Coming to Church Again for the First Time

Familiarity is both a blessing and a curse for the church. In an unstable and constantly changing world, we want the church to be a constant in our lives. We want to know when we come to worship on Sunday that we’ll do things like say the Lord’s Prayer or greet one another or take communion as a reminder of God’s constant presence in our lives. Through repetition, these practices become a part of our spiritual DNA.

But familiarity can also be an incredible challenge for a church. For example, you know where the Church Office is because you’re been coming to this church for years. You don’t need signs or maps! But what about that mid-week visitor or Sunday guest? What is common and intuitive for us may be foreign for them. We don’t see those obstacles because the church is so familiar to us.

To try and see Crestwood through new eyes, I invited a husband and wife who have visited our church several times to write a “report” on their experience as first-time guests. I was hoping to get an idea of what areas we might need to work on as a congregation in order to become more welcoming. Boy, did I get some ideas! Here’s a summary of their report.

• Arrival: Parking is unclear. We could not see the Crestwood sign until we were at the stop sign, so we had to turn around to park. We were incredibly grateful for the visitor parking though. The Crestwood sign is dark and grown-over with foliage. It’s pretty…just not very practical. Also, the vehicles in the parking lot alerted us right away that this is an affluent congregation.

• Initial Entry: There is no sign to move visitors toward the appropriate Sunday school classes. The sign simply says “Education Wing” and points in the same direction as the nursery. A visitor would not know this is the children’s wing. There should be more colorful, child-friendly signage! And there should be obvious directions to adult Sunday school and the Mission Center.

• Service: We arrived one minute late as many visitors might and completely missed the meet-and-greet. Crestwood members hug the outside of the pews, so we had to excuse ourselves into the middle. That would have been awkward for us had it actually been our first time. On a great note, the lady who handed us bulletins was incredibly friendly and chipper!!! We thoroughly enjoyed the kids’ sermon and were grateful that all the liturgy was written out in the bulletin. The overall feeling of the service, however, was boring. Everyone was very bored-looking. No smiling, no interaction with sermon through note-taking or nodding, no one used their Bibles, etc.

• The communion elements being on the table throughout the service is wonderful. It keeps Christ’s sacrifice central and also alerts visitors to what’s to come. Thank you for always assuring visitors they are welcome to partake! The elders quoted the communion story beautifully and made us feel they viewed the practice with reverence.

So what do you think? Like you, I both agreed and disagreed with various points. But this is enlightening, isn’t it? Let me ask: Is this who we are? Are we enjoying worship? If so, why? If not, why not? If you want to respond, you can visit my blog (revkory.wordpress.com), where this article is posted. How can we make our guests on Sunday feel more welcomed? It’s the responsibility of each and every one of us.

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2 Comments

Filed under Church/spirituality

2 responses to “Coming to Church Again for the First Time

  1. Saralyn

    I can still remember the first Sunday we came to Crestwood last fall. I knew after that first visit that it would become our home church. It had all the traditions of the church I grew up in and an extremely welcoming congregation. I was a little concerned at first that there was a lack of young but have found that not to be the case. I will have to disagree with the boring service feeling. One of the reasons I love your sermons, Kory, is because I feel extremely engaged. I do not feel the need to take notes or even refer to my bible at that time because I feel that you are nourishing my soul, not my brain. I can follow up with those things at home. I don’t want to feel distracted by looking something up or writing things down. I will agree that parking was confusing the first time though. 🙂 We hope to be there Sunday!

    • Hi Saralyn! Thanks so much for your feedback on this post. I’ve had A LOT of people comment on the visitor summary. Like you, many people disagreed with the report. I think everyone experiences worship differently, which is part of why we come together each week. I’m glad you and Dallas feel at home at Crestwood. And be on the lookout for new signs coming in the near future! Hopefully they will make parking a little less confusing.

      Now, when do we get to meet Joey?!? We can’t wait to meet the newest Kingsolver. Seriously, I understand the challenge of getting a newborn out of the house. We remember it all too well. Hope to see you Sunday!

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