(This is most unusual for me. When I visit a church, I come to worship, not to sit in judgement, not to pick the sermon apart, not to criticize. But this experience left me so cold, I came home and wrote the following. Btw, this was not recent, in case I’ve been in your church in recent days. Smiley-face here pls.)
I sat in your church and heard you preach. You did not know I was in the congregation because we never had the opportunity to meet.
Now, I was visiting in your part of the state, and the next day moved on to the next city where I’m ministering. So, had we met you would not have greeted a prospective member and probably would not have remembered it the next day. That’s fine and I understand.
What concerns me is that I was with some friends who have moved to your city and was hoping they would make some kind of connection with your church. That did not happen.
Watching what you did and failed to do concerns me. One reason it has persisted in my thoughts is that I’m certain at various times in my six pastorates, I made the same mistakes as you. I could wish someone had loved me enough to call my hand on it.
Now, since we do not know each other, I’m assuming you will not read this. So this is not for you exactly. Rather, we post it on this website in the hope that other pastors will look at their own Sunday ministries in view of the newcomer sitting in the pews.
Here is what you did.
–First. You made no attempt to address outsiders or newcomers.
Now, you did begin the sermon by informing us that this was one in a series of messages on a theme. That was good.
–Second. However, it was assumed in the service that we all knew the identity and role of each person participating. The order of worship simply lists names but not a word as to whether this person is the minister of anything.
–Third. The bulletin carried no information as to who the ministers were or how to contact them individually, in case anyone wishes to do so.
–Fourth. Your sermon failed the worshipers at the deepest level.
Halfway through your message on friendship, it occurred to me that you had not mentioned the name of Jesus. Not once. From that moment on, I began listening to see if you would relate your sermon on friendship with God or Christ. You did not.
Your presentation would have worked well in a civic club meeting or the local Unitarian Church.
Only in the conclusion did you work in something about how Jesus fits in this matter of our befriending one another. By then it was too little, too late. Your message was over and Jesus was a post script.
This is not to imply that you did not communicate well or have good pulpit presence.
You are a gifted speaker. Clearly, you felt at home in the pulpit. Your stories of friends who have been there for you and accounts of your own relationships with others were interesting and well-told.
But what this was not was a Christian message. Sorry if that seems brutal. I don’t mean it to, and there is certainly nothing personal about it.
If the pastor’s message does not open up a passage of scripture, tells no one how to be saved, relates no one to God, and does not call people to holy living, in my mind at least, the preacher could have stayed home that day.
–Fifth. Your church made no attempt to learn the names of your visitors.
There was no visitors card either in the pew racks or in the church bulletin.
You did have greeters in the foyer and they were friendly. They smiled and were warm and chatted with my friends momentarily. But they did not make an attempt to get their names or address.
Your church was given an opportunity Sunday and blew it.
That morning when we arrived, I noticed the parking lot attendants, nice looking men wearing flourescent vests. No doubt they were volunteers there to help people find parking and to greet everyone arriving. It’s a great practice when it works. But it didn’t.
The two men were talking with each other and smiled at us as we drove past. We got out of the car and they went right on with their talking, ignoring us.
The fact that your church has greeters in the foyer and in the parking lot tells me that at one time you or some previous leader were indeed concerned about reaching people. Greeters and attendants were recruited and trained and put in place. However, that kind of ministry dies by attrition unless it is constantly being renewed with constant attention, additional training and new volunteers.
–Sixth. And then at the end, you deserted us one more time.
After the benediction, you did something that made sense to you but which completely abandoned any newcomers to your church: you remained in the front of the sanctuary and greeted people who came to you and those walking past you on their way to Sunday School classes.
It’s a rare first-timer who, after attending a worship service, goes to a Sunday School class. Most people trying out a church will attend worship several times before venturing deeper into the life of the congregation.
Had you had any interest in meeting the newcomers, you would have walked to the back of the sanctuary where anyone exiting would have had to go past you.
As mentioned above, I am aware of why you did what you did. I know you remained at the front to greet people heading to Sunday School because that’s where most people were. It’s how you can shake hands with a large number of people in the church whom you have not seen since last week. It’s a good thing to do.
But it’s not the best thing to do.
Better to neglect shaking the hands of a hundred members of the flock if it means greeting one newcomer in need of the Lord and the ministry of His people.
If you protest that as the shepherd you have a great responsibility to the flock God has entrusted to you and that you minister to them in those brief greetings after the service, I do not disagree. Been there, done that.
Therefore, if you insist that your place is to catch members on their way to classes, then you should assign your best greeter–the warmest, most responsible person in the church–to meet every person they do not recognize following the service and to get pertinent information on them.
I was a stranger and you took me in. (Matthew 25:35)
We were strangers in your church last Sunday. Your people smiled at us and spoke kindly. But they made no effort to take us in. When we left your building, we were still strangers.
I simply wonder if you are satisfied leaving matters that way, or if you care enough to make some changes, beginning with the content of your handout bulletin and how you preach.
A text you used in your sermon last Sunday applies here. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy. (Proverbs 27:6)
My analysis of what you did and failed to do may hurt. But in the off chance that you read this, please know I offer it as a friend and brother who simply wants you to do well what God has called you to do.