I haven’t had to look for a new church in 16 years. With few exceptions, this is the first time in 15 years that I’ve attended church as a visitor and not as a worship leader or pastor. And it’s the first time I’ve ever done it with a family.
We took a little over a month off from church after my last Sunday at Fourth to decompress a bit. Yesterday we began to explore Presbyterian churches in Richmond. (Note: if your church website sucks or doesn’t mention anything about children, I doubt you will get a visit from us.)
Yesterday reminded me that even when you know people at a church you are visiting, and even when the people of that congregation are perfectly nice and hospitable—like the church we visited yesterday—it is awkward to walk into a new church for the first time. It is daunting to find your way in an unfamiliar place and ask strangers what to do with your children. It is disorienting to encounter a worship style different from what you are used to.
Pastors and congregations need to remember this. In fact, I think congregations should give their pastors one extra Sunday off each year to visit a church where they are not known so they can remember what this experience is like.
In post-Christendom there are no social or cultural benefits or incentives for church attendance. Walking into the door of a church is completely voluntary. A friend in Chicago often comments that church is a perfectly competitive market in the sense that there are zero switching costs to move from one congregation to another, or to choose not to attend church at all.
Given these realities, a church that wants to grow and thrive must do all that they can to welcome visitors and mitigate the inevitable awkwardness of exploring a new congregation.