What I learned as a visitor at an #ELCA church.

 One of the things I enjoy doing is visiting other churches and being a normal civilian. As someone who has spent almost all their adult life leading worship or helping to lead, it's nice to sit and see things from another perspective. This past week I went to Living Word Lutheran Church in Katy, Texas, which you can learn more about here

They are a large, growing ELCA congregation located in the heart of a planned community called Cinco Ranch. They are a dynamic, service oriented, and I thought they'd be a good place to visit. I learned a few things that I think can apply to a lot of churches be they large or small. I've been thinking a lot about how we welcome visitors to church lately and I'll link to a book at the end which has helped me  in gaining a better perspective on this. But first, here's what I learned.

Always let people know what's going on.
Living Word had two big screens up front and one in the rear so even if you were facing the rear of the sanctuary, and we were at a couple points, you knew what was going on. There was no bulletin and no hymnals, but I never felt lost. Admittedly I am a life long church person, so I am more familiar with Christian worship. But even if you aren't, I think you would pick up pretty quick what was happening and what you should do. Screens and/or bulletins are both great for this as long as they are clear and easy to read and are in sync with the leaders.

Never underestimate good audio.
Even at 31, I don't have great hearing, it's not terrible but it's rough, especially in large spaces. Bad hearing runs in the family, and along with baldness, I seem to have gotten those bad genes as well! Thanks ancestors! Anyways, while the audio was pretty clear for most of the service, there were still times when I could not make out what the pastors were saying. Never underestimate the value of speaking loudly and slowly in public, especially in a large space. Sound waves, bounce, echo and move different in a large indoor space and we as leaders or public speakers of any stripe need to take this into consideration. (A note: This church was in the middle of a huge remodeling project and so perhaps their audio was not fully set for the new space.)

                                                                               It's a visual world, even at church. 
This church, and my church, use our screens not just to put up words, but visuals as well. A picture is worth a thousand words, goes the old saying, and the right picture can add a lot to sermon (or a blog). So if your church has a screen or doesn't, consider how to integrate visual aspects into worship. It will engage more senses for your worshipers and keep them more engaged than just words. Also, you are following in a great church tradition. After all, stained glass windows are the original worship screens.

Let your newest members speak.I, by happy accident, happened to be there on a Sunday when new members were joining and 41 people came forward. That all by itself was a powerful statement about this church. I know this doesn't happen every Sunday, it can't. However, when you see couples, families, singles, young and old. Who also represent several ethnic groups and varying backgrounds standing together to join a community, well there isn't a much better witness than that. Giving your newest members a chance to speak and share why they joined your congregation, may be the greatest asset to helping visitors see why they might want to stick around as well. Of course good worship and preaching matter too, but most churches get that. We sometimes forget though that the words that comes from non-staff and the non-ordained can be just as powerful.

Never underestimate the power of introducing yourself.
I have been to a number of churches. And in several I have gone in, worshiped, said hello to people and not had one person welcome me or introduce themselves. Not even the men and women designated as official greeters! Now, I'm 5'7" and about as dangerous looking as a librarian so I'm guessing it's not sheer intimidation scaring folks off. I'm not gonna say how Living Word did, that wouldn't be fair to praise or pick on just them. However, visiting this place reminded me of how important it is to be welcomed, and to welcome others, especially if you want those people to come back! You don't have to smother folks or interrogate them. Just say hello, introduce yourself and let them lead it from there. If they want to talk, awesome, if not, say "glad to have you" and let them be. But know that your simple hello could make all the difference between a visitor feeling at home and feeling like they never want to come back again.

Another project raising money for wells and clean water.

So that's it, or at least that's enough for this blog. A lot of these insights are not original and I don't claim they are. They may seem like common sense, but trust me, we can easily forget them when we get comfortable with our own church routine. The book that helped me appreciate visitors more is "Unwelcome: 50 Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Visitors" . I don't know the authors, and receive no kickbacks for this but if you want to buy the book, you can go to the Amazon link here. Even if you don't read it, consider what it's like to visit a new place and apply that to your church. How can you make new folks feel more at home? How can you show visitors the love of God as a host? How can you make them feel welcome so that they can hear the gospel with ease and so they will want to join in the Holy work you are doing? I believe that asking questions like that will help you become a church where folks feel welcome and will help us to show people how God is at work in our communities.