long and repetitive if also in the bulletin. But they do show that there are many ways to participate in the church family. I like when they are in the bulletin and also on the overhead projector before the service.

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    1. Mary,
      Thanks for your comments. So important to think through these things more deeply.

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  8. it's a great post. i take exception to number one...i believe we should eliminate the entire announcement time except for the most urgent of announcements. I call announcements "drive by's" Announcing something that involves maybe 5 people in front of the whole crowd ...that should be done privately. Or another peeve. All calls for whatever need there is. Just go to people who are gifted in those areas and quit disrupting worship. Just some thoughts.

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  9. Thanks Terry. You are dead on target!

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  10. Certainly things to take into consideration Terry!

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  11. In A Church Before Service few years back, on the Screen, "Babies crying doesn't bother me during the service" that's out of everyone's control. What is in your control is how loud your phone rings... signed . The Pastor ............

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  12. That's spot-on. Also, no ushers to help you find the Sunday School rooms or the sanctuary. We've been allowed to grope around trying to find out where to go.

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  13. Good insights and practical suggestions that can make visitors feel more welcome.

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  14. I believe in keeping announcements to an absolute minimum, preferrably eliminating them all together. Most people don't need the bulletin read to them. And if you have technology, and most churches do, those need to be running on a script so people can read them prior to the service. Another thought is to use video to highlight certain things or give missions testimonies. I actually don't like announcements at the end of the service. I would rather leave with the Word in my mind....

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    1. good suggestions. And in today's social media world, they can be sent out via email and posted on a Facebook page and Instagram during the week.

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  15. I agree that announcements should be at the end and be very brief.

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  16. Tina Lewis JohnsonOctober 17, 2016 at 6:49 PM

    Having visited many churches I would say this list is pretty good....Especially the welcome/handshake time(we always dread that time when visiting).

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  17. Mary Vintner FullerOctober 17, 2016 at 6:50 PM

    ell said! I have experienced these things-esp. the greeting situation and have felt awkward and not returned.

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  18. I love this. I mean love love love it. It is my biggest concerns about our services. Please I would rather spend that time in worship. We can shake hands and say hello after church. And I can read the bulletin. Ok im off my soap box.

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  19. I agree with the greeting time for sure. I am disabled but if visitors didn't see me struggle to come into the church they could get their feeling hurt if they realized that I am the Pastor' wife but I didn't come to the back to shake their hand during the greeting. I have also had the same experiences in churches we have visited as you mentioned during the greeting time. You had some really great points there

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  20. There things we should devote our time in the worship hour to: praise, prayer and preaching. Everything else can be accomplish at another time.

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  21. I hate the "greeting each other" part, too. Fortunately, our church doesn't do that, but my home church does and it's very awkward. Also, one of my pet peeves is people who think they own a particular seat. Last time I looked, I didn't see anyone's names on any pew or seat!

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    1. I know how you feel. I was sitting in the pew, and the Mom of one of the kids (we're both part of the church) She said to me, Moe I really hate to ask you this but could you please find another pew to sit in, If my son can't sit in "THIS" pew he will throw a fit and leave. and he really needs to be here, I replied he's got plenty of room I'm the only person in this pew, service starts in a few minutes, She got very angry and very upset, as she said If my son throws a fit and leaves it's your fault, So I moved.

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  22. And I totally agree what I call "howdy doody time." It's so contrived. The Catholics just turn to each other nearby and say "peace be with you" or something like that. I've been in churches where the "turn and greet" lasted four or five verses of a song.

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  23. Excuse me, where's the bathroom? Lol

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  24. As a child of the one true King of only four years I remember visiting many churches when I was first saved. The church I truly began learning about our Lord and Savior in had revelant announcements for everyone and a few minutes for people to greet each other during service. For myself as a baby Christian that was wonderful because people I didn't know made me feel welcome. I was helped in finding the books of the bible that my pastor at the time was reading from and truly encouraged to ask questions as they popped into my head. I can understand that announcements can get tedious but for my part if they are revelant they should be noted. For instance maybe the church is hosting a festival for the entire neighborhood and maybe they need help. Just my two cents as a young child of God.

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